LOS ANGELES — After a regular season filled with eye-popping numbers, both good and bad — mostly good — the Dodgers open their postseason with Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday night against the Diamondbacks, the first of what Los Angeles hopes will be many, many games this October.
The Dodgers won 104 games in 2017, their highest victory total in 64 years, but they are concerned with a different number.
“Just trying to win 11 games,” said Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw, referring to the number of postseason wins it will take to win the World Series, something the Dodgers haven’t done in 29 years.
To hang nearly three decades of falling short of the ultimate goal on the current team isn’t really fair, but there is no avoiding the feeling from within the clubhouse that if the Dodgers don’t win a World Series this year, 2017 will be a disappointment.
“There are no banners hanging out there saying we’re NL West champions five years in a row. All the banners you see out there are World Series championships,” said Andre Ethier, the dean of the Dodgers, with 12 years of service and about to make his eighth postseason appearance. “No one is going to remember in five years that we won 104 games if we don’t win the World Series.
“It doesn’t matter how many games you win. It’s about winning the World Series, and I think the organization is changing that frame of mind.”
The Dodgers brought back nearly the same team that lost to the Cubs in the 2016 NLCS, adding second baseman Logan Forsythe in an offseason that saw them retain their three main free agents, signing closer Kenley Jansen, third baseman Justin Turner and starter Rich Hill for contracts totaling $192 million.
“It’s something we talked about in the press conference [in January],” Turner said. “Bringing that trophy back to LA. They’ve been waiting for a long time.”
Ethier compared this year’s team to the 2009 Dodgers, winners of 95 games and a trip to — and loss in — the NLCS. He said the 2009 team had a more experienced lineup from top to bottom, but that this year’s team has the better starting pitching staff.
“I think it’s a combination of some guys with experience and the young guys we have who are excited and energized,” Ethier said. “It’s a nice balance to see how the recipes work.”
If that recipe doesn’t cook up a World Series championship, is 2017 a bust?
“It would be extreme disappointment. I think that right now we’ve got a good feeling in our clubhouse,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You could look at seven other teams when it’s all said and done that would feel extreme disappointment, when the goal is to win a World Series.”
The Dodgers followed up last year’s playoff run by finishing this year with the best record in baseball, setting an LA Dodgers record for wins, even if the distribution of victories was about as bizarre as one could imagine.
The Dodgers are the only 100-win team in baseball history to lose 10 games in a row. They lost 11 straight, another LA record. They are the only team ever with two 10-game winning streaks and a 10-game losing streak in the same season.
Since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, the club records for most home wins in a season (57) and consecutive home losses (nine) both happened this season.
They are the only team with stretches of 16-1 and 1-16 in the same year. They had stretches of 43-7 and 52-9. Before losing 16 out of 17 games in August and September, the Dodgers lost 16 of their previous 80 games.
Trying to predict this team on a day-to-day basis is a fool’s errand.
“We did win a lot of games this year, no doubt. But I don't think anybody cares about that anymore,” Kershaw added. “The Diamondbacks had a great year too. They won a lot of games. So it's a race to the first of three and then move on from there.”
After the regular season, the counter has been reset, though the 104 wins did provide some currency. The Dodgers will have home field advantage for as long as they advance in October, all the way through the World Series.
They are as well setup for an October run as any Dodgers team in the last three decades. A run that starts Friday night.
“It’s a challenge we all have to embrace. You can’t run from it. We have to respond,” Roberts said. “Up to this point, we’ve done everything we can to put ourselves in the best position to accomplish that goal, and we expect to finish.
“I do want guys to embrace the moment, because there is sometimes the potential for teams and players to not embrace it. The magnitude, the butterflies. The difference is how you channel it. This is what we all live for.”