Dodgers dominate way to reclaiming NL West

Los Angeles wins division title for ninth time in past 10 seasons

September 14th, 2022

PHOENIX -- The party started with -- who else? -- standing in the center of the room, bottle of champagne in hand. The 34-year-old left-hander had been in this position plenty before, but maybe never with a Dodgers team quite this talented around him.

“I just want to say I love you guys, and thank you for being so good,” Kershaw told his teammates. “It’s really fun to be on this team.”

Tuesday night’s champagne-soaked celebration in the visitors’ clubhouse at Chase Field was likely only a first step. Los Angeles has much larger goals than winning the National League West title. But it was an important accomplishment nonetheless, especially after the Dodgers finished second -- a word almost unrecognizable to this franchise over the past decade -- in the division last year.

In a 4-0 win, Kershaw carved through the D-backs’ lineup for seven masterful frames of two-hit ball, lifting the Dodgers to their ninth NL West title in 10 seasons. Los Angeles (98-43) ran away with the division this year, clinching in its 141st game, which is the earliest the Dodgers have done so since the franchise relocated to L.A. in 1958 (with the exception of the pandemic-shortened 60-game season in 2020).

This was the fourth time that Kershaw started an NL West-clinching game for the Dodgers, having previously done so in 2009, ‘14 and ‘15. Across those outings, he has a 0.30 ERA (one earned run allowed in 30 innings) with 39 strikeouts and five walks.

“How fitting, right? We have a chance to clinch the division and Clayton’s on the mound for us again and gave us seven unbelievable innings,” designated hitter said. “He was as spectacular as you’d expect him to be.”

From 2013-20, winning the NL West became a formality for Los Angeles, which had an eight-year reign atop the division -- the final five with manager Dave Roberts at the helm and culminating with a World Series championship in ‘20.

Roberts and many of Los Angeles’ core players experienced a new feeling in 2021, when the club finished one game back of San Francisco in the West. The Dodgers kept their playoff streak alive (a run extended to 10 straight in ‘22), but they were an NL Wild Card team. The postseason didn’t go through Los Angeles, and the Dodgers fell in the NL Championship Series in six games to the Braves, who had the home-field advantage.

That laid the groundwork for the club’s offseason moves and raised expectations for ‘22.

“You know when you start Spring Training, you start the season, you know you have a talented roster,” Roberts said. “But looking into the season, we weren’t the defending National League West champions. That was first on our list -- to get the division back in Los Angeles.”

President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, “Our goal going into this year was to put ourselves in the best position to win this division.”

There was no better way for the Dodgers to do that than by upgrading a roster already overflowing with All-Stars. The marquee move was the signing of , one of the game’s elite first basemen, to a six-year, $162 million deal.

That helped turn Los Angeles from a strong offensive team to a juggernaut. The Dodgers have a plus-320 run differential, 30 runs above the franchise record (set by the 1889 Brooklyn Bridegrooms). They may become the first MLB team to score at least 300 more runs than they allowed since the 2001 Mariners (plus-300), who won 116 games.

With 98 victories and 21 regular-season games to play, Los Angeles should end up with quite a large number of wins, too.

“This is definitely smooth sailing, compared to last year,” center fielder said.

In Tuesday’s clincher, Freeman and (who came over from the Yankees ahead of the Trade Deadline) each homered. So did , one of the team’s mainstays over the past five seasons.

When a slugger with 40-homer power (Gallo) is in the No. 7 hole and a former NL MVP Award winner (Bellinger) is batting ninth, opposing pitchers are facing quite a challenging task.

“We’ve got a great ballclub, you know?” right fielder said. “It’s not just one guy that carries the team. It’s everyone. Up and down the lineup, we can beat you.”

Next, the Dodgers will look to secure a top-two seed in the NL, ensuring they can advance directly to the NL Division Series in the new expanded postseason format. They currently have a 15 1/2-game advantage over the NL Central-leading Cardinals, the division leader with the fewest wins.

Los Angeles also wants the No. 1 seed in the NL, which comes with home-field advantage through the playoffs. It currently has a 10-game advantage over the NL East-leading Mets.

And of course, the Dodgers want to bring a World Series title to Los Angeles for a second time in three years.

“For me -- and I’m sure for all these other guys -- it’s not really about regular-season wins,” Freeman said. “You have one goal from the moment you step into Spring Training, and that’s to win the World Series. For me, if you’re not winning the World Series, it’s a failure.”

Just how confident is Freeman -- a reigning World Series champion after winning with Atlanta in 2021 -- that the Dodgers’ division title truly was Step One, and that their season won’t end as a “failure” by his standards?

“Pretty confident,” Freeman said. “This team’s pretty stacked on both sides, and we’ve been playing good baseball for a long time. Sometimes, it’s not about the best team going into the playoffs, it’s the hottest team. And we’ve been one of the best teams, and the hottest team, all season.”