The start of the regular season brings hope and anticipation to all 30 clubs across Major League Baseball. Even for the franchises not expected to make much noise in 2017, there is something refreshing and exhilarating about the prospect of a clean slate. And in a sport that sees 162 games played over the course of a season, almost anything is possible for any team during the next five months.
For the Los Angeles Dodgers, yesterday’s Opening Day matchup commenced another opportunity to put an end to the franchise’s 29-year World Series drought.
If Dodger fans wanted a good omen to open up the regular season, then they got that — and some — in the team’s season-opening 14-3 victory over the visiting San Diego Padres on Monday. Seven innings of one-run ball from ace Clayton Kershaw paired with four long balls offensively (two from catcher Yasmani Grandal) gave the Dodgers a dominant Opening Day win that makes you believe they can live up to the hype they have generated for themselves.
Of course, it’s wonderful to have the national pastime back in the national spotlight on a daily basis. However, for Dodger fans, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone overemphasizing the need for a stellar regular season effort from the team; for the fans of the Dodgers, it’s all about what their team goes on to accomplish in October that will count for any merit. Only in postseason success will Dodgers fandom find any feelings of satisfaction.
While the prospect of a 100-win regular season is appealing, it’s not the true desire of those bleeding Dodger blue.
We’ve sat at the postseason dinner table far too often without receiving the entree we feel we’ve deserved: a World Series championship. As great as four consecutive NL West division titles have been, Dodger fans demand an October run to the Commissioner’s Trophy — heck, at least a berth in the Fall Classic.
In a city such as Los Angeles, the Dodgers’ 29-year title drought has felt like the equivalent of the Chicago Cubs’ most recent 108-year World Series absence.
As wonderful as it has been seeing someone like Kershaw ascend to the top of the baseball world over the past decade — winning three Cy Young Awards and the MVP in 2014 — nothing would further cement Kershaw’s status as one of the Dodger greats than a World Series title.
The Dodgers’ last four trips to the postseason have ended in the following rounds: NLCS, NLDS, NLDS and NLCS. If this confirms anything, it’s simple: Los Angeles enters 2017 with a World-Series-or-bust mentality.
My younger years of consuming baseball were scarred with brutal memories of the Dodgers flubbing at the most crucial points in the postseason. What Dodgers fan can forget those tragic battles with the Philadelphia Phillies all those years ago in the 2008 and 2009 Championship Series (curse you, Jonathan Broxton)? I was just 16 when the Dodgers got carved up by Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha in the 2013 NLCS — St. Louis topped the Dodgers in the 2013 NLCS and 2014 NLDS.
And don’t think for one second that the Dodgers opening every season as Vegas’ favorite to win it all consoles me in any way. Once again, the Dodgers open the 2017 season as World Series favorites in the eyes of many — including Sports Illustrated, who predicted the Dodgers topping the Cleveland Indians in the Fall Classic. If we have learned anything as a nation over the past year, it’s that you can never trust the projection polls — no matter how secure they may seem.
For Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and company, the upcoming 161 games will no doubt be a grueling and critical gantlet. But no matter what impressive feats the Dodgers rattle off over the next five months of play, nothing will define the team’s 2017 campaign more than a World Series trophy at the end of it.
Of course, a trip to the postseason is guaranteed to no team. But for the Dodgers — who entered Opening Day with the highest payroll in baseball ($225 million) for the fourth consecutive season — there is no reasonable excuse to not clinch a playoff berth.
It’s simple: The Dodgers need to play as big as their bankroll, not only over the duration of the regular season, but also especially into September and October. Some may consider Dodger fans a spoiled bunch for not “appreciating” four straight division titles (a franchise record), but in a title town like Los Angeles, the only standard is a championship standard.
The Dodgers need no more division titles — we’ve got plenty of them represented at Chavez Ravine. The only merit Los Angeles can afford to accept now is a 2017 World Series pennant to accompany the franchise’s long-lonely world titles from the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s that run down Dodger Stadium’s right-field line.
Angel Viscarra is a sophomore studying broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Viscarra’s Vice,” runs on Tuesdays.