The Los Angeles Dodgers are essentially locked into a fifth consecutive National League West championship. The previous four have all ended with disappointing playoff finishes. According to minority owner Magic Johnson, 2017 will be different.
Magic was speaking to a crowd on Thursday at the Ping Pong 4 Purpose event at Dodger Stadium — front and center with injured ace Clayton Kershaw. Johnson told Kershaw to “get healthy and lead us,” but not before making a World Series prediction.
— ESPN (@espn) July 28, 2017
“The Dodgers are going to win the World Series this year; this is our year, Johnson said. “That’s the only ring I don’t have and I need that ring.”
By looking at the standings, it’s hard to argue. The Dodgers are 3.5 games clear of the Houston Astros for MLB’s best record, and nine ahead of the Washington Nationals for the best record in the National League. In addition to having baseball’s best record, Los Angeles is on pace to win 113 games — something only done by the 1906 Chicago Cubs, 2001 Seattle Mariner and 1998 New York Yankees.
There are two reasons to be skeptical.
One is the playoff history of the Dodgers since winning the World Series in 1988. Los Angeles has yet to even return to the Fall Classic in the last 29 years. The Dodgers have reached four NLCS’ in that time (2008, 2009, 2013, 2016), but lost in six games or fewer in each appearance. Los Angeles’ six other playoff appearances since (1995, 1996, 2004, 2006, 2014, 2015) have all ended in the NLDS.
The other is exactly what Magic referenced — the health of Kershaw. The Dodgers have a fine starting rotation. Still, it needs to be mentioned that other than Kershaw, Brandon McCarthy is the only Los Angeles starter to have ever reached the 200-inning plateau in the regular season, and he only did it once. Starting pitching is especially huge in the playoffs and even with a healthy Kershaw, going in with so many unproven arms does present a question mark. If Kershaw isn’t at 100 percent, that question mark only gets bigger.
Certainly, none of this will keep the Dodgers from the playoffs. But to make good on Magic’s promise, Los Angeles will need to win 11 games once there. There’s certainly reason to doubt that.