BEST DODGERS TEAM EVER?

A year of mag­i­cal bats, prophetic text mes­sages, club­house pranks and so many in­deli­ble vic­to­ries has raised the ques­tion:

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Andy McCul­lough :: re­port­ing from at­lanta

On the 2017 Dodgers, even the anony­mous get to spend a day in the sun. One day in July, in the midst of an 11-game win­ning streak, the team called up a slen­der, 30-year-old re­liever who had spent a dozen sea­sons in the mi­nor leagues with four or­ga­ni­za­tions. As the Dodgers took bat­ting prac­tice, man­ager Dave Roberts was talk­ing with pitcher Rich Hill about the new ar­rival.

“What a great story for Pare­des, huh?” Hill said. “Twelve years in the mi­nors.”

“Yeah, that’s great,” Roberts said. “Great story.” Roberts paused. “Hey, what’s his first name?” What hap­pened next to Ed­ward Pare­des should come as lit­tle sur­prise to those who have fol­lowed this Dodgers sea­son. In his ma­jor league de­but, a few hours af­ter his man­ager learned his name, Pare­des pitched a score­less in­ning. Min­utes later, rookie sen­sa­tion Cody Bellinger bashed a home run that made Pare­des the win­ning pitcher. Pare­des posed for pic­tures in­side the club­house at Dodger Sta­dium hold­ing the game ball.

It has been that sort of sea­son for the Dodgers, a year of tal­is­manic bats, prophetic text mes­sages, club­house pranks and an end­less sup­ply of in­deli­ble mo­ments. The team owns the best record in base­ball. They could be the best Dodgers team ever. They have a chance to be the best team in the his­tory of the sport.

“Ev­ery­one’s on the same page,” vet­eran sec­ond base­man Chase Ut­ley said. “We all re­al­ize it’s not about our­selves as in­di­vid­u­als. It’s about try­ing to find ways to win.”

The ros­ter over­flows with riches. The Dodgers sent six play­ers to the All-Star game. Eight play­ers have hit 10 or more home runs. At the trade dead-

line, the front of­fice added four-time All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish to a start­ing ro­ta­tion fronted by seven-time All-Star Clay­ton Ker­shaw. With a bullpen led by All­Star closer Ken­ley Jansen, the team was un­de­feated when lead­ing af­ter eight in­nings be­fore Fri­day’s game.

Dur­ing this tor­rid sum­mer, the Dodgers set a ma­jor league record by win­ning 53 con­sec­u­tive games in which they held the lead — at any point. When Ker­shaw went down with a back in­jury in late July, the team re­sponded by win­ning its next seven games.

Across their sto­ried his­tory, the Dodgers have won more than 100 games six times, only three times since V-J Day and twice since mov­ing to Los An­ge­les. The 1953 Brook­lyn Dodgers hold the fran­chise record with 105 wins. The 2017 Dodgers were on pace for 114. They won 75 games faster than any team in fran­chise his­tory.

Only two teams have won more than 110 games since big league sched­ules were ex­panded to 162 games in 1962. The 1998 Yan­kees won 114 en route to a cham­pi­onship. The 2001 Mariners won 116 — but failed to reach the World Se­ries. For th­ese Dodgers, judg­ment will not ar­rive un­til the play­offs. The fran­chise has not won the World Se­ries since 1988, a drought that in­cludes early ex­its the last four years. A bit­ter Oc­to­ber could ruin a joy­ous sum­mer.

Roberts has not hid­den from the ex­pec­ta­tions. When other teams traded for up­grades in July, Roberts sounded un­flap­pable. “We still know we’re the best team,” he said.

It was not al­ways this way. On the morn­ing of April 25, the Dodgers were sput­ter­ing along with a 9-11 record when Bellinger boarded a flight from the team’s mi­nor league af­fil­i­ate in Ok­la­homa City. The story of this team’s as­cen­dance be­gins when he joined it for a se­ries in San Fran­cisco.

It took Bellinger, the lanky son of a for­mer pro ballplayer, five games to hit his first home run. He has not stopped. Bellinger ac­cu­mu­lated 21 homers faster than any player in ma­jor league his­tory. On Wed­nes­day, he be­came the first Dodgers rookie — he just cel­e­brated his 22nd birth­day — to homer 30 times since Mike Pi­azza in 1993. Along the way, he has awed team­mates with his pro­duc­tion and left them in­debted to him in more ways than one.

Take Justin Turner, the gin­ger-bearded third base­man. He hit only one homer in his first 39 games. As he re­cov­ered from a ham­string in­jury, he de­vised a so­lu­tion for the power out­age. He would use one of Bellinger’s bats. His first time at the plate upon his re­turn, he car­ried one of Bellinger’s 33.5-inch, 31.5ounce Louisville Slug­gers to the plate. Turner hit a home run. By then, the Dodgers were rolling. They over­came a five-run deficit on June 3 in Mil­wau­kee with a rally capped by a grand slam from Chris Tay­lor, an­other player who has emerged as an un­likely force. A re­serve in­fielder when he was ac­quired last sum­mer, Tay­lor learned how to play the out­field dur­ing spring train­ing and has be­come the start­ing left fielder and lead­off hit­ter.

A cou­ple of weeks later, the of­fense bruised Cleve­land re­lief ace An­drew Miller on con­sec­u­tive nights to de­feat the reign­ing Amer­i­can League cham­pi­ons. Dur­ing a four-game stretch against the New York Mets, the of­fense scored 36 runs. On the night Bellinger be­came the first rookie since the 1800s to homer 10 times in a 10-game stretch, an­other of the team’s young stars, 23-yearold Corey Sea­ger, hit three home runs in a game.

Af­ter a 10-game win­ning streak in June, the Dodgers topped that with an 11-game streak in July. The peak came on the first day of the sea­son’s sec­ond half, in­side Mar­lins Park in Mi­ami. Trail­ing by a run in the ninth, the team was down to its fi­nal strike in three straight at-bats be­fore Yasiel Puig launched a three-run homer. “The team’s been play­ing so great that it gives me joy,” Puig said.

The vic­to­ries did not stop there. Later, in the midst of a nine-game win­ning streak, the team called up a mi­nor league catcher named Kyle Farmer. He had roomed with Alex Wood, one of the Dodgers’ left-handed start­ing pitch­ers, at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia. When Wood heard Farmer was join­ing the team, he textmes­saged Roberts to vouch for his friend.

“He’s the best,” Wood wrote to Roberts. “And he’s clutch.”

You can imag­ine what hap­pened next.

In his ma­jor league de­but, Farmer smacked a game-win­ning dou­ble. Wood sprinted out of the dugout and tack­led him at sec­ond base. Two dozen Dodgers joined the pile un­til Farmer emerged, with his jer­sey ripped open to dis­play his bare chest to a ju­bi­lant Dodger Sta­dium.

“That mo­ment right there, Kyle’s go­ing to re­mem­ber it for­ever,” Roberts said.

Roberts earned raves for his de­but as a man­ager in 2016, when the team over­came a ma­jor league record for in­juries yet still took the di­vi­sion. He won Na­tional League man­ager of the year. He may not re­peat in 2017 — the award tends to go to man­agers who over­come hard­ship — but the team has its eyes on a big­ger prize.

For years, the Dodgers club­house was riven with in­ter­nal strife. Th­ese team­mates ap­pear to en­joy one an­other. Some­times they play poker to­gether af­ter games on the road. A siz­able group went to a Garth Brooks con­cert at the Fo­rum. They rib each other dur­ing in­ter­views and find room for pranks — like one in­volv­ing a cooler in the vis­i­tors’ club­house in At­lanta this week.

Af­ter a win on Mon­day, catcher Austin Barnes tried to goad out­fielder Joc Ped­er­son into the trap.

“Joc, have you tried the mango one?” Barnes asked. “The mango Pow­er­ade?”

“Is it good?” Ped­er­son asked.

Barnes in­sisted it was. Ped­er­son walked over and opened the cooler. Wait­ing in­side was a rub­ber snake, rigged to rise up with the lid. Ped­er­son screamed and slammed it shut.

A day later, a strange thing hap­pened. The Dodgers lost. They were a vic­tory away from a third dou­bledigit win­ning streak — no team has done that since the 1954 Mil­wau­kee Braves.

The club­house was quiet as the play­ers came off the field. A vic­to­ri­ous club­house is a party, usu­ally com­plete with songs by Drake or Vince Sta­ples or Ken­drick La­mar blast­ing on the stereo. A los­ing club­house can be as quiet as a tomb.

The si­lence both­ered Jansen. He found the speaker sys­tem and turned on the sooth­ing sounds of An­drea Bo­celli’s “Con Te Par­tiro.” As the strings swelled and Bo­celli’s tenor filled the room, the Dodgers started to crack up. Jansen could not stop smil­ing.

“We’ve got to play some­thing when we lose,” Jansen said. “I’m too used to hear­ing mu­sic.”

Kevork Djansezian Getty Im­ages

KYLE FARMER has his jer­sey ripped by team­mates cel­e­brat­ing his game-win­ning dou­ble in the 11th in­ning against the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants on July 30. It was Farmer’s first ma­jor league at-bat.

Gina Fer­azzi Los An­ge­les Times

FANS at Dodger Sta­dium have had plenty to cheer. The team is on pace to win the most games in fran­chise his­tory.

Gina Fer­azzi Los An­ge­les Times

COREY SEA­GER, re­turn­ing to the dugout af­ter his sec­ond home run against the Gi­ants on July 28, at 23 is one of the team’s young stars.

Vic­tor De­co­lon­gon Getty Im­ages

JUSTIN TURNER (10), with Chris Tay­lor, was strug­gling af­ter re­turn­ing from an in­jury. His hit­ting came around af­ter he bor­rowed a bat from Bellinger.

Gina Fer­azzi Los An­ge­les Times

CODY BELLINGER, watch­ing a home run against the Mi­ami Mar­lins, has been key to the Dodgers’ suc­cess. The team was 9-11 when he joined them from mi­nors.

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