It’s a pretty great time to be a Dodgers fan right now. By most reasonable measures, they are heavy favorites to win the National League West for an eighth consecutive season, and they not only traded for one of the top five players in baseball in Mookie Betts, but extended him for the foreseeable future as well.
Betts joins a team coming off two World Series appearances and a franchise-best 106-win campaign in the last three seasons. None of those years ended exactly the way the Dodgers wanted, of course, just like each of the last 31 seasons.
The Dodgers’ expectations match that of their fans this season, that anything short of a championship is a failure, even if said championship might get the side eye because of this truncated season.
“I think there’s a championship to be won, and we’re going to do everything in our power to win that championship,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “People are going to say whatever they say, but if there’s an opportunity to win a championship, we’re going to show up every day to work towards that goal.”
However, odds are the Dodgers won’t win the World Series in 2020.
It’s not that they are destined to fail, it’s just that even if they are the favorites to win a title this year — FanGraphs gives the Dodgers a 19.5-percent chance to win it all, higher than any other team; same goes for PECOTA and Five Thirty Eight — their actual chances of doing so are outweighed by the combined probabilities of every other team.
When in doubt, always bet the field.
But even through a championship-or-bust lens, the Dodgers’ season will very likely still be worthy of viewing no matter what happens in October. This reminds me of a classic Mitch Hedberg joke:
“I like to drink red wine. This girl said, ‘Doesn’t red wine give you a headache?’
“Yeah, eventually. But the first and the middle part are amazing. I’m not going to stop doing something because of what happens at the end.”
“‘Mitch, do you want an apple?’ No, eventually it will be a core.”
The Dodgers’ core is pretty amazing, after all.
Imagine not getting excited to watch Mookie Betts play. He does just about everything well on a baseball field, with overall production since his major league debut only exceeded by Mike Trout.
Cody Bellinger is the reigning NL MVP, one of the best power hitters the Dodgers have ever produced, and has proven adept in the field at both first base and in the outfield. He’s dynamic and fun, and hasn’t even turned 25 yet.
Walker Buehler did turn 25, and is climbing the charts as one of the best pitchers in baseball.
The Dodgers will field a lineup most nights with at least six well-above-average hitters, and quite possibly eight. They boast one of the deepest offenses in baseball, with 10 batters projected to post at least a 100 wRC+ by ZiPS, and nine by Steamer.
Starting pitching certainly has some question marks, but the Dodgers have a number of arms to make starts and fill innings as needed, especially since Ross Stripling wasn’t traded. If the internal options don’t pan out, I suspect the Dodgers will make starting pitching their focus as the trade deadline approaches.
Old faithful Clayton Kershaw is on the mound for the Dodgers on Opening Day, a sure sign of normalcy in an otherwise abnormal year. A year that at times didn’t even seem possible, with a pandemic delaying the opening of the season by four months.
But no matter the length of the season, the end goal is still the same.
“Whoever doesn’t win, after this, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be a different champion, and you’re going to still be the champion, but to say like there’s an asterisk and things like that, I don’t think it’s fair,” Kershaw said. “I think there needs to be a whole different category for what the season is, but at the end of the day I think if you win this season, it’s going to feel pretty good no matter what.”
Nobody knows how the 2020 season will end. If we did, baseball would be boring as hell. But the Dodgers are as setup to get to and win in October as any team in baseball, so even if the ultimate ending isn’t what you or they want, the first and the middle part are probably going to be amazing. Enjoy it.