“Life’s a Pitch” is a column by Elizabeth Islas about collegiate and professional sports.
Kiké Hernández is right. The Dodgers’ season should be considered a failure.
But, Liz, they won 106 games in the regular season and made the postseason for the seventh consecutive year. That’s success.
It doesn’t matter which way you slice and dice it, they failed to win the World Series, which means the season was a bust. After all, isn’t winning a championship the whole reason why teams play in the first place? What’s the point of playing if that’s not the ultimate goal?
Sure, their regular season was phenomenal. In fact, it was so phenomenal that no other team in Dodgers franchise history has posted a better record. In the team’s 136-year history, this year’s squad sits atop the win column with 106 victories under its belt. An accomplishment, for sure.
But do wins determine a season’s success? No. Not if the wins don’t come in October.
The Seattle Mariners won 116 games in 2001, tying the Cubs’ MLB record for the most wins in a season. Would you like to know who won the 2001 World Series? Well, not the Mariners. They could have won all 162 games for all it mattered. It didn’t make a difference then and it doesn’t make a difference now — a team’s regular-season record means nothing if you don’t win the World Series.
And the Dodgers didn’t even get to the World Series this year.
The Dodgers had the best odds on Oct. 1 to win the National League pennant and advance to the Fall Classic, given the team’s regular season success. Only the Houston Astros had better odds to take home the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Adding on to the high expectations, the Dodgers made it to the World Series for the past two years and lost both times — making this the year they were finally going to win it all. It wasn’t an unfathomable thought, either. This year’s team was much better than in recent years.
Their bullpen was massively improved, they had an MVP-level player in Cody Bellinger and their lineup depth was deeper than the sea. All players on the roster contributed when it was most necessary, filling in where other players fell short to create a full, cohesive squad.
They were good enough to clinch their division, and they did it in dominating fashion. They ended the season 21 games ahead of the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks, which is quite impressive. The Houston Astros, who won 107 games this year, finished with a 10-game lead in their division, which goes to show just how dominant the Dodgers were in the NL West.
But circling back to my previous point — it doesn’t matter how many times the Dodgers win their division if they don’t win it all.
2019 marked the seventh-straight year the Dodgers won the NL West. I’ll say it again: who cares?
The Washington Nationals, who ended LA’s season in the NLDS, didn’t win their division. They finished four games back in the NL East division, but defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card game to advance to the NLDS to face the Dodgers.
Division titles are nice in theory, but the significance of one is much less than in years past, since more and more teams are being included in postseason play.
When the World Series first started back in 1903, the best team in each league faced off. In 1969, the Championship Series was created, making the top two teams in each league play each other before advancing to the Fall Classic. Then in 1995, the Division Series was created, adding two more teams to the playoffs. The latest addition was in 2012, when MLB added a play-in game for the Wild Card spot. Essentially, two teams now face off in a one-game playoff to see who will advance to the Division Series.
The addition of a Wild Card team in 1995 allowed teams who didn’t win their division to have a run in the postseason. So although the division titles are an easier way to make it into October baseball, it’s not a requirement anymore. And the teams get nothing but a champagne shower. No banner to hang up in the stadium. No ring to take home.
For the seventh-straight season, the Dodgers can say they were NL West division winners, but they cannot say their season was a success.
“It’s tough,” Hernández said after the Dodgers were eliminated. “I don’t think anyone in [the Dodgers] clubhouse expected us to be going home this soon. It simply sucks. There’s no other way to put it — it sucks.”
It does suck. For a Dodgers fan who now has to wait yet another year for the Dodgers to win a World Series, it sucks. Now the Dodgers will have to sit at home and see who takes home the title they could—and should— have won.
“Life’s a Pitch” runs every Friday.