Dave Roberts was sitting in the dugout before Friday night’s series opener against the Mets at Citi Field. His playoff ticket already had been secured after the Dodgers clinched their seventh straight NL West title on Tuesday, and his thoughts were darting ahead to the task waiting in October.
The Los Angeles manager presides over a different kind of dynasty. The Dodgers keep claiming division crowns, but they’ve been unable to claim the ultimate crown. They tripped over the final step the past two years, falling to Houston (in seven games) and Boston (in five) in those World Series.
Now they’re just hoping to finish the job.
“It’s a very driven, focused group,” said Roberts, the first to win division titles in each of his first four full seasons as a major league manager. “I think the way that we’ve played all year long echoes that as far as the consistent and high performance. So one part of the equation is getting to the postseason and the other part is finishing. So that’s our only goal right now.”
The Dodgers beat the Mets, 9-2, on Friday night, and even after their 3-0 loss to the Mets on Saturday night, they are a National League-best 96-54.
There are a lot of ifs, but the road toward their elusive first title since 1988 could run through the Bronx. It could run through Queens as well, but that’s more of an outside chance.
After winning Saturday, the Yankees have the best record in baseball at 98-52, but the Mets have a hard hill to climb. They are three games behind the Cubs for the second wild card with 14 games left.
But say they rally to make it and win the wild-card game, and the Dodgers keep the best record in the league. The Dodgers and Mets would meet in a best-of-five Division Series.
“This is a very dangerous team,” Roberts said of the Mets, “namely because of the starting pitching.”
Roberts’ team is 4-2 against the Mets, and he said the Dodgers are looking closely for tendencies in case they have a playoff rematch.
If the Dodgers survive the NLCS and the Yankees advance past the ALCS, it will be a New York/Los Angeles World Series. The Yankees won two of three games against the Dodgers in Los Angeles last month.
Roberts sees similarities in the New York teams.
“Outside of the fact that they play in the same state and the same city, I think that the thing that I see that I like is there’s a very good blend of young players, youthful enthusiasm with a lot of talent, mixed in with some veteran players,” Roberts said.
“You look at this [Mets] club, you see the starting pitching. There’s a lot of power. And then you look at the Yankees and you see the strength in the bullpen. But as far as positional, there’s a lot of slug from both sides. Then you’ve got two managers that are still trying to make their way as major league managers. They’re both doing great jobs.”
The Dodgers have the third-longest division title streak on record and will be formidable for any opponent.
“They have great players, great lineup, very good starting pitching,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “Their bullpen has performed over the years. We all know that’s the formula. When we do those things, we win games as well. They’ve done it very, very consistently for a long period of time.”
The Dodgers have hit an NL-record 261 homers, topped by Cody Bellinger’s 44, one of their 11 hitters in double figures. The pitching staff, with a rotation led by three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler, leads the majors with a 3.40 ERA.
“We’ve got a quality group in here,” said Kershaw, who’s 167-74 with a 2.44 ERA in the regular season but just 9-10 with a 4.32 ERA in the postseason. “Everybody continues to improve, whether it’s younger guys or older guys adapting. Just a lot of different guys, a lot of different contributions.”
The Dodgers clinched the NL West in game No. 146. They clinched last year in game No. 163, a tiebreaker.
“We were a very good team last year, but I just think this year has been a totally different mindset, and that’s the biggest reason for the success we’ve had,” infielder Max Muncy said. “We don’t look ahead. We don’t look back. We just look at the game we have at hand.”
Kershaw doesn’t think they’re any more driven to finish this year than they have been in the past.
“Every year,” he said, “you’ve got one goal.”
HABIT OF WINNING
Teams that have won the most consecutive MLB division titles:
14: Braves, *1991-2005, 1 World Series title
9: Yankees, 1998-2006, 3 World Series titles
7: Dodgers, 2013-2019, 0 World Series titles
*-1994 season ended prematurely after players’ strike; no official division winners.