The Dodgers' path to the all-time wins record

LA's 14-4 start puts it on a 126-win pace

April 21st, 2021

The Dodgers were universally, unanimously, overwhelmingly regarded as the best team in baseball entering the season, and why not? They’re the defending World Series champs. They’ve won eight consecutive division titles, during which time they’ve won 41 more regular-season games than anyone else. They’d have been good if they did nothing at all, yet over the last two winters they went out and added Mookie Betts and Trevor Bauer.

The expectations were weighty, to be sure. PECOTA, for example, pegged them at 104 wins before the season, and as of Tuesday, had them up to 106 wins. Projection systems, notorious for their conservativity, do not do that.

Meanwhile, all the Dodgers have done is live up to those weighty dreams, and then some. Los Angeles is off to a 14-4 start after Tuesday's 1-0 win in Seattle. That's the best record in baseball, only one game off the best start in Los Angeles Dodger history, and the best 18-game start since the 2018 Red Sox went 16-2 on their way to 108 wins.

It's a 126-victory pace, and while they are not going to actually win 126 -- probably, anyway -- you know where this is going. It’s not at all too early to ask the question that seems entirely too early to ask: Is this team going to end up setting new all-time standards for winning baseball?

Just look, anyway, at all of the different metrics they are at or near the top in. Their hitters are first in OBP and third in slugging; they have the second-highest walk rate, to San Diego, and the lowest chase rate, just ahead of San Diego. When they swing in the zone, they have the third-highest contact rate, but that’s only when they swing at all, because they have the third-lowest swing rate. They have scored the second-most runs in the game; they have allowed the second-lowest ERA in the game.

Maybe, some felt, the hype around them was unreasonably deafening. After the first two weeks of the season, after a resounding series win of the also-very-strong Padres, maybe the problem is that the hype wasn’t loud enough. Betts has missed time. Cody Bellinger has played in just four games. Gavin Lux is hurt. Tony Gonsolin is hurt. It hasn’t mattered. Every year, they seem to turn to the create-a-player mode of the video game they’re in and unearth a Chris Taylor here or a Max Muncy there; this season’s model appears to be Zach McKinstry, a former 33rd-round pick, who has a .556 slugging percentage while playing four positions.

The point is, this kind of success isn’t a fluke, and it’s not surprising, and it was entirely predictable. It’s not an out-of-nowhere team going off for a few unsustainable weeks. It’s a team that has high-paid imports, homegrown superstars, and endless amounts of depth that was expected to win … and is. But how high is this going to go?

As is usually the case, there’s more than one way to look at who they’re chasing.

If it’s raw wins you’re after, then it’s 116 wins, a mark held by both the 2001 Seattle Mariners of Ichiro Suzuki and Edgar Martinez and the 1906 Cubs of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. But Chicago did it in 152 games as opposed to Seattle’s 162, so those long-ago Cubs hold the best winning percentage mark at .762. As for the Dodgers themselves, they need not look back too far to find their single-season wins record, coming as it did just two years ago when the 2019 club won 106 times.

We'll look at the '01 Mariners as the goal. That's because the Dodgers aren't going to win 123 games, which is what the Cubs' .762 would be over 162. It's also because the Cubs of more than a century ago -- this was 10 years before they even moved into Wrigley Field -- played a version of the sport that only vaguely resembles what we know today, one that didn't have night games or integration or cross-country travel or sliders north of 90 mph, if they had sliders at all.

So, we thought, it might be time to start tracking their progress toward 116. The projections no longer matter so much, but what does matter is that these first 14 wins are banked. They’re no longer starting from 0-0, with a big uphill climb toward 116. They’re starting from 14-4, on pace for 126 wins. (They will not get to 126 wins.) To get to 116, they need to go 102-42 over the remaining 144 games, or a .708 winning percentage.

Dating back to the 2019 All-Star Game, the Dodgers have played 148 regular-season games. They have a .696 winning percentage. Or, if we want to include postseason games and the higher caliber of opponent they bring, the Dodgers have, over their last 144 games, posted a .695 winning percentage.

Hey, we never said it’d be easy. But it's not impossible, either. Here are some benchmarks they might want to try to hit.

Through 18 games: 14-4

Best ever through 18 games: 17-1, several teams
Where the 2001 Mariners were: 14-4
Best LA Dodger start through 18 games: 15-3 (1977)

The 2001 Mariners started 14-4. So have the 2021 Dodgers. Therefore, they will win 116 games. Confirmed!

OK, it’s not terribly unusual for a team to win 14 of its first 18. The Rays did it in 2019. The Red Sox did one better (15-3) the year before. Before that, though, no one had done it since 2003, when, somehow, three teams did it: the Royals, Yankees and Giants. Those Yankees made it to the World Series and the Giants won 100 games; the Royals barely finished over .500, but even at the time, the hot start seemed flukish, coming as it did in the middle of two decades of mediocrity.

End of April: 27 games played

Best ever through 27 games: 23-4, three teams
Where the '01 Mariners were: 21-6
Best Dodger start through 27 games: 22-5 (1977)

If the Dodgers want to have The Best April Start Ever, they'll have to win out, taking the remaining nine games of the month. That's probably not going to happen, since they have a rematch with the Padres this weekend and then have the red-hot, uh, Reds coming to town on Monday. The 2001 Mariners, at this point, had actually lost two of their previous three, and would go on to lose three of their next five. Even in an otherwise nearly-perfect season, you're still going to lose some games.

End of May: 54 games played

Best ever through 54 games: 43-11 (1939 Yankees)
Where the '01 Mariners were: 42-12
Best LA Dodger start through 54 games: 39-15 (1974)

The Mariners were in the midst of a 14-game winning streak here, but more notable is that the 1939 Yankees show up, an incredibly good team (they'd win 106 games and sweep the Reds in the World Series) that never seems to get the recognition that the '27 and '98 Yankees get. (There are too many different great Yankee teams.) The '39 group had the final eight games of Lou Gehrig's career, but 24-year-old Joe DiMaggio won the MVP and Hall of Famers Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez led the rotation.

It's worth nothing here that this upcoming May, the Dodgers' travel schedule is mostly favorable. After a month-opening trip in Milwaukee and Chicago, they spend the next 14 days in California, with trips to Anaheim and San Francisco bookending a homestand against Seattle, Miami and Arizona. After a short two-game trip to Houston, they have another week back home.

End of June: 80 games played

Best ever through 80 games: 60-20 (1998 Yankees)
Where the '01 Mariners were: 59-21
Best LA Dodger start through 80 games: 55-25 (1974)

Sticking with our 14-4 start here, the Dodgers would need to play .662 ball to match the '74 team's best franchise start and .741 to catch up to the famed '98 Yankees. You'd like to think that at some point they'd get Bellinger back to help with that. There's another trip to San Diego in here.

All-Star Break: 90 games played

Best ever through 90 games: 67-23 (1998 Yankees)
Where the ‘01 Mariners were: 65-25
Best Dodger start through 90 games: 61-29 (1974, 2017)

The All-Star game is somewhat late in the schedule this year -- it is rarely, if ever, actually at 81 games, the midpoint of the season -- but setting that aside for a moment, the best first-half record in baseball history belongs to the 1912 Giants, who posted a .784 in 75 games. The best first-half record in more modern history would be those '98 Yankees, who started off 61-20. But so far as this year goes, the Dodgers are 72 games from here to there.

End of July: 106 games played

Best ever through 106 games: 78-28 (1944 Cardinals)
Where the '01 Mariners were: 76-30
Best LA Dodger start through 106 games: 75-31 (2017)

The Trade Deadline this year is July 30, not July 31, and the Dodgers figure to be buyers. Last year aside -- Betts having been their big acquisition anyway -- the Dodgers have often gone big at the Deadline, picking up Manny Machado, Yu Darvish, Rich Hill and others. More importantly, look at the July schedule. It is considerably unimposing, including six against the Rockies, who may be baseball's weakest team, and four against the Nationals, who look like a shell of themselves.

Remember that in 2017, the Dodgers went a nearly-unbelievable 51-9 over a 60-game stretch. If they want to challenge the 2001 Mariners, they're going to need a red-hot run at some point. This might be where it happens.

End of August: 133 games played

Best ever through 133 games: 97-36 (1998 Yankees)
Where the '01 Mariners were: 95-38
Best LA Dodger start through 133 games: 92-41 (2017)

You might think that it's going to be tough to get to the record with San Diego in their own division, given that the Padres are a very good team and a tough battle. But then remember that in 2001, the 116-win Mariners had to deal with the 102-win A's -- yes, hilariously, they won 102 times and still finished 14 games out of first place -- and you can at least create the argument that having a strong contender behind you prevents you from taking the foot off the gas pedal and coasting into the playoffs. Not that a tough August schedule might not do that anyway, of course.

From here (14-4) to there (the 97-36 of the '98 Yankees), the Dodgers would need to play .721 baseball.

Entering the final homestand: 156 games played

Best ever through 156 games: 111-45 (2001 Mariners)
Where the '01 Mariners were: 111-45
Best LA Dodger start through 156 games: 100-56 (1962, 2019)

The Dodgers have a nine-game road trip, their last of the season, through Cincinnati, Colorado and Arizona, before a day off on Monday, Sept. 27. This is where it might get fun, because the final homestand of the year begins on Tuesday, Sept. 28, with the Padres in town for three. It's fun to think of what that means if the NL West is on the line, but even if it's not, it still might matter a lot for San Diego if it is trying to claim a Wild Card berth.

Maybe it seems premature to be thinking about all of this, and maybe you'd prefer to check back on it if they're still cruising in July. Fair enough. But it's not really too early at all to start thinking about it, not at 14-4, not with the way they've succeeded without actually firing on all cylinders yet. The Dodgers were universally considered the best team in baseball before the year for a reason, obviously. You're starting to see why. Again.