Plaschke: Dodgers totally capable of winning this scary, stupid, fun wild card — right?
Dancing in the Bay Area, despair in Chavez Ravine.
A joyfully bouncing huddle on the mound at Oracle Park, a line of weary players solemnly filing into the dugout at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers chased those damn San Francisco Giants until the end, they were relentless down the stretch, they crossed the finish line in a sprint, in a sweat, in a roar.
And in second place.
The Dodgers won a game but lost a regular season Sunday, their streak of consecutive West Division titles snapped at eight on the final day by a legendary rival too magical to be caught.
Shortly before the Dodgers recorded their franchise-tying record 106th win with a 10-3 triumph over the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres 11-4 for their 107th win, and that was that.
The Dodgers’ stirring victory would not be enough. The season-ending seven-game win streak would be one win short. The noise that rocked through baseball’s biggest crowds for six months soon became silence.
It was official at 3:05 p.m., in the middle of the eighth inning here, when the Giants finished their win in San Francisco and caused very predictable chanting from a very booing Dodger Stadium crowd.
“Giants suck … Giants suck.”
News flash: The Giants don’t suck.
But neither do the Dodgers, who finished with the most wins for a second-place team in baseball history, and what does that get them? Thanks to baseball’s wack postseason rules, it guarantees them all of one postseason game.
Instead of being seeded second in the National League’s playoff lineup, which would have happened in the NBA, the Dodgers are instead a wild-card team facing a scary winner-take-all game Wednesday at Dodger Stadium against the other wild-card team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
If the Dodgers win that game, they will then play the Giants in a five-game division series that will mark their first true postseason matchup in history, which would be way cool.
But they first must wrestle with that stupid wild card. And the Cardinals are the hottest team in baseball, winning 19 of 20 games down the stretch. And the Cardinals will be starting Adam Wainwright, who has won 10 of his last 11 decisions, including a victory over the Dodgers in early September.
And the Dodgers must face him without their top slugger, as Max Muncy left the game Sunday in the third inning after appearing to seriously injure his left elbow in a collision at first base with Jace Peterson.
Max Scherzer, you good?
Dodgers, you got this?
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“I don’t know about scary. It’s fun. It’s a Game 7,” said Trea Turner, who hit his second grand slam in three days Sunday and has become this team’s best player. “It’s about perspective and I think if anybody asks you if you want to play a one-game playoff game to continue to try to win a World Series, you take it. At the beginning of the year, you take it.”
Yet at the beginning of this year, it is very likely none of these defending World Series champion Dodgers ever dreamed of it. A royal flush, yes. A wild card, never.
Before the season, this space proclaimed that this Dodgers team would be the best in baseball history, and then they won 13 of their first 15 games and many in the baseball world believed.
Then Dustin May got hurt. Then Mookie Betts and Corey Seager got hurt. Then Cody Bellinger disappeared. Then they began missing the type of role players they earlier lost in Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson.
Then Trevor Bauer happened, and the team bumped along for several weeks with a four-man rotation that forced them into too many games pitched by anonymous relievers.
Eventually they acquired Scherzer and Turner, and eventually the offense took off, and the Dodgers finished the season playing their best baseball, 45 wins in their last 60 games, two wins better than last season’s 60-game season in which they were the best team in the league. And, oh yeah, their 50-21 post-All-Star game record was the franchise’s best in 68 years.
“So this is what we’re capable of,” manager Dave Roberts said. “The whole point is to get through the season and peak at the right time, and I said it for the last week, we’re playing our best baseball.”
But the Giants, a mix of revived veterans and career-year role players perfectly collected by former Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi, just wouldn’t fade.
And so the Dodgers lost the race by one game, which suddenly feels like much, much more. Good for them that they are so hot, but bad for them that they might have just one game to prove it.
“We haven’t come off the fact that if we play the baseball we’re capable of playing — team fundamental baseball — we’re going to be world champions,” Roberts said. “So it doesn’t matter the format, how we get there, our path, whatever.”
Roberts defiantly fights back against critics who would dare call this regular season runner-up finish a failure. One could see some of that passion Sunday when the Dodgers were quietly leaving the field. Roberts stayed behind, eventually standing on the foul-line grass in front of cheering fans, waving his cap and running his hand across the “Dodgers” logo on his jersey and essentially conducting a one-game pep rally.
Don’t tell him 106 wins is a disappointment. Just don’t.
“The people that don’t appreciate what an organization does over the course of six months and thinks it’s a waste, they have no clue … to discredit, in any way, the regular season is very, very shortsighted and very ignorant,” Roberts said, later adding, “People who share that view are clueless and haven’t been in the grind and understand what it takes to win 100 games in a major league season.”
Agreed, cheers to a major accomplishment only outdone by an even more historic season in San Francisco.
But now that the division title defense has ended, the World Series title defense must begin.
Like, seriously, the great Scherzer on the mound, baseball’s most talented team around him, they should really beat the Cardinals, right?
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