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Dodgers first to clinch; eye 11 October victories

Seager, Lux power offense with HRs; Buehler fans 11 over 7 scoreless
@zachsilver
September 11, 2019

BALTIMORE -- A block of ice was just thrown down the back of Gavin Lux's shirt. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Justin Turner, Chris Taylor and countless other Dodgers made sure to get their photos with Tommy Lasorda, who was taking refuge from the beverage onslaught behind a wall in the visitors' clubhouse.

BALTIMORE -- A block of ice was just thrown down the back of Gavin Lux's shirt. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Justin Turner, Chris Taylor and countless other Dodgers made sure to get their photos with Tommy Lasorda, who was taking refuge from the beverage onslaught behind a wall in the visitors' clubhouse. By the time manager Dave Roberts popped the first bottle of champagne -- and by the time his voice was gone at the last -- the Dodgers made one thing clear: Even after seven consecutive National League West crowns, they still know how to celebrate.

Shop for new NL West champs gear

Sure, this year's iteration came without nearly the amount of drama that last year's did in Game 163. But Tuesday's division-clinching 7-3 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards was a cause for celebration in the way of comfort. Only five teams in the Wild Card era can say they did it faster than these Dodgers did in 146 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Box score

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"Under the situation that we put ourselves in last year, this doesn't seem as dramatic," Roberts admitted. "It was more subdued. It was kind of just of organic. It was one of those things where we expected it.

"It's obviously early in September, but it doesn't take away from what we as an organization accomplished. As a game, it's tough; it's a grind. So when you do get moments like this, we do a good job of appreciating what we have accomplished, and it's special. To win one division, but to win seven in a row -- the consistency of the organization to do what we've done, a lot of credit goes to a lot of people. Now is the idea of just refocusing in everything we do going forward is to win 11 games in October."

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True, the Dodgers celebrated in collective elation when Caleb Ferguson struck out Mark Trumbo to clinch the crown, taking photos on the field and with Lasorda while draped in their soaked National League West champions apparel.

But there was an equally palpable aura of dissatisfaction for this group of Dodgers. A euphoric sentiment in the moment, sure, but still one that gave off the feeling that there's plenty of work to be done.

"Even in '18 coming into Spring Training, guys were pissed off," Roberts said. "That necessarily doesn't translate into wins, because you want to win regardless … but this is a group that we've fallen short two years in a row now, so we don't want to be denied."

But there was still plenty of fun to be had.

"I wouldn't say any of this is easy," added Walker Buehler, who pitched seven shutout innings while tallying his 200th punchout of the season on Tuesday. "That's why we celebrate the way we do. When you are looking at 162 games, the fact we've stayed together the way we have, especially with some of the injuries we've had, is just a testament to who we are."

The Dodgers' seventh consecutive NL West crown was achieved in just 146 games of sheer dominance this season -- one game slower than the Angels of 2008. The Dodgers are now just the third team in history with at least seven consecutive division titles and the first since the Yankees of 1998-2006.

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So how did the Dodgers get here this go-around?

• MLB-leading ERA (3.12), K/BB ratio (4.72) and WHIP (1.07) from its starters, plus 15 shutouts as a staff
• The highest run differential in the NL (+237) by a cushion of 125 runs
• An NL record for homers in a season that is continuing to build (258)
• The highest team OPS in the NL
• Only one losing streak of five games or more

"We are doing something right," Buehler said. "I don't know what it is. I can't pinpoint it, but we have a lot of talent and a lot of guys that like playing with each other. When you put guys like that in the same locker room, good things happen."

They did it on Tuesday behind their bread and butter: Hitting that's equal parts timely and potent alongside electric pitching. Corey Seager's first multihomer game and the first career long ball from Lux were more than enough to back Buehler's surgical seven innings.

"Every year it's obviously exciting," said Seager, who was celebrating last year's NL West clincher while recovering from hip surgery and still on crutches. "You can't really take it for granted. It's something that doesn't always happen. Even though we've won seven in a row, it's never a guarantee."

"If you would have told me two or three months ago that I would be part of a clinching team, I wouldn't have believed you," Lux said. "Just to be here and be part of such a good group of guys is special and kind of indescribable. And I'm having fun while I'm doing it."

So with the postseason spot secured so early, is complacency a concern?

"The goal is to play like this every time we take the field," Roberts said. "There's a certain intensity that we play the game. This is our default now, and it's been created over years. Letting down, I just don't see that as a possibility for our club. … Tomorrow, we're going to expect to win a baseball game."