Let’s be frank: the Los Angeles Dodgers did not need Max Scherzer or Trea Turner. My personal opinion was that they were more motivated to fatten their absurd, record-setting payroll to $275 million out of spite to keep Scherzer from joining the Padres or Giants than they were to “improve” their already-loaded club. Granted, injuries and the wackiness of baseball keep anything from being a certainty, but the optics are bad. The trade deadline was not only a gut punch to L.A.’s two rivals (much more so the Padres than the Giants), but a slap in the face to most non-Dodger baseball fans everywhere. Considering they already made Trevor Bauer baseball’s highest-paid pitcher ever but then lost him to his destructive behavior, a good comparison I saw made was that the Dodgers are essentially the rich father of the misbehaving teenager who can bail their son out of his messes and yet the son never actually learns a lesson.
Of course, as we enter the true dog days of summer, the Giants improbably have a four-game lead in the NL West, teasing the possibility that the Dodgers could be forced into playing a do-or-die one-game wild card contest. The fact that it could be the Padres, a team that has geared up all year for L.A., makes that prospect even more enticing. But alas, with each team entering Wednesday with 48 games to play, we are truly light years from the finish line. The Padres look quite deflated after missing out on Scherzer and now dealing with yet another Fernando Tatis Jr. shoulder injury, meaning they are almost certainly destined to play in the wild card game (if they make the postseason at all).
The other side of the coin is that outside of the juggernaut NL West, there is actually reason for optimism for the Brewers and whichever team emerges from the tepid NL East. The 2015 Mets serve as evidence that sometimes, a powerhouse division’s teams can beat up so much on one another that it can greatly benefit the other teams in the league. That season, the three best records all came out of the NL Central, and yet the Mets, who entered that postseason with the fewest wins of the five postseason teams, only had to face one of them to reach the World Series. After outlasting the Dodgers in the NLDS, New York swept an exhausted Cubs team in the NLCS en route to the pennant. You wonder if the same could happen this year, where perhaps the Padres or Giants take out the Dodgers and then have nothing left in the tank for the winner of a potential Braves-Brewers NLDS.
The American League does not offer much hope for a team to take down the Dodgers in a World Series showdown. The Rays came up short last year, and without Tyler Glasnow (not to mention Blake Snell, who for all his troubles in 2021 was actually outstanding against the Dodgers in the World Series) it feels like an uphill climb. The Yankees and Red Sox have their share of flaws, and the White Sox seem like a classic case of a young team ahead of schedule benefitting from a weak division. That, of course, opens the door for a nauseating 2017 rematch of the Astros and Dodgers and the 687 hours of pregame coverage talking about “revenge” for L.A. for Houston’s “cheating.” The word “cheating,” of course, should be used very loosely when coming out of the mouths of a team spending a record amount of dollars to assemble its revenge-hungry team.
But what about potential dark horse teams, you ask? The Blue Jays are heating up and their hefty run differential is hard to ignore. The added storyline of the team’s long-awaited return to Canada adds to the potential feel-good story emerging north of the border. George Springer, a postseason hero for Houston, is starting to look worth every dollar of the $150 million Toronto spent to get him this past offseason. The Athletics are a constant October disappointment, with only one traditional playoff series win this century (in 2006 against the Twins, whose only playoff series win this century is against Oakland in 2002, and not counting Oakland’s best-of-three wild card series win vs. the White Sox last year). The Starling Marte addition was tremendous and supplementing it with Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes actually signals a bit of an attitude shift for the normally-frugal Athletics.
On the NL side, it’s hard to envision a team emerging from the weeds, but the Braves are quietly right back near the top of the NL East. Players have stepped up in the absence of Ronald Acuna Jr., and after coming up just short last year, Atlanta could benefit from that previous scenario I alluded to. The Braves also know they can hang with the Dodgers after going seven games in last year’s NLCS and taking two out of three from them in Atlanta in June this season. I can’t see any other NL East team being a serious contender, unless the Mets get incredibly healthy incredibly fast (I’m talking to you, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard). The Reds have played solid baseball, but thinking they could get past the Dodgers seems asinine.
It’s hard to make any predictions, even with four-plus months of baseball under our belts. It would be a welcome miracle to see any NL team keep L.A. from a “repeat” (FYI, we’ll still be saying that the 2000 Yankees are the last full-season repeat World Series champions after this year no matter what happens), but I don’t see it happening once the Dodgers get fully healthy. On the AL side, I believe the field is much more balanced. Houston is the favorite on paper at the moment, but they have shown streaky tendencies, and their AL West lead is suddenly down to just two games. I could see a number of teams winning the pennant, including the White Sox and, yes, even the Blue Jays.
And think of it this way. If the Dodgers do win the 2021 World Series, they will only be doing exactly what is expected of them. But if they fall short, the wonderful feeling of seeing a team that rich and that loaded failing to reach its ultimate goal would be one of the sweetest things sports has seen since the New York Giants knocked off the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.