I'm usually incredibly skeptical about the Dodgers chances for completely justifiable reasons. This team hasn't been to the World Series since the Reagan administration, they are shockingly consistent in their mediocrity, and in the meantime almost every other franchise has managed to stumble into a World Series appearance. This year is different though. There's no way you can say the Dodgers aren't the favorites in the NL West. The plan for three divisional rivals is "hope everything goes perfectly", and the fourth's plan revolves around global sea levels rising by 4,000 feet.
However, my feelings of confidence about this team rarely translate to results. The last time I was totally sure this team would cruise to a division title was 2010. Like the 2014 Dodgers, they were coming off one of the best years in recent memory, every key player was coming back, and the NL West didn't seem like it would offer much resistance. Nothing resembling that happened. The Dodgers limped to a fourth place finish, I now own a Manny Ramirez White Sox shirsey, and the Giants disproved the existence of a benevolent divine being. Thinking back to this season made me revisit the 2010 Dodgers, and I found much more similarities between the two clubs.
- Both looked to get continued decent production at third from a guy that pulled a career year from his rumpus in his mid 30s.
- A catcher who saw a big drop in production the year prior.
- A key bat who may or may not be healthy.
- Wanting to get adequate production from an inexperienced second baseman who is taking over for a solid veteran.
- In the previous year a guy named Ramirez came back from a long layoff and led the offense through the second half.
- A toolsy young outfielder put it all together and now is looked to be one of, if not the main offensive contributor.
- Andre Ethier is projected to be decent.
- After a strong first three starters led by Clayton Kershaw, the back end of the rotation is filled with reclamation projects or guys that have had zero big league success.
- A closer that may not be the best in baseball, but is absolutely in the conversation for number two.
- A setup man that was acquired at the trade deadline the year before, giving the Dodgers two "proven closers".
- Several young relief arms that looked to continue their success, with some returning veteran arms surrounding them.
The point of this isn't to crap on the 2014 Dodgers. The point is that even though the most likely scenario is they crush the NL West like four non-threatening ants1, like the 2010 Dodgers a bunch of things can add up to bring this team down. Injuries can pop up, a guy like Yasiel Puig can crater for reasons we could never predict, and relievers can suddenly implode because they're relievers and they tend to do that. Hell, in a sport where the best teams win 60 percent of their games, 162 games isn't enough to stop pure dumb luck from taking this team down.
I don't want the take away from this to be "anything can happen" since it implies things are totally random, but nothing is ever assured in baseball. ZiPS projections correctly paint the Dodgers as one of the best teams in baseball with the rest of the division looking mediocre at best, but even then there's a 30% chance this team fails to capture the NL West. Get hyped; this is the most exciting team we've seen in 30 years, just hold off on getting your "2014 World Series Champions" tattoo until at least June.
1. Like the ones you find in Los Angeles, not one of those crazy Amazonian ants that can strip a gorilla to the bone in four minutes.↩