Dodgers' woes reaffirm postseason's unmatched unpredictability

October 12th, 2023

The Dodgers are the epitome of excellence and of agony. A model and a mystery. A dynasty and a disappointment.

This 100-win team’s season ended with an NLDS sweep at the hands of the D-backs on Oct. 11. That's a date that would not be so damning if this were the late 1940s, the 1950s or the early to mid-‘60s, when the Dodgers dominated the NL and won four World Series titles. But these are different baseball times, of course, and the Dodgers are the ultimate example of how a club can be consummately constructed for the six months it takes to get to October -- but not for the three to four rounds it takes to advance deep into October.

Let the record show this latest early exit -- at the hands of the sixth-seeded D-backs -- did not come completely out of left field. Though it was a mismatch in season record, the series was sure to be a test of the Dodgers’ ambitious plan/prayer to get through the postseason with only a shred of a starting rotation. They were without the suspended Julio Urías and the injured Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, which would have been a lot to overcome even if Clayton Kershaw, Bobby Miller and Lance Lynn had not been so severely shelled by the Snakes.

But in the big picture, those are just details. A decade or 10 from now, no one will care to carefully examine the events, aberrations and excuses for why a particular Dodgers team didn’t get it done. They’ll just look at a historic run of regular-season success and -- as is the case with the Atlanta Braves of 1991-2005 (14 postseason appearances, one World Series title, in 1995) -- marvel at the fact that it didn’t result in more rings.

This was the 11th consecutive postseason appearance for the Dodgers. Only two teams in Major League history have topped that streak:

Most consecutive postseason appearances

Braves, 14, 1991-2005 (no postseason was held in 1994)
Yankees, 13, 1995-2007
Dodgers, 11, 2013-2023* (*Active streak, obviously)

Within this span, the Dodgers have captured 10 NL West titles (finishing second to the Giants in 2021 by a single game), three NL pennants and a lone World Series title, in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

They’ve done this while producing the best regular-season winning percentage in MLB … by a wide margin:

Top 5 winning percentages since 2013:

Dodgers: 1,031-650 (.613)
Yankees: 940-740 (.560)
Astros: 922-758 (.549)
Guardians: 921-757 (.549)
Cardinals: 919-759 (.548)

You could craft an interesting psychological exercise out of the Dodgers’ bizarre biography: Would you rather have L.A.’s 11-year track record, or that of a Red Sox team that, in the same span, has won four AL East titles, a Wild Card spot and TWO World Series titles … while missing the playoffs six times and finishing in last place five times?

We’ll save that debate for a sports bar.

For now, let’s delve deeper into the historical context of the Dodgers’ weird combination of run and rut. It’s not just that they’ve endured many fall frustrations, including two losses in the World Series (2017 and ’18), three NLCS exits (2013, ’16 and ’21) and now five NLDS defeats (2014, ’15, ’19, ’22 and ’23). It’s that the last three of these losses were among the largest upsets in postseason history, in terms of the gap in regular season wins.

Series, Result, Win Differential

1906 World Series: White Sox (93) def. Cubs (116) -23
2022 NLDS: Padres (89) def. Dodgers (111) -22
2001 ALCS: Yankees (95) def. Mariners (116) -21
2021 NLCS: Braves (88) def. Dodgers (106) -18
1973 NLCS: Mets (82) def. Reds (99) -17
2023 NLDS: D-backs (84) def. Dodgers (100) -16

(Credit: MLB Network research)

These awful upsets do the Dodgers no favors when we assess their legacy. Even that aforementioned Braves run from 1991-2005 featured more NL pennants (five) in its first eight years than the Dodgers have managed in 11.

But then again, the Dodgers’ run has come in a period in which the MLB postseason was expanded twice (three times if you count the 16-team COVID tournament). It’s a much different gauntlet now than it was way back in the day, when the Dodgers routinely represented the NL in the Fall Classic.

To wit: Sandy Koufax pitched 57 postseason innings in the entirety of his career, covering four World Series. Kershaw has had three separate postseasons (2017, 2018 and 2020) in which he pitched more than 30 innings apiece. It’s a tournament that asks much more of those involved and invites more unusual outcomes.

Beginning with the 1969 adoption of the divisions, MLB decided -- accurately -- that October is a lot more entertaining when the “best” team, as determined by the 162-game grind, does not always win. The entertainment aspect has been amplified by the subsequent embrace of playoff expansion.

The Dodgers, more than any other club (even those Braves), are representative of just how wild the Wild Card era can be.

That doesn’t mean they are purely victims of circumstance. Sometimes they have simply stunk at inopportune moments or had their roster limitations or weaknesses exposed by the brighter lights. In this 2023 season, a tepid offseason and a precarious pitching plan that assumed health from some oft-injured arms came back to bite the Dodgers when they simply ran out of outs in October.

It didn't help that Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman went a combined 1-for-21 with an infield single and three walks against the D-backs.

But no review of the Dodgers’ results is complete without acknowledging just how random the postseason really is. Heck, we just watched the 101-win Orioles, the 99-game-winning Rays and 89-game-winning Blue Jays -- the three October entrants from a 2023 AL East that produced the third-best combined winning percentage by a five-team division (.554) in the history of division play, dating back to 1969 -- go 0-7 in the postseason.

Through Wednesday’s play, the teams that won 91-plus games in the regular season had gone a combined 1-12 in the postseason.

Oddness is a feature of October, not a bug.

If the Dodgers are to use their humbling -- sometimes humiliating -- October exits as a learning opportunity that informs future club construction, now would appear to be an interesting -- maybe even ideal -- time to do so. Their list of potential free agents includes Kershaw, Urías and Shelby Miller on the pitching side and J.D. Martinez, Kiké Hernández, Amed Rosario, David Peralta and Jason Heyward on the position-player side. Lynn, Max Muncy and Joe Kelly each have 2024 club options.

A roster overhaul could make it difficult for the Dodgers to extend their reign atop the NL West. But it’s possible this confounding club could use some sort of shakeup.

The Dodgers have been built extremely well for the rigors of the regular season. Alas, the randomness of October is another story entirely.