Unfinished business awaits after LA celebrates
The real story of the Dodgers' 2015 season is not yet written. But at least now it has a proper prologue.
Yes, the Dodgers clinched their third consecutive National League West title with Tuesday's 8-0 win over the Giants -- led by ace Clayton Kershaw's masterful 13-strikeout complete game -- and they celebrated accordingly, though perhaps not as rapturously as the famous Arizona-aided pool party of two years back.
Let us not overlook the difficulty of the three-peat feat in this age of competitive parity. Actually, let's not overlook the organizational significance, as well. The Dodgers, be it the Brooklyn or L.A. iteration, have never been to the postseason three years in a row. Until now.
That's special stuff, though the Dodgers themselves would be the first to acknowledge that outlasting the Giants over the course of 162 is one thing and doing what the Giants did in 2010, '12 and '14 is quite another.
Every team that gets to October insists it has a bigger goal in mind than just the division or the Wild Card. The team with the payroll now north of $300 million obviously takes that idea to the extreme. As was the case in 2014 and, perhaps to a lesser extent, 2013, the Dodgers know they will be judged not by the champagne spilling on the carpet in late September but by what occurs in October.
Kershaw certainly knows it. The hand-wringing over his past postseason conflicts with the Cardinals will be a tired tale by the time he takes the mound in the upcoming Division Series against the Mets -- for which the Dodgers trail by one game for home-field advantage -- and Kershaw has to know that there's only one way to cease that storyline.
All that matters, really, is the present, and in Kershaw and Zack Greinke, our modern-day answer to Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the Dodgers have the game's most profound one-two punch atop their rotation, thereby making 2-0 series leads utterly realistic.
What they do with that built-in advantage is ultimately up to the offense, the bullpen and, quite likely, Don Mattingly's decision on whether short rest is best when it gets to Games 4 and 5. But that's a topic for another time.
For now, let's give the Dodgers a day to drink this in, to toast what was a sometimes-weird and yet, ultimately, successful ride in the first year of the Andrew Friedman era.
"Weird" works as an adjective here, as does "ephemeral." The Dodgers demonstrated, as many a moneyed squad before them has, that high payrolls buy you options but not stability.
The rotation was stronger, then it wasn't. The $48 million investment prompted by Brandon McCarthy's first 200-inning season has, for now, netted the Dodgers just four starts and a Tommy John tab. All worry about Hyun-Jin Ryu's shoulder condition was justified some five or six weeks into the season, when Ryu, too, went under the knife. And Mike Bolsinger only had so much magic in the tank.
That same rotation was going to be a Trade Deadline focal point, then it wasn't. While the Dodgers did address their starting stash with the additions of Alex Wood and Mat Latos, these weren't exactly the type of blockbuster buy-ins fans were expecting, and Latos promptly earned a pink slip.
Joc Pederson was the Rookie of the Year favorite, then he wasn't. The regression monster took a big bite out of young Joc since the break.
Yasiel Puig was a breakout candidate, then he wasn't. He's had a forgettable, 77-game season and may or may not be ready in time for the League Championship Series round of the playoffs.
The formerly bloated bullpen looked to be better, then it wasn't. There were times closer Kenley Jansen was but one man staying afloat in a raging sea, though this situation has calmed in recent weeks.
Adrian Gonzalez was a borderline MVP candidate, then he wasn't. His bat and his back have had problems in the second half, and the two issues are undoubtedly tied together.
You might be reading all this and asking yourself, "Well then how, exactly, did the Dodgers win this thing?"
Well, the first and most obvious answer is that Kershaw made a U-turn to remember after some unusual early-season hiccups, while Greinke threatened to post one of the lowest ERAs of the live-ball era. Kershaw's strikeout total (294) is staggering, and Greinke's contract, should he do as expected and opt out of this one, could be equally so.
Another answer? Friedman and Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the Dodgers' powerhouse front office prioritized defensive upgrades up the middle in the offseason, and replacing Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez with Pederson, Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins did, indeed, make the Dodgers much more sure-handed.
Beyond all that, there were huge early sparks from Gonzalez, Pederson, Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner and late ones from Enrique Hernandez and prized prospect Corey Seager, whose mere presence on this roster has provided near-daily reminders why the Dodgers didn't go all-in on a Johnny Cueto or David Price or Cole Hamels. (The Dodgers might have a lot of win-now contracts on their hands, but Friedman has been unsurprisingly deliberate in trying to build a more sustainable behemoth.)
And finally, an obvious factor: The Dodgers beat the teams you have to beat. Against sub-.500 Senior Circuit squads, they've gone 57-30.
They didn't fare nearly as well against the Giants early on. But when the defending World Series champs came to Dodger Stadium for a three-game set at the start of September, the resulting sweep -- punctuated by nine no-nonsense innings from Kershaw -- hammered it home.
That's how the Dodgers won the West. Now let's see how the rest of the story -- the real story -- unfolds.