BEST DODGERS TEAM EVER?
A year of magical bats, prophetic text messages, clubhouse pranks and so many indelible victories has raised the question:
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.”
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.
FANS at Dodger Stadium have had plenty to cheer. The team is on pace to win the most games in franchise history.
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.
JUSTIN TURNER (10), with Chris Taylor, was struggling after returning from an injury. His hitting came around after he borrowed a bat from Bellinger.
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.