Over the past seven years the Dodgers have known nothing but winning–except in October. Finally, they are champions.
The Los Angeles Dodgers of the last half-decade have been built for worst-case scenarios. They’re designed with disaster in mind—depth to navigate any injury, positional flexibility to adjust for any opponent, and an enviable farm system to pivot toward any future direction. They’re meant to be able to withstand anything.
The Dodgers’ recent history made winning seem not just like a routine for them but a way of life. Their success been such that it has been all but impossible to imagine anything otherwise. They have won the NL West each year since 2013. And while those titles have centered on a reliable core—Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen—there has never been the sense of a time crunch that comes with a potentially closing window. After Andrew Friedman was installed as president of baseball operations in 2014, the club took on the feel of a perpetual motion machine, with the sort of roster depth that made its outlook for contention less like a closing window and more like an expanding horizon. The Dodgers won, and kept winning, and it seemed hard to figure that they would ever stop.
Except, of course, in October.
The Dodgers’ postseason struggles from the last few years were understandable on an individual basis—bullpen mishaps, poorly timed offensive fades, all of the usual painful culprits. These failures hurt, but each one could be understood as reasonable, especially in the fickle context of October. Viewed as a collective, however, they felt like something other than just a natural quirk of playoff randomness. If the 104-win Dodgers from 2017 couldn’t win it all—if the 106-win Dodgers from 2019 couldn’t—if none of those division winners, going all the way back to 2013, couldn catch the right breaks and win at the right time—could any version of the Dodgers? Each loss could be understood on its own. Together, however, they seemed to suggest some embedded sense of doom.
But the 2020 Dodgers were built to break that construct. They were simply built to be better. The 2019 Dodgers had been the winningest version of the club since it moved to Los Angeles, but over the winter, Friedman moved to elevate the roster even further by dealing for Mookie Betts—swapping a prospect package for the last season of the star outfielder before he hit free agency. This was the sort of statement move that had been absent from the last few offseasons for L.A. It was a declaration of intent, to win not some time, but this time, and a fierce rejoinder to anyone who held on to that sense of doom.
Which, of course, made what came next feel like the ultimate expression of said doom, even if it was less than a footnote to the tragic circumstances in the background. It was like some sort of absurdist joke: What happens when the Dodgers build a team that looks prepared to win it all right now? There’s no baseball at all. The Dodgers had built on one of the best teams in their history by acquiring the best available player, and so—but of course—arose a scenario in which he might not ever play for the team at all. As the season came to an abrupt halt in spring training amid the coronavirus pandemic, with no clear indication of when or even if it would be able to return, the hope for a title seemed to fade out.
Even the announcement that the baseball would resume in July did not quite restore those hopes. (Though Betts’ twelve-year contract extension, announced just before Opening Day, at least guaranteed he would stick around.) The shortened season would only increase the degree randomness by shrinking the sample size. It would, in other words, make the whole season feel a little like October—a little like the worst nightmare for the Dodgers. Their depth and flexibility made them particularly suited to the grind of a lengthy season. This was the single greatest difference between them and the rest of the league, and it was designed to register over the course of months, to make a distinction out of the bumps and scrapes and bad fortune that inevitably crop up in some capacity for any baseball team in a full year. But in 60 games? Anything could happen.
This did not fundamentally change any serious evaluation of the club: The Dodgers still looked like the best team in baseball. The problem was just that such a distinction seemed not to matter as much.
Until it did.
The Dodgers, from the start, looked like exactly who they were supposed to be. The threat of total randomness instead gave way to a season governed by some wonderfully straightforward logic: The best team in baseball earned the best record in baseball. Amid the chaos, here was a source of steadiness, in a year when the expected rarely occurred. (Betts, in particular, was every bit as electric as anyone could have hoped.) The overall baseball environment under pandemic could be uncomfortably eerie; new rules were shoehorned into empty ballparks with video-game soundtracks and stands stuffed with cardboard cutouts. The Dodgers were supposed to host the All-Star Game; there was no All-Star game. And, of course, the world outside baseball held far more chaos in far more serious forms. There was little here that could be said to feel normal. But there were the Dodgers—who won, and kept winning, and made sense when not much else around them did.
With the playoffs adding an extra round this year, October offered a greater chance for a random stumble. But the Dodgers navigated it just as ably as they had the unusually disordered regular season, dispatching the Brewers in two games, the Padres in three and mounting a 3-1 series comeback against the Braves in the NLCS. For years, they had seemed like a practical choice for a championship, a statistically reasonable outcome to expect. Now, for the first time, they looked like a team of destiny, too.
The 2020 World Series was not inevitable. For months, it was unclear if baseball would happen at all, let alone in a form that would have the opportunity to finish with a championship. The viability of the whole endeavor lurched from day to day.
And yet it’s hard to say that this felt anything but inevitable. How could it? A Dodgers win—at last—couldn’t seem at all otherwise.