The victory parade to baseball’s Promised Land was as frustratingly long for the Dodgers as a 5 p.m. drive on the Los Angeles freeways.
Thirty-two years between World Series championships is a mighty slow ride, especially when you’ve been behind the wheel of a hot rod for the last eight years.
The Dodgers compiled Major League Baseball’s best cumulative record during that time, claiming the National League West Division championship all eight seasons. They won an astounding 62.9% of their games in the last four — a pace of 102 victories per year.
No team has had a better four-year run during Major League Baseball’s Wild Card Era.
It left Clayton Kershaw, a driving force for the Dodgers the last decade, feeling as much relief as jubilation when they drew the checkered flag to overcome their checkered past.
“I kind of can’t believe it,” the ace pitcher gushed. “Honestly. I can’t believe we did it. I can’t believe that it’s over and that I did it.”
Most baseball experts can’t believe they didn’t do it sooner.
Nobody except the New York Yankees has spent more in accumulating talent the last decade. Their payroll this season alone was a staggering $227.83 million, creating enough depth to relegate stars such as Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernandez to bench roles.
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, collects MVPs like Meryl Streep hoards Oscars. He traded to get Mookie Betts, the American League’s 2018 MVP, to play in the outfield alongside 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger.
It was a revelation, said Kershaw, the NL’s 2014 MVP.
“There’s a really calming influence there,” he said of Betts’ presence. “It’s just expected that we’re going to win and you feed off that, not necessarily by what he says but by the way he carries himself. It’s awesome.
“Thankfully, he’s on our team.”
And he will be for the next 12 years after signing a contract extension worth $365 million.
The Dodgers led the Major Leagues in runs scored this year and didn’t let up during the World Series. They twice beat Tampa Bay ace Tyler Glasnow, prompting manager Kevin Cash to say, “What hurt him is the talent of the Dodgers’ lineup more than anything … They’re just really, really talented.”
But that begs the question: Will the Dodgers now live up to their potential as a dynasty … or will they just die nasty?
Former UCSB outfielder Skip Schumaker predicted how difficult it was going to be for the Dodgers six years ago after leaving Chavez Ravine for Cincinnati: “They’ve got so much talent, it’s crazy … But that is not always a formula to win. You can’t always out-talent somebody.”
Expectations weighed as heavy on the Dodgers as the clubhouse spread during the Tommy Lasorda Era.
“You need to have guys that have been through it all and won, and have seen it all,” said Schumaker, who won a World Series ring with St. Louis in 2011.
Now they have. It’s a sure-Betts, too, with the lifetime contract they’ve given their newest star. And if you bet at Caesars Sportsbook, you’ll find that they’ve installed the Dodgers as +400 favorites to win next year’s World Series.
Kershaw, 32, has one more year left on his contract and presumably at least one more good season left in his left arm. And although 33-year-old reliever Kenley Jansen is a little worse for wear, the Dodgers boast a baby-faced pitching staff. They led the Major Leagues in earned run average this year with such young arms as Walker Buehler (26), Tony Gonsolin (26), Julio Urias (24), Victor Gonzalez (24), Dustin May (23) and Brusdar Graterol (21).
There’s youth in the field, as well, where Betts is one of the senior members at age 28. Bellinger is just 25 while shortstop Corey Seager, the World Series MVP, is only a year older. Catcher Will Smith is showing star quality, as well, at the tender age of 25.
The beard of third baseman Justin Turner may be as long as Methuselah’s, and he’s long in the tooth at 35, but he did bat .307 this season. That’s five points higher than his sterling .302 average with the Dodgers the last seven years.
Turner’s judgment is in question, considering the risk he took by breaking COVID-19 quarantine during the World Series celebration, but there’s no doubt about the pop in his bat.
Repeating as World Series champion is never easy. Nobody has done it since the Yankees of 2000. But the Dodgers did prove their staying power this year during a season that had been long-delayed by the coronavirus.
“Our clubs and especially our players were presented with an array of unique challenges,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred observed. “The Los Angeles Dodgers met every one of those challenges bravely.
“This is truly a team of champions.”
At 78 games with the playoffs, their season was short but sweet. Their reign should be long and sweeter.