'Just another step': LA's eyes on division prize

Dodgers trim NL West magic number to 1 after shutout over D-backs

September 13th, 2022

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers, the National League West champions every season from 2013-20, are on the cusp of reclaiming their division crown. And after that eight-year reign ended in ‘21 -- when Los Angeles fell one game shy of San Francisco -- nobody will take it for granted.

“It’s not a rite of passage. It’s hard to win the division,” manager Dave Roberts said. “For us to win the division, I think it’s a big feather in our cap. We’re not the defending champs. So it’s something we take pride in.”

But the Dodgers, in all likelihood, will soon reclaim that mantle. On Monday night, they trimmed their NL West magic number to one with a 6-0 win over the D-backs at Chase Field. tossed seven dominant innings, 's two-run double capped a three-run rally in the seventh and sealed the victory with a three-run homer in the ninth, setting a new career high with his 34th this year and passing Joc Pederson's 2019 franchise record for the most from the leadoff spot (33).

Los Angeles, which is the only team in MLB to have already clinched a postseason berth, can secure its ninth NL West title in 10 seasons with a win at Arizona on Tuesday. The Dodgers (97-43) would also clinch if the Padres (77-64, 20 1/2 games back) lose to the Mariners in Seattle.

"Just another step," Betts said. "I don’t want to take away from the guys that haven’t been in the postseason, but a lot of us have, and we understand that this is Step One to our final destination."

While Los Angeles is heading to the postseason for the 10th consecutive year, this will be Anderson’s first trip to the playoffs since he was pitching for Colorado in 2018. The 32-year-old left-hander, who signed with the Dodgers in March, has been a steady presence in the team’s rotation all season, and he’s on an impressive roll of late.

Anderson scattered five hits and two walks while striking out two in his masterful outing against the D-backs, earning his 15th win of the year. Over his past seven starts, the southpaw has a 1.94 ERA, having allowed three or fewer runs in each of those appearances.

This was the eighth time in Anderson’s 25 starts this season that he allowed no earned runs while also going at least six innings.

"This guy is a pro in every sense of the word," Roberts said. "He’s accountable. His fastball command is better than I gave him credit for at the start of the year. ... Over the course of the season, he’s continuing to pass every test, and like I said about some other guys, I don’t know where we’d be without him."

Yet, it’s not a sure thing that Anderson will crack the Dodgers’ postseason rotation. and are locks. , who has made four starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, has overpowering stuff that could be dominant in a playoff setting. has a 2.84 ERA over 12 starts and is fully healthy after dealing with numerous injuries early in the year.

Then, there’s whose 16-1 record and 2.10 ERA through 23 starts made him an early NL Cy Young Award candidate before he hit the injured list with a right forearm strain in late August. If he’s healthy and stretched out, he’s surely one of Los Angeles’ best starting options for October.

How will Anderson fit onto the postseason staff? And could he switch to a relief role at that time? It’s a good problem for a team to have, and also a question that doesn’t need to be answered until October. For now, he’s focused on helping the Dodgers clinch -- hopefully multiple times, given they want to secure the NL’s No. 1 seed.

"That’s not the goal, where we’re at now. We want to keep winning as many games as we can throughout the rest of this year," Anderson said. "When you come here and you look at the lineup that we have and the roster that’s been assembled, you kind of expect to be in a postseason situation."

When Los Angeles clinched its playoff berth, the celebration was subdued, practically nonexistent. Roberts shared a champagne toast with his players, but everybody's sights were set on much larger targets.

From the onset of the season, the Dodgers’ first checkbox to cross off was reclaiming the NL West title. If they take care of business Tuesday behind Kershaw, that will be accomplished.

And if they do, Roberts assured, the clubhouse atmosphere will be a bit more electric.

"That’s the plan," Roberts said. "Getting an opportunity to go to the postseason is one thing, but the first goal was to win the division. So I think that’s certainly a cause for celebration."