Nobody really noticed in Spring Training, but the Dodgers came into the season kind of ticked off. The 2016 season had ended much like most seasons of the past decade: with the Dodgers winning the National League West and then losing in the postseason. They lost to the Cubs in the NL Championship Series, just like they lost to the Cardinals in the '13 NLCS, just like they lost to the Phillies in both the '08 and '09 NLCS.
But this one felt different somehow, perhaps because it seemed like nobody had even noticed the Dodgers in 2016. The story of the Cubs trying to win the World Series for the first time in more than a century had captured all of the attention of baseball fans. The Dodgers had been reduced to a little more than than a bad-guy henchman defeated by the Cubs' comic-book heroics.
"There's a particular kind of sting," Los Angeles general manager Farhan Zaidi said, "to being a prop in someone else's feel-good story."
The Dodgers wanted to write their own feel-good story, and they came into the season with baseball's highest payroll and baseball's best Minor League system, the best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year in Corey Seager and superstars at every turn. They were primed and ready and …
… then they got off to an entirely uninspiring start. On April 24, the Dodgers were 9-11. They were beat up, they were spinning their wheels -- and then they called up their top prospect, Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers lost Bellinger's second game to the rival Giants on a walk-off sacrifice fly by Hunter Pence.
For the next 105 games, the Dodgers played unmatched baseball.
Since the 1969 expansion, the best records for 105-game stretches are:
1. Dodgers, 2017, 81-24
2. Yankees, 1998, 80-25
3. Reds, 1975, 77-28
4. Mariners, 2001, 76-29
Several teams, including the 1977 Royals and the '69 Mets, won 75 of 105 during one stretch; the point is that the Dodgers were all but unbeatable for more than three months. Sure, Bellinger was a big part of it. He became the fastest player in baseball history to 21 home runs.
But he was just one part of the incredible team effort. Chris Taylor, a utility infielder called up only a few days before Bellinger, became a part of the everyday lineup -- playing center field most days -- and during the stretch, he hit .306 and slugged .530.
Third baseman Justin Turner, who had become a very good player for the Dodgers after other teams had given up on him, took another step and became a full-blown superstar. Pitchers couldn't get him out during the stretch, he had a .421 on-base percentage, he hit for power, he played good defense; if not for an injury that kept him out for three weeks, Turner might have been the NL Most Valuable Player.
And here's a crazy part of the Dodgers' amazing stretch: Kershaw missed five weeks of it with an injury. Yes, Kershaw went 11-1 with a 1.95 ERA in those 105 games, but other pitchers were just about as good. The Dodgers won 16 of Alex Wood's 17 starts; he had a 2.43 ERA for those games. They went 15-4 when Kenta Maeda pitched.
Kenley Jansen pitched in 48 of the 105 games. He had a 1.08 ERA and an 80-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Los Angeles went 47-1 in those games.
You can pull number after number, and all of them point to impossibly great baseball. In fact: It was impossible. The Dodgers followed this streak with a five-game losing streak, then they beat San Diego, 1-0, behind Kershaw, then they lost a mind-blowing 11 games in a row.
There is no figuring out baseball.
In the end, the Dodgers won 104 games, the most that they have won in a season since moving to Los Angeles. Their postseason had some magic in it. They were not about to be stopped by the Cubs this time. Nobody in L.A. will soon forget Turner's walk-off home run off John Lackey on the 29th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's absurd and miraculous homer in 1988. The Dodgers reached the World Series for the first time since that year.
Then there was the classic and inevitably heartbreaking World Series against Houston, one that ended with the disappointing Game 7 loss. You can imagine that the 2018 Dodgers' theme will be about finishing the job or something like that, but this year had a whole different vibe from the '16 season. That season, though it was somewhat successful, was forgotten almost as soon as it ended.
The 2017 season -- with the memorable debut of Bellinger, another classic season from Kershaw, the emergence of Turner and an incredible three months when the Dodgers couldn't lose -- will stay in the memory for a while longer.