Editor’s note: This is the Tuesday Oct. 11 edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
Good morning. The Dodgers begin the playoffs tonight, having to win the World Series or be marked as failures. At least that’s how a lot of people see it.
In other news:
The Kings open their season tonight at home against Vegas, looking to start fast but facing questions as they try to continue last season’s improvement.
The Ducks acquired a forward before their opener tomorrow night.
Rams tackle Rob Havenstein said “mindset” has been a problem for the offensive line.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said he liked coach Brandon Staley’s aggression on fourth down; it showed “he believes in us.”
And Lakers writer Kyle Goon talked with Dennis Schröder before the point guard’s second stint with the team starts a week from tonight.
Is it World Series or Bust for the Dodgers?
In 2021 it was said to be Super Bowl or Bust for the Rams, who had gone “all in” by trading for quarterback Matthew Stafford before a season in which the championship game would be played at their own SoFi Stadium. Rams general manager Les Snead made fun of the win-or-else implication. “I don’t think they’re closing the stadium (if the Rams don’t win it all),” Snead said in the fall.
Now, a big topic in the newspapers is whether the Dodgers have to win the World Series to validate their club-record, 111-win regular season and avoid completing a streak of 10 playoff seasons with only one championship.
One piece of advice: Take the joy or disappointment one series at a time, beginning with this best-of-five-game National League Division Series in which the Dodgers have ace Julio Urias pitching tonight, have across-the-board advantages over the Padres and have a psychological edge from regular-season dominance of San Diego.
Another suggestion, for those tempted to look three series ahead to the prospect of winning the World Series: Don’t set expectations you can’t exceed.
That’s either the least inspiring life slogan ever, or a way for a baseball fan to stay realistic while allowing room for a pleasant surprise.
Reality says a couple of things.
• First, if the Dodgers don’t win the World Series after rolling to a major-league-best regular-season record, after huge seasons from Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner, Mookie Betts and Urias, they’ll be far from the first “best team in baseball” to come up short in the homestretch.
Before MLB expanded the playoffs to 12 teams this year, it held 10-team playoffs for a decade. Of the nine teams that came in as the regular-season leader in wins (so, not counting when two teams tied for best record), three won the World Series; one of those was the Dodgers in pandemic-shortened 2020.Typically, teams with the best record did make it to the World Series. But it was almost as common for them to get knocked out in the Division Series.
I’ll spare you the details, but the eras of eight-team playoffs, and four-team playoffs before that, produced far more frustration than victory parades for regular-season leaders. Weirdly, even back before divisions and playoffs, when the top team in each league went directly to the World Series, the club with the better regular-season record lost the World Series more often than it won in the post-World War II era.
• Second, it’s not clear-cut that the Dodgers have been underachieving in the postseason in recent years, “thriving in the regular season and bombing in the playoffs,” as Los Angeles Times columnist Dylan Hernandez put it last month.
It does feel as if a team with eight NL West titles in nine years should have won more than one World Series in that stretch. But looking at it another way, the Dodgers have been performing in the postseason about as well as in the regular season and often a little better.
The two years the Dodgers had MLB’s best record, they won the 2020 World Series and might have won the 2017 Series if they hadn’t run into the cheating Astros. In years the Dodgers had MLB’s sixth-best (2016), seventh-best (2018) and eighth-best (2013) records, they did better than that in the postseason by advancing to the League Championship Series, the World Series and LCS, respectively. Those years, and one other when they more or less matched their regular-season standing in the playoffs, actually outnumber the years when they fell short in October.
Still, perception is reality when a team finds itself having to answer for past failures as it gets ready to try again.
Bill Plunkett, our Dodgers beat man, reminded us why club management is open to criticism that it overthinks strategy in the postseason and let manager Dave Roberts and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman give their perspective.
“You name me a manager that wouldn’t take one (World Series win) out of six,” said Roberts, in his seventh season as Dodgers manager. “And the other one was stolen. Yeah – only one. We won one.”
“It doesn’t change the burning desire to win a World Series every year,” Friedman said. “But I think it’s important for those of us who pour ourselves into it to be able to compartmentalize, appreciate certain successes, learn from certain failures and figure out how to get back and put us in the best position to win a World Series the next year.”
In the Rams’ case last year, even as Snead downplayed the Super Bowl or Bust cliché, he continued to make big roster moves, and the team went on to win the Super Bowl in February.
It’s a lesson for Dodgers fans: You can have perspective, reasonable expectations, respect for the fresh challenges of October – and a championship.
In fact it’s more fun that way.
Dodgers and Padres open the best-of-five-game Division Series at Dodger Stadium (6:37 p.m., FS1). Julio Urias (17-7, 2.16 ERA) starts for L.A., Mike Clevinger (7-7, 4.33) for San Diego. The Dodgers are -233 favorites this morning to win Game 1, -225 to win the series.
The Kings open the NHL season against the Golden Knights at Crypto.com Arena (7 p.m., ESPN). Tomorrow night, the Ducks open against the Kraken at Honda Center.
Yesterday I asked readers: Do you like baseball’s new playoff format, which expanded the field to 12 teams and replaced the two one-game wild-card playoffs with four best-of-three series?
Twitter user @PaulCliff92506 responded: “No. Baseball should be over by the middle of October. ‘Wild card’ playoffs favor teams that either have have two dominant starters or just better luck over deeper, better balanced teams. Go back to a 154-game season, and have only the best non-division winner advance.”
@Shantapelian replied: “Fine with the format but it makes no sense that there isn’t reseeding.” If the playoffs were reseeded after each round, the top-seeded Dodgers would be facing the No. 6 Phillies instead of the No. 5 Padres.
@Pontiac77 said: “It’s a fresh change. Gives the Padres a chance to upset the Dodgers. Remember the 1981 Lakers-Rockets mini playoffs? Houston won. Lakers were defending champions.”
— Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) October 11, 2022
– Sports writer Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) on last night’s much-criticized roughing penalty called on the Chiefs’ Chris Jones after a strip sack of the Raiders’ Derek Carr, a sign of the NFL’s effort to protect quarterbacks.
The stage is set: Dodger Stadium groundskeepers prepare the field for postseason play Monday, October 10, 2023. Game one in the NLDS against the Padres is Tuesday October 11 at home. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Today at noon, baseball writer J.P. Hoornstra goes on Twitter Spaces to talk about the Dodgers with host James H. Williams. Set a reminder.
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