LOS ANGELES -- For the past month the Dodgers played like they had the division clinched. On Friday night, they finally did.• Dress for success: Get NL West champions gearIt all came together fittingly on Tommy Lasorda's 90th birthday, a 4-2 win over the rival Giants at Dodger Stadium to
LOS ANGELES -- For the past month the Dodgers played like they had the division clinched. On Friday night, they finally did.
• Dress for success: Get NL West champions gear
It all came together fittingly on Tommy Lasorda's 90th birthday, a 4-2 win over the rival Giants at Dodger Stadium to become the first National League West team to win its division five consecutive seasons.
"You have to celebrate a division title," Clayton Kershaw said, unwavering in his answer even while enduring a beer shower in the clubhouse bedlam. "For a lot of people, it could be the last time. That doesn't mean we don't know we've got more to do. And I can't see out of my right eye."
Lasorda was better prepared than Kershaw. The Hall of Famer walked around the clubhouse, congratulating everybody, his eyes protected by goggles.
Lasorda, Kershaw and Co. had plenty to celebrate from a season that saw the Dodgers play the best baseball in the game, and then some of the worst. While the on-field celebration was subdued, the 39-man roster utterly soaked the clubhouse, Guggenheim Management popping for French bubbles.
"As talented of a group I've been around," said Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations. "Extremely resilient group. The preparation, the work ethic, the way they go about their business every day is unparalleled to my exposure. So to have a chance tonight to celebrate and have that release and then tomorrow, focus, lock back in as we prep for October."
When Friedman's Dodgers were good, which was most of the season, they were so good that some publications suggested they might be the best team ever. They had the best record in baseball by a mile, peaking at 55 games above .500. They had the best pitcher, the best home record, one of the best rookies, one of the best closers, the lowest pitching staff ERA and the most All-Stars in the league.
"Ninety-eight wins at the start of the season, yeah, if you told me we'd have that with eight games to go, we'd be pretty excited about it," said general manager Farhan Zaidi. "We feel good about where we are and we have some games left to continue to get our groove as we have been the last few games. Great accomplishment."
Zaidi's Dodgers embraced today's obsession with power by closing in on the franchise record for home runs, having already set a Dodgers record with six players slugging at least 20. They adjusted to consistently brief outings from starting pitchers with a wave of hard-throwing relievers.
They went through a stunning stretch from June 7 to Aug. 25 going 56-11, beating up mostly on clubs with losing records. But they also went through a stretch from Aug. 26 to Sept. 11 when they lost 16 of 17 as the quality of opposition toughened. If they win the World Series, they will be the first team to do it in a season that included both 11-game winning and losing streaks.
They overcame early injuries to Andre Ethier, Alvin Toles and Adrian Gonzalez with the accelerated arrival of Cody Bellinger, who opened the season at Triple-A and should close it with a runaway win as NL Rookie of the Year, swatting Hall of Famer Mike Piazza's name off the top of the list for the franchise rookie home run record.
Bellinger follows in the footsteps of last year's unanimous Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager, who suffered no sophomore jinx. He has, however, suffered an unspecified elbow injury that might require offseason surgery to repair. He hasn't been the same player with it, nor has the club been the same team without him at full strength.
But the Dodgers built an insurmountable lead in the good times that withstood the bad times. Alex Wood nearly turned into another Kershaw. Chris Taylor came out of nowhere to turn into another Justin Turner. Kenley Jansen redefined the closer role with multiple four-out saves. Yasiel Puig has become an offensive force again. Austin Barnes has earned added playing time behind the plate. Management manipulated the roster to keep the flow of fresh bodies coming. Manager Dave Roberts took a clubhouse filled with unselfish talent and kept them on task better than any other club.
"We still have a lot of work to do," said Roberts, who joined Lasorda as the only Dodgers managers to finish first in their first two seasons.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001.