Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dodgers Clinch NL West

The Los Angeles Dodgers today clinched the National League West. And they didn't even have to take the field.

The Dodgers clinched when the Arizona Diamondbacks were quashed 12-3 by the St. Louis Cardinals. What a disappointing for the D'Backs after they had the best record in the NL in 2007 and made it as far as the NLCS before being swept by the upstart Colorado Rockies. The D'Backs started 2008 with a 21-9 record. But then they just seemed to swoon especially after Eric Byrnes got hurt and never really recovered despite having a starting rotation with 20 game winner Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Randy Johnson. Their offense was very weak. Although they managed to remain in first place for most of the season it was only a matter of time before another team in a weak division asserted itself.

Now there are many who will attribute the Dodgers success to the acquistion of Manny Ramirez on July 31st. There is no doubt that Manny breathed new life into the franchise and especially in the bat of Andre Ethier. Frankly, until Manny came along, no one cared about the Dodgers. Since Manny's arrival, the Dodgers have played near .600 ball with a 29-21 record. However, the Dodgers finished the month of July with a 16-10 record. So they were ascending even before Manny donned Dodger blue.

It is not clear who the Dodgers will face in the NLDS. It will all depend on who wins the NL Wild Card. If either the New York Mets or Philadelphia Phillies win the Wild Card then they will face the Dodgers in the NLDS. However, if the Milwaukee Brewers win the NL Wild Card then they will face the Dodgers. Normally, the Wild Card team would face the team with the best record in the league in the NLDS and this year that would be the Chicago Cubs. However, since the Cubs and Brewers are both in the NL Central they cannot face each other in the first round. So the Cubs would face the team with the next lowest winning percentage and that would be the Dodgers.

What is clear is that the sun shines on Joe Torre. Last year, the New York Yankees made Torre an offer he had to refuse after the Yankees lost their third straight ALDS. Well, this year the Yankees won't play baseball in October. Meanwhile, for the 13th consecutive season Torre is going to the postseason. Even if the Dodgers get beat in the NLDS, Torre has proven that he can win without pinstripes. Prior to managing the Yankees, Torre had a mediocre managerial record with the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. His only post-season experience as a manager prior to 1996 was when he guided the Atlanta Braves to the NL West Division Title in 1982 and were swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS (there was no Wild Card back then).

But if the Dodgers to get to the World Series the two most interesting match ups would be against the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A Red Sox-Dodgers World Series would be ratings gold with Manny Ramirez returning to a chorus of booes at Fenway Park. The Red Sox would also face an old nemesis in Torre.

An Angels-Dodgers Fall Classic would also be interesting. It wouldn't be interesting to very many people outside of Los Angeles. However, in this decade, the Angels have supplanted the Dodgers as Los Angeles's favorite baseball team. But a World Series victory over the Angels would help the Dodgers reclaim their old glory.

The Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988. That was the season Orel Hershiser broke Don Drysdale's scoreless inning streak and Kirk Gibson hit a pinch hit walk off homerun off future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on two bad knees in Game 1.

This will be the Dodgers fifth post season appearance since the glory of two decades ago. In their four previous appearances (1995, 1996, 2004 & 2006) the Dodgers have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and have been unable to advance beyond the NLDS. Will 2008 be different even with Manny and Torre?

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