Just when it looked like the Los Angeles Dodgers were going to run away with the World Series, the team has come back to earth in spectacular fashion.
After their team compiled 91 wins through August 25 — 13 more than the second-best team in MLB — Dodgers fans were understandably excited about the prospect of breaking the National League record of 108 victories in the modern era, set by the Cincinnati Reds in 1975 and matched by the New York Mets in 1986. But instead of making history, the Dodgers began to struggle in almost every facet of the game, resulting in a 1-11 mark over their last 12 contests.
There are a number of reasons for this reversal. The Dodgers have slashed just .195/.261/.306 over their losing stretch, one of the most listless lines in the league. Their pitching has been almost as bad, posting an abysmal 5.40 ERA — Clayton Kershaw, who threw six shutout innings to earn the win in his return from the disabled list, was the only bright spot. Their biggest breakout stars, outfielder Chris Taylor and starter Alex Wood, have performed like the players they were thought to be at the beginning of the season, and other big pieces like Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger have been struggling, injured or both.
No other team has performed so poorly over the past two weeks. Put simply, the Dodgers went from a world-beating juggernaut to the worst team in baseball almost overnight.
Of course, every team experiences lulls in production, and calendar dates are totally subjective parameters when it comes to assessing a team’s performance. Still, this poor stretch has been especially alarming due to its suddenness. On August 25, the Dodgers led the Arizona Diamondbacks by 21 games in the National League West; through Thursday, that lead has been halved to 10.5 games.
The Diamondbacks, for their part, are doing as well as the Dodgers were earlier in the season, reeling off 13 consecutive wins. After going just 69-93 last year, the Diamondbacks weren’t an especially popular pick for the postseason, but they have been anchored by a potent combination of established stars (Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray) and surprise contributors (Archie Bradley, Zack Godley).
The rise of the Diamondbacks became especially clear earlier this week, when they swept the Dodgers in their final meeting of the year. The Dodgers were held to just two runs over three games, while Arizona exploded for 19.
“We’re battling, grinding and sticking together, and those are things that make you win those close games and win 13 straight,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said after the series, according to Fox Sports.
While they’re not exactly nipping at Los Angeles’ heels, the Diamondbacks have made remarkable progress in the last two weeks. Ten-and-a-half games isn’t usually considered a reasonable deficit, but given the way these teams have been playing, it looks like September could be a wild month in the NL West. Even with their ridiculous five-month run, the Dodgers don’t have the biggest cushion in MLB anymore.
Both teams are playing at an unsustainable level, but seemingly isolated stretches can be the start of long-term trends. We’ve seen teams lose big division leads in September in the past, and the Dodgers could author one of the most stupefying collapses in the game’s history if things don’t change.
But there’s still a lot of baseball to be played before that happens. The Dodgers will play their next game against another division rival, the Colorado Rockies, while the Diamondbacks will face the San Diego Padres.
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