The LA Dodgers’ 32-year wait to be Champions ended in 2020. 2021 is proving to be a struggle for them, in the afterglow of the title.
Do the LA Dodgers Look Like Retaining the World Series?
For the first time since 1988, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series in 2020. They beat the Tampa Bay Rays in six games (4-2) to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy in Texas. The Dodgers had the best regular season record in the league – finishing 43-17, a 0.717 win-percentage. The post-season began comfortably with simple sweeps against the Milwaukee Brewers and the San Diego Padres (2-0 and 3-0). The National League Championship Series posed a few more as the Atlanta Braves went 3-1 up in the series, before the Dodgers launched their comeback in Game 5 thanks to the Dodger’s Will Smith besting the Braves’ Will Smith, and Corey Seager’s continued productive performances, earning him the MVP in this series (which was followed up with an MVP award for the World Series too).
It happens quite often that the previous year’s champions are favourites next time around. The LA Dodgers were no different. Heading into the 2021 season, with an impressive roster and the new title and pedigree of being World Champions, they were heavy favourites. It should be said that, as of now, if punters were to head to OLBG.com to compare sports betting sites, they would see that the Dodgers are still considered to be the top contender. The New York Yankees, the San Diego Padres, and the Chicago White Sox are their closest competitors, but the Dodgers have a comfortable margin.
The Off Season
There wasn’t a lot that needed to go on for the LA Dodgers in the off season. This title win was not the climax of their roster’s potential. Its current age profile is remarkably healthy for a team that has performed at a high-level for the last eight seasons, winning consecutive division titles, with three World Series appearances (2017, 2018, and 2020). Within the MLB, they have an average age towards the lower end of the standings. They are built for continued success. Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Will Smith, Dustin May, Tony Gonslin, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Brusdar Graterol, and Gavin Lux are all under-27. That’s a strong collection of talent which all have many MLB years ahead of them.
A few moves were made, though. Tommy Kahnle came in as a free agent, though his availability to the 2021 season was scratched off as he’s recovering from UCL surgery, so the 31-year-old will be in the bullpen for seasons to come. The notable, and publicised, deal came Trevor Bauer’s way. The Dodgers, further pushed along by resigning Justin Turner to his $34-million, two-year deal, are in tax-paying ground now. It shouldn’t matter too much to them, though, as Bauer – the righty pitcher who attracts drama and is currently embroiled in the ongoing crackdown on doctored baseballs – offers immediate value. He has shown glimpses of his highs, with his six-innings no-hitter against the Colorado, before allowing four earned runs and two homers in one-third of an inning. He’s been inconsistent across his career. However, within the Dodger’s strong line-up, his value will largely depend on ensuring that his lows are infrequent and minimal, allowing his upside to be the variable (which is as frustrating but less damaging).
The 2021 Season
The 2021 season, though, despite being favourites for the World Series, is not going smoothly for the Dodgers. Their strong roster and notable addition stood them in good stead. They performed well through the opening 15 games, coming out with a 13-2 record. However, from the middle of April to early May, they went on mean losing streaks, facing the Padres numerous times and, more often than not, losing. They had a 18-17 record before a stretch of games against the Seattle Mariners, the Miami Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the San Francisco Giants, and the Houston Astros, which ended with a 31-22 record that was far better than it was before that run. As of June 6th, the record is 34-25, which for a World-Series defending team who has consecutively blown out the division, puts them in an underwhelming position. The Padres and the Giants are currently sitting prettier than them.
They will make the playoffs. While not a certainty, it will be highly, highly, unlikely that they don’t make it. As such, regular seasons for such a team can feel like a formality. They know, come the postseason, it’s go-time, the moments for their performances to kick up a level and into gear. There’s an afterglow that becoming champions provides. This post-champion lull is not uncommon in the world of sports.
In the Afterglow
Dynasties are few and far between. Teams – especially in American sports with the unique franchising, drafting, and salary-cap system which creates a totally different environment for competition than other sports like European soccer, for instance – find it "easier" to sustain whole-season performance, those 38-, 82-, and 162-season pushes which result in a title, as opposed to multi-season ones. However, ensuring that they can go again the following year, and then the year after that, requires super-human intangibles, or super-athletes: Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls managed two threepeats, which is unheard of; Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, NFL legends, maintained high levels of success across numerous iterations of squads at the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, and at other franchises; Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi spurred each other on as part of rival squads; the Women’s USA Ice Hockey team, who’ve won 8 golds in the last 9 tournaments. Dynasties happen, but it’s a convergence of untouchable quality and circumstances.
The Dodgers have superstars in their team. Mookie Bets, Clayton Kershaw, and Cody Bellinger are just three. Talent and financial differentials pay dividends in sport. However, they must be supported by motivation and focus. Ensuring players are continually focused on collective and individual goals is paramount. Great coaches know this. The Dodgers have been great for eight years. This, in a sense, is a kind of dynasty. It’s sustained high quality. They’ve made three World Series in four seasons. If they’d have turned another one of those appearances into a victory, we could be talking about them in a different way. Sport has variance. Weird stuff happens. Eventually, though, things come back around.