LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers beat the Giants 4-2 on Friday night at Dodger Stadium, clinching the National League West for a fifth consecutive season.
The win gave the Dodgers (98-56) a nine-game division lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks (89-65) with eight left to play, making the Dodgers the first team to win the NL West five years in a row. They are just the sixth team since divisional play began in 1969 to win a division five or more consecutive seasons, and the first since the Philadelphia Phillies won the NL East every year from 2007-11.
Before these last five years, the Dodgers as a franchise had never made the postseason more than two seasons in a row.
After Giants starter Jeff Samardzija retired his first seven batters faced, the Dodgers offense came alive in the third inning. Logan Forsythe doubled, then Rich Hill followed with an opposite field double of his own, his fourth career double and first since June 2, 2007.
"Some guys take a selfie, some guys fist pump...Rich Hill got there and went, 'what just happened?' " -- @OrelHershiser on Hill's RBI-double pic.twitter.com/IUJPF8yMT0— Ryan Walton (@RyanWaltonSBN) September 23, 2017
That tied the score at 1-1, then after a two-out walk to Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger crushed a three-run shot into the left field pavilion for the Dodgers’ first lead.
Bellinger’s 39th home run of the season, in addition to sending the Dodger Stadium crowd into a frenzy, set a National League record for home runs by a rookie.
“Oh my goodness,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You talk about Cody, you talk about Chris Taylor, and what we expected out of them going into the season, they have obviously exceeded those expectations.”
Hill held the Giants down after the first inning, striking out nine batters in his six innings. Since joining the Dodgers, Hill has allowed six runs in six starts against the Giants, posting a 1.65 ERA in 32⅔ innings, with 32 strikeouts and five walks.
Kenley Jansen allowed a home run to Pablo Sandoval in the ninth, but got the final three outs for his 40th save, joining Eric Gagne as the only pitchers in Dodgers history with three seasons of 40 or more saves.
Owners of the best record in baseball, the Dodgers in 2017 have still managed to have an odd year. They were tied for first place after the opening series of the season, but thanks to strong starts by both Arizona and the Colorado Rockies the Dodgers didn’t taste first place again until May 30.
5+ division titles in a row
The club won at a nearly unprecedented pace for 2½ months, with runs of 43-7 and 52-9 starting in early June, the latter the best 61-game stretch in the majors since 1912. The Dodgers took control of first place for good on June 21, and saw their division lead grow as large as 21 games, as late as Aug. 25.
Then, the losing started. The Dodgers, who hadn’t lost more than three games in a row for nearly the first five months of the season, lost five straight games, then after a single victory lost another 11 in a row, the longest losing streak in MLB in 2017 and the club’s longest skid since their franchise-worst 16-game losing streak in Brooklyn in 1944.
General manager Farhan Zaidi joked that the Dodgers front office during the 1-16 stretch, “We were all looking at our playoff probability, wondering how it could still be 100 percent.”
They are having the worst September ever for an MLB playoff team.
Six of those September losses came to the Diamondbacks, who won 13 straight games to dramatically reduce the Dodgers’ NL West advantage, but Arizona never got closer than within 8½ games of Los Angeles.
“What I learned is that this is a group that really sticks together. I’ve been part of teams that had skids that weren’t as bad, but splintered a lot worse,” Zaidi said. “These guys stayed together, stayed consistent, and dealt with a lot of scrutiny and negative press. That’s what happens when you lose 16 out of 17.
With 98 victories, the Dodgers have their highest win total since 1977.
“We’ve had a great season. We still have an opportunity to get some momentum going for the postseason,” Roberts said Friday. “But to be quite honest, the regular season and the postseason has no parallel. The numbers speak to it.
“Every year is different, every team is different. If you had your choice, you still want to go in feeling good, because there is a psychological component to it.”
By clinching after 154 games, this is the earliest point in the schedule the Dodgers have clinched a postseason berth since 2013, when the team ensured a postseason berth in their 153rd game. Here are the clinching dates for the Dodgers’ five straight division titles:
Sept. 19, 2013: Game 153 at Arizona
Sept. 24, 2014: Game 159 vs. San Francisco
Sept. 29, 2015: Game 157 at San Francisco
Sept. 25, 2016: Game 156 vs. Colorado
Sept. 22, 2017: Game 154 vs. San Francisco
This is the seventh time the Dodgers have clinched a postseason berth while playing the Giants, along with 1977, 1983, 2004, 2006, 2014 and 2015.
The Dodgers will open the National League Division Series on Friday, Oct. 6, with the first two games at Dodger Stadium. If they hold on to the best record in the National League, they will play the winner of the wild card game in the division series. Should the Washington Nationals claim the NL top spot, the Dodgers would play the NL Central winner in the NLDS.
Home run: Cody Bellinger (39); Pablo Sandoval (8)
WP - Rich Hill (11-8): 6 IP, 5 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts
LP - Jeff Samardzija (9-15): 4 IP, 5 hits, 4 runs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts
Sv - Kenley Jansen (40): 1 IP, 1 hit, 1 run, 3 strikeouts