As Los Angeles Dodgers set new team wins record, what is their legacy?

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On Sept. 29, 2019, the Los Angeles Dodgers, unbeatable for the final week of that regular season, claimed their 106th victory, surpassing a franchise record that had stood for 66 years. On Oct. 3, 2021, on the heels of another furious late-season winning streak, they matched it. And on Sept. 28, 2022, with a 1-0 victory over the San Diego Padres, they set a new mark with win No. 107, augmenting what was already an unprecedented run. No team had ever gone three consecutive full seasons with 106-plus wins — until the 2019-22 Dodgers, who did it every year except in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season (when they won 43 of 60 regular-season games, navigated a 116-win pace and ultimately won a championship).

Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, saw mention of the record on social media last week and could hardly believe it.

“My hope, and our common goal, is not just to win championships, but to have this period looked at as the golden age of Dodger baseball, which is really saying something for this storied franchise,” Friedman said. “Seeing some of those things helps put into context the last few years. Obviously we have a lot of work left to do, but I’ve found some of them to be pretty staggering.”

The current Dodgers won’t vie for the regular-season wins record of 116, but they’re still on pace to become the sixth team in major league history to reach 111. Their plus-322 run differential is already the fourth highest since 1920. ; only the New York Yankees teams of 1927, 1936 and 1939 did better.

Dating back to 2013, when they began a 10-year stretch of nine division titles, the Dodgers have won a major league-leading 927 regular-season games, 72 more than the second-place Yankees. The gap is even greater in recent years. The Dodgers are 362-177 since the start of the 2019 season, 29 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Houston Astros. Their run differential during that stretch is plus-1,000. The closest team, the Astros, is at plus-701.

It’s a historic, overwhelming run of success. And yet these Dodgers aren’t necessarily considered a dynasty, at least not in the conventional sense, because their regular-season prowess has rarely spilled into October, when championships are won and mythologies are created.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts believes that may be shortsighted.

“Not to take anything away from winning the World Series; the World Series is the ultimate prize,” he said. “But I will say the path to get there these days is harder than it’s ever been. And so to be able to go through a grueling season with all the stuff that you have to go through, and to still remain steadfast and win baseball games — that’s a lot to be proud of. But you’re always kind of measured on championships, and that bar, it is what it is.”

Major League Baseball, which hosts nearly twice as many games as the NBA and nearly 10 times as many games as the NFL, understandably places a greater emphasis on regular-season results than other sports. But only teams that win championships get remembered, nevertheless. And when it comes to playoff success, the four major sports aren’t all that different when it comes to their perceived best teams winning it all. This century, teams with at least a share of the best regular-season record also won the championship only six out of 22 times in MLB. The NFL produced the same total. In the NBA, it was seven. In the NHL, four.

But that doesn’t quite capture why baseball’s postseason can often feel so much more random.

“It’s a little cliché, but baseball’s the only sport where when you’re playing offense, you don’t have control of the ball,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “I think that’s what makes it such a great game, and that’s what makes it one of those things where it doesn’t matter what it says on paper, like it usually does in the other sports. Usually in other sports the best team on paper wins, but in baseball, on any given day, you have a guy that goes out and has a great performance on the mound and you lose a game. You get in the playoffs and you play in these short series, the five-game series, the three-game series — one hot pitcher can change the momentum of the postseason.”

The Dodgers know this better than any modern baseball franchise, having been eliminated by the eventual World Series champion in four of the last five years (the other being the season they won it themselves). Three of those series — against the 2017 Astros, 2019 Washington Nationals and 2021 Atlanta Braves — were separated by no more than a run. That doesn’t absolve them of blame, of course. Along the way, there were pitching changes that went awry, roster decisions that backfired, entire offenses that went cold, teams that simply came up short when it mattered most.

The postseason expectations around this year’s Dodgers are as high as ever, as they should be. They hold a 21-game lead in their division, a 9 1/2-game lead for the No. 1 seed in the National League and a 5 1/2-game lead for the best record in the majors. Their pitchers boast the lowest ERA, and their hitters boast the highest OPS.

But they’re not devoid of concerns.

For all their dominance, the Dodgers will enter October with what amounts to a patchwork pitching staff. Walker Buehler is too injured to be their ace and Craig Kimbrel has been too ineffective to be their closer. Dustin May, placed on the injured list Saturday with tightness in his lower back; Tony Gonsolin, nursing a forearm strain since late August; and Blake Treinen, who has spent all year dealing with a troublesome right shoulder, are major questions heading in. Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw are locks to anchor the rotation; the pitching plan beyond them seems remarkably murky.

Friedman has continuously expressed confidence that the Dodgers will field what amounts to an elite staff, regardless of how it shakes out. But it’s clear that they’ll be creative with how they utilize it, with starting pitchers piggybacking one another and any number of relievers closing out games.

The question is: Can that strategy sustain itself for an entire postseason?

“It did in ’20,” Friedman noted.

The Dodgers finally triumphed that year, breaking a 32-year drought to produce what has so far been the only title of this historic run. Members of the organization often claim that championship was more difficult to capture than any other, and it’s not hard to see merit in that argument — that postseason was played in a bubble, with no off days within series, few fans in the stands and bigger, real-life concerns surrounding it all. But it was also unorthodox. Another title, to cap a traditional season, would go a long way towards validating a Dodgers run that has seen too many promising seasons end in disappointment.

“I hear you, and I get that,” said Roberts, who famously guaranteed that the Dodgers would win the 2022 World Series six months ago. “We’re not gonna run from that. I just know how difficult it is to win in October.”

Turner found himself in the COVID protocol when the Dodgers recorded the final out in 2020, then famously and controversially violated it to gather on the field with teammates for a photograph. Since then, he has been driven less by narrative-building and more so by the spoils of a traditional championship — the champagne celebration, the parade, the general interaction with fans, all of which was unrealistic at that time.

“I think it drives a lot of guys in this room,” he said.

Roberts wants to win it all as badly as anyone. But he believes his Dodgers have “absolutely” established themselves as a dynasty regardless, noting the grind of baseball’s regular season and the added difficulty of winning it all while MLB continues to expand its playoff field. He considers the Braves of the 1990s a dynasty, too, even though their annual run of division titles produced only one championship. Good or bad, his Dodgers have navigated a similar path.

“Fans and media that say that ‘if the Dodgers or the Yankees don’t win the World Series, it’s a lost season,’ I think it’s unfair and it’s a lazy take,” Roberts said. “They’re not appreciating the ride. What real fans do is they appreciate the entire ride. And also they understand how difficult it is. That was one of the messages I had last year when we lost to Atlanta. I said, ‘We lost to a very hot team, and anyone who says it was a lost season or a wasted year has no idea what it’s like to wear this uniform.’ I stand by that.”

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