LOS ANGELES – Nolan Arenado absently waved a bat over his head while he talked, the sort of thing that happens when there are bats around all the time. He was talking about the Los Angeles Dodgers, who at the moment were a month of games ahead of his Colorado Rockies, a serious problem when there’s not a month left in the season.
Not a year ago his Rockies stood shoulder to shoulder with these Dodgers, and fell a few runs and about an hour short of being the better team. On Tuesday afternoon he stood near the same visitors’ clubhouse, in a hallway. He made a particularly salient point and in the process nearly knocked a lamp from the ceiling with the bat. He cringed at the near catastrophe, then shrugged and offered a bemused smile, like of course in this ballpark at the end of this season he’d accidentally knock out a lamp, too.
In a matter of days the Dodgers will win their seventh consecutive National League West title. They’ve won those six, soon to be seven, division championships by an average of nearly nine games. Given seven years to sort out the methods by which they could derail the Dodgers, to dip into their ever expanding analytics departments, to sign better players, to develop better players, to play better, to be smarter, to offer some resistance, the rest of the NL West finished even farther behind the Dodgers. Three teams – the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres – are rebuilding. The fourth – the Rockies – aren’t, and might as well be, and seem sure to finish last.
In 2019, the NL West fluttered a weary hand at the Dodgers and let them through, wait ‘til next year or the year after apparently being the better part of valor. The division race was all but over before summer began and will be official before summer ends. Widely regarded as the only team with a chance to put an end to all of this Dodger-ness, as they had played them to a 163rd game last October, the Rockies had D.J. LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino leave by free agency, had Kyle Freeland devoured by the sophomore slump monster, had an emerging starting rotation fall apart, and what it looks like at the end is a team that never had a chance.
It happens. It happens to every team. The spoils of victory bear unconscious heaviness. Good luck is chased by bad luck. Today’s Cy Young candidate is tomorrow’s Triple-A underachiever. The days get long and hope leaves faster than the turnstile can spin. It’s hard to win, to show up and resume a fight that can’t be won for another four or five or six months, to lose at the end and commit again to all the inches that make up the proper and righteous journey.
Except, apparently, and lately, for the Dodgers, anyway, whose entire take from the past six years is a closet filled with division titles, a couple National League pennants, and a lot of restarting the process.
“It just seems like they’re doing something different than everyone else,” Arenado said before threatening to dismantle the stadium a fixture at a time.
It would, of course, be great for Arenado and the Rockies and the rest of the division to know what those things are. The results are, however, apparent, in that for seven years the Dodgers generally have pitched better, hit better, developed new players better, had better players more often, turned average players into good players more often and then, as it was, lost in October.
“They must be doing something in development,” Arenado said. “Whenever they bring a player up they make an impact right away. They just keep coming at you.”
It could be superior analytics or smarter drafting or savvier roster choices or deeper pockets or stouter leadership, but it’s probably just better players, which is the result of some of that, maybe all of that, along with a division that just backs away and lives, presumably, to fight another day.
“They get good buy-in from their guys, it seems like,” Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond said. “If we’re being realistic, part of that is the division they’re in. If it wasn’t us giving them a fight…”
A few minutes later, Arenado finished the thought.
“If we’re going to try to make it to where we want to go, we have to go through them,” he said and wagged his baseball bat precariously. “We have a long way to go.”
Three Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Hyun-Jin Ryu – have been in uniform for all seven. Granted, six division titles – soon to be seven – and zero World Series rings hollows out some of the achievement. Same time, seven shots in seven seasons is more than anyone else, and what is especially impressive is the determination to cover that first inch again, with the same earnestness. With the same assumption that this time will be different.
“The first thing, I’m just grateful,” Kershaw said. “That’s the first thing I think about. Just to be part of an organization that has an opportunity to do that. There’s only two. Or three. Right?
“As to why we have, good players is the main ingredient there. If there’s something more to it, I don’t know. Same time, there are other teams with talent, at least as much. It feels sometimes like they’re all playing a separate game, not together. You can see it, feel it from the other side.”
Soon, they’ll show up again in October. It’ll end different or it won’t, and a 162-game season, seven in a row (163 once), will be forgotten. It stopped being about the regular season a long time ago for the Dodgers, which says something about what they’ve made of the regular season over that time. It’s not something anymore. But it’s not nothing either, not until somebody turns out the lights.
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