LA's 8th straight West win 'a little different'

September 23rd, 2020

It’s become as much a part of the Dodgers’ schedule as Opening Day, clinching a National League West title Tuesday night for the eighth consecutive year with a 7-2 win over Oakland -- although this one was like no other in a year like no other.

Cardboard cutouts instead of fans. Champagne toasts instead of showers. No dogpiles. A pandemic pennant.

“Truth be told, there were some guys who didn’t even know we had a chance to clinch tonight,” said Dave Roberts, manager of the last five editions of this dynasty.

“It’s been really bizarre. I recall a time a few months ago I didn’t know if we were going to have a season. Now fast forward, to be crowned NL West champs again, it’s something a lot of people expect, but it should never be taken for granted. This needs to be appreciated. It’s not easy.”

They have the best record in baseball, the No. 1 seed through the NL Championship Series -- including in the best-of-three Wild Card Series that opens next Wednesday at Dodger Stadium -- and they’ve lost only one series all year. Only the Braves (14) and Yankees (9) have won more consecutive division titles.

Even though the Dodgers were heavy favorites all along to do this, as Roberts alluded to, seven consecutive early eliminations and a 32-year famine since the franchise last won the World Series tells them there’s a long road ahead.

“They all feel good, but this one is a little different,” said , who hit one of four Dodgers home runs. “This is probably the most complete team I’ve ever been on. It’s just easy to play with these guys. We know we have more in store. We’re going to enjoy this, but this isn’t it for us. We’ve got some work to do.”

Roberts said this division title is special because of the broader context of the season -- the pandemic and social justice issues, most notably. He said the subdued celebration as the game ended was partly because it was one expected step, and partly trying to be responsible and “not getting too over-the-top crazy.”

“But there’s a lot to be proud of. Guys continued to win baseball games and stayed together,” he said. “Ironically, it’s made our group even closer.”

While the Dodgers became overwhelming favorites when they acquired and David Price, the latter’s decision not to play was a blow to a rotation that had allowed veterans Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill to leave. Starters Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Alex Wood spent time on the injured list; reigning MVP , and have endured season-long batting slumps; and top prospect has been disappointing.

“It’s been a rough stretch,” said Muncy, who homered against his former team. “But it’s not about me, it’s about this team and us being able to clinch just magnifies that. Baseball’s a hard sport and 2020 is a hard year. Both of those things colliding together, it’s been weird and strange, but thankfully I’m on the best team in baseball and the funnest team on top of that.”

Betts responded to signing a $365 million extension with MVP production which, of course, he downplayed.

“They won seven times before me,” said Betts. “I just come in here and do my role. This is step one.”

A healthy , who homered Tuesday, was right behind Betts as a team MVP runner-up.

“We never quit, never give up,” said Seager. “We talk about being in the moment, and this team has done an incredible job being in the moment, and it shows, losing only one series, even in a 60-game season. It’s been quite fun watching this team play.”

Kershaw healed quickly and, with increased velocity, regained Cy Young form. Rookies Tony Gonsolin and (Tuesday night’s winner) stepped into the rotation. matured overnight, recovered from COVID-19 to win an everyday job and Taylor continued to be one of the most underappreciated stars in the game.

Pollock, who also homered on Tuesday, echoed the postgame theme of a team bonded by the unusual circumstances of 2020.

“We’re on the field and the [piped in] crowd is going nuts and you look at each other and it’s like, we’re the only ones here,” he said. “Going through something this bizarre, you have to really like the guys next to you.”