And within an hour, the Dodgers had lain waste to the visitors’ clubhouse, its plastic-covered floor flooded with a half-inch of champagne and beer, everyone within sight soaked to the bone.
By this point, the Dodgers are the unrivaled masters of the September champagne celebration.
Every September, almost without fail, these Dodgers celebrate the clinching of another division title as if it were their first. They have done so in every season since 2013 — the only exception being 2018, when they clinched during a tiebreaker game Oct. 1. Otherwise, October has been mostly unkind to the Dodgers, whose six previous trips to the playoffs have ended in two losses each in the World Series, the NL Championship Series and the Division Series.
But just getting to October with such consistency is an impressive feat on its own; the Dodgers’ run of seven straight division titles is the third-longest of all time. In this decade, no other franchise comes close to matching it.
“You come into spring training, and you have that big goal to make it back to the World Series,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “But you don’t just show up for the World Series — you’ve got to take the steps to get there, and this is the first step of being able to do that.”
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If this one felt different, it was because it was the earliest clinch in this run of seven straight titles — coming after Game 146, with the Dodgers holding an NL-best 94-52 record. It came following a 7-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, which featured right-hander Walker Buehler tossing seven shutout innings and the Dodgers bashing three homers, two of them by shortstop Corey Seager, to push their season total, already a league record, to 258.
“Everything we do going forward is to win 11 games in October,” said Dave Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager for the past four division titles. “The question we’re all going to get asked is, are we going to let our guard down, lose our edge going into the postseason? That’s something I don’t expect from our team, and [Wednesday] we’re going to expect to win a baseball game.”
With the clincher behind them, the Dodgers now have some three weeks, ahead of Game 1 of the Division Series at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 3, in which to find answers to some of their pressing questions heading into the postseason:
Who, among Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Buehler, is the Game 1 starter? Should 21-year-old phenom shortstop/second baseman Gavin Lux, Baseball America’s minor league player of the year, make the postseason roster? Can converted starters Kenta Maeda, Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin help build a dependable bridge to closer Kenley Jansen? And is Jansen, muddling through the worst season of his career, even the best choice to pitch the ninth inning?
And in the meantime, the Dodgers still have something to play for, as they enter Wednesday trailing the New York Yankees and Houston Astros by one game in the race for the majors’ best record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. (On the NL side of the bracket, they lead the Atlanta Braves by four games.) This is no small matter given the Dodgers’ 56-20 record at home this season.
“Just short of all-in,” Roberts said when asked how motivated the Dodgers would be to secure home-field advantage. “I think it’s certainly very important considering how we’ve played at home. But there’s still a cost in everything, and I think the main thing is keeping guys healthy, keeping guys sharp and not trying to red-line just to win by any means necessary. If we play to our potential, that should take care of itself.”
But those are all issues for another day. This moment, between Tuesday night’s raucous celebration and the coming tumult of October, is the perfect time to take a step back and appreciate what these Dodgers have accomplished.
Their seven straight division titles, assuming this year’s margin remains around its current 18½ games, will have come by an average of more than eight games over the second-place finisher. Only three players — Kershaw, Ryu and Jansen — have been with the franchise for all seven titles.
The glaring lack of a World Series title to validate this run, of course, looms large over this franchise, which hasn’t won it all since 1988. But this fall brings another opportunity, and it is worth pondering what a championship would do for the legacy of this group. With next month bringing the final World Series of the 2010s, the Dodgers are a championship away from inserting themselves into a fascinating debate over the team of the decade.
At the most fundamental level, the race for Team of the 2010s was decided before the decade was half over, given the San Francisco Giants’ World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. (Curiously, they will end the decade with only two division titles; their 2014 World Series win came as a wild card.) The Boston Red Sox could also make a strong case, despite this year’s disappointment, with championships in 2013 and 2018 and a total of four division titles.
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But what if the Dodgers go on to win the World Series this fall? Their case would look like this:
• Seven division titles, all of them consecutive — topped only by the 14 straight of the 1991-2005 Atlanta Braves and the nine straight of the 1998-2006 New York Yankees — and three more than anyone else during the 2010s.
• Three straight pennants, the most since the 1998-2001 Yankees (four) and the most by an NL team since the 1942-44 Cardinals (three).
• A single World Series title — again, we are pondering a hypothetical here — would still pale against the Giants’ three and Boston’s two. But by every other objective measure, a one-championship Dodgers team would have a strong case. One of those measures: consistency. The Red Sox, in between titles, have suffered three sub-.500 seasons in this decade; the Giants are on their way to a fourth. But the Dodgers’ only losing season this decade came when they went 80-82 in 2010.
There is a long way to go — those 11 wins in October — before the Dodgers can make their argument. But the only way to win the ultimate prize is to keep putting yourself in position to do so, and if the Dodgers keep spraying champagne in September, chances are they will eventually do so in the waning days of October.
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