Last week, the Los Angeles Dodgers traveled to New York for a midweek series packed with extra special bets for its potential as a post-season preview: another chance to find out how they would perform against each of the two highest-paid teams in the National League. The Mets took two out of three to feel more triumphant than the Timmy Trumpet pantomime, which uses its namesake instrument.
The games have been great, tough and close, and the results show the possibility of the Mets making a deep end-of-season run in October. But they don’t overturn the existing hierarchy or kick the Dodgers from the top spot, who could add a win at Flushing to 92 other wins and backlogs from recent seasons.
Topping their charts are rings from three other clubs: Mookie Betts, who won the 2018 Boston Red Sox; Trea Turner, who won with the Washington Nationals in 2019; and Freddie Freeman, who won with the Atlanta Braves last season.
They know what it feels like to play on a championship-level team, but what makes the Dodgers different?
“I think it was a bit more of a cultural thing,” Turner said of the Nationals team that went from 19-31 to wild card and World Series winners.
“We all liked and hung out with each other and were really close. So I think the talent plus how much we liked each other was the success there. We definitely enjoy each other here – and I think we’ve been together a lot in the last few months, which is really important and cool – but I think we would win whether we like each other or not. Just because of talent and everything.”
As far as Dodgers has a secret sauce, this explanation does little to enlighten it. Which makes sense. Their secret is that they were able to turn 31-year-old below-average pitcher Andrew Heaney into a regular in the middle of a under 3.00 rotation on a squad with the best ERA in baseball. Winning guys like Turner – a thought that came right after the Max Scherzer deal that brought him to Los Angeles last summer – is the fun part of being a giant.
The answer has remained with me ever since. Not because it says anything particularly revealing about the inner workings of a particular organization, but because it reflects a funny paradigm in sports. To win a World Series, you need variable magic that is hard to define and impossible to predict. Sustainable excellence is something much simpler. It’s not easier, just simpler.
One month left until MLB’s postseason. Nervous crews will jockey for a dock that wipes out the previous six months. Anything can happen in October. And finally, we’ll crown a deserving champion – every baseball season requires the last team standing to run both a marathon and a marathon. Then surviving a sprint is a feature, not a bug. However, it’s worth noting that we already know the best team in each league, as we’ve arrived at the time of the year when the bests really start to make sense. The same two for the last five years.
The Dodgers got off to an advantageous start. Including 2022 (and I feel pretty good about doing it), they’ll have finished NL West first in nine of the 10 seasons. The one year they failed, they broke franchise record with 106 wins and fell short in a split race that deserves a book or perhaps an epic poem written about it. So keep that in mind for your own sense of awe – the Dodgers have been doing this for nearly twice as long – we’re narrowing the timeframe to include the best of the AL: the Houston Astros.
Since early 2017, the Dodgers have won 544 games, the most in MLB. The Astros are second with 522. Just another team clearing 500, that’s all the Yankees are.
(Their continued success since then doesn’t excuse the Astros’ sign-theft, but it does provide a compelling, if complex, case that they could have been good without it. Three years after the sanctions, they’re fast-forwarding for 104. You have to consider that they stole 22 wins to undermine that argument. )
It’s no coincidence: Houston has recorded the most runs during that time; LA is in second place. LA has given up the fewest runs during this time; Houston is second. They have the two highest wRC+ teams at the time and the two lowest ERAs. The defense is harder to distill to a universally accepted measure, but they also have the two lowest rival BABIPs at the time, a testament to the ineffectiveness of putting the ball into play against them.
Let’s just say that both their championships come with caveats, and each will likely need the other to entertain his dynastic assessment. But even the rings they have are noteworthy: The other three top-earning teams in that five-year period—the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Cleveland Guardians—not all have won a World Series. Consistently dominated the regular season and Peaking post-season has two stages.
Lance McCullers Jr. “Well, we weren’t good for many years, frankly,” he said of the Astros success streak recently. And that’s definitely part of it. They did it on purpose, and being bad was part of the plan. But the cyclical sacrifice required for the tank is exactly why sustainability is seen as the ultimate success. And including 2017, neither the Dodgers nor the Astros have picked higher than 15 in the draft since then.
McCullers said that with the Astros front office, discredited former general manager Jeff Luhnow’s career was in St. He drew the link between starting with the Louis Cardinals. . st. Louis only lost one season this millenniumIt turns midrange draft slots into local talents who reliably learn to win together at the lower tiers and are expertly complemented by a few select high-profile purchases.
And to that plan, Astros added early adoption of advanced analytics.
“It’s not just ‘knowledge here’, but ‘knowledge here, and here’s how you should try and apply it,'” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said recently.
McCullers said the Astros have always used data to simplify players’ processes rather than complicate them. Reserve coach Joe Espada, who has coached for the Miami Marlins and Yankees, added: “It’s just part of our DNA, part of who we are and part of our process. In fact, it’s the best I’ve seen in the teams I’ve been with.”
Of course all good teams rely on data. Beyond that, Turner distills Dodgers’ special powers into “depth and matchups.”
Well, that and relatively unmatched financial strength.
“They’re doing a really good job putting people in a position to be successful here,” he said. “So not only do they have the depth that comes from development, spending the money and other things, but I feel like the matches and the way they use people are really fruitful.”
This is all a pretty long-winded way of saying look at cumulative rankings. And it’s a pretty cursory look at the behind-the-scenes intrigues that make them possible. But since it’s all about identifying the best teams, it’s worth considering that, at a certain scale, the answer and the evidence are indisputable. In October this year, there will be plenty of good stories, mostly down to long droughts and the skin of their teeth. Plus two teams with the best cases out there – and that can be fun too.
Ask Trey Mancini, whose career with the Baltimore Orioles has included losing a lot, hopefully in the service of an Astros-like future, before being traded to Houston on the deadline. He recently gave a convincing assessment of the feelings inside a clubhouse accustomed to winning.
“Great,” he said. “I mean, it’s great.”