Back in June, when I was posting stories about how the Dodgers were on pace to have the worst season by the franchise since they moved to Los Angeles — and let’s note that I said that on the morning of June 22, the day the unbelievable run started, so you can all thank me for this — simply getting back to .500 in 2013 seemed like an unreachable goal. Merely not even finishing as the worst team in the NL West would have been wonderful. (Unless you just wanted a high draft pick in 2014, discussions of which were already taking place — and rightfully so.)
Making the playoffs? Well, to say that it would have needed a miracle actually seems like underselling it; it just did not seem to be in the realm of possibilities. If, at the time, you were told that the Dodgers would get to October, I imagine that whatever success they’d have in the playoffs would have been merely gravy, because how could you have been disappointed if they’d make it that far?
That miracle did happen, of course, and now this team is in the playoffs, and I’m imagining the expectations now are just a little different. From a sizable portion of the fan base, and probably at some of the highest levels of ownership as well, the attitude here is probably “win the World Series or the season is a failure.”
But that’s not really fair, is it? In a short five- or seven-game series, it’s not always the best team that wins. Those are small enough samples that one unexpectedly poor start from a pitcher or lousy call from an umpire or simple batted-ball luck can easily push a series one way or the other, and it’s not like the opposition isn’t full of talent here as well. The Braves won 96 games, don’t forget; the Cardinals 98, with more talent than they know what to do with, and the Pirates are well-poised to be “that team” of the postseason.
There’s enough skill and talent and luck and pressure in the playoffs that it’s never, ever a given that any team will win, and your enjoyment of what is about to happen might depend on what you expect to get from your baseball team. If you’re in it for World Series titles and nothing else, then that colors your expectations. If you enjoy the day-to-day journey and merely hope for a team that can provide an interesting story all year rather than being dead in the water by July 15, then this team has delivered and then some.
As for me, I would never been so presumptive to say that a team has to win the World Series for the season to be successful. Considering where the Dodgers were in May, and considering where they were in 2011 and 2012 under McCourt, and considering how bright the future looks, I almost can’t imagine a way in which we don’t look back upon this season with joy.
Now, if they go into Atlanta and get swept out in three, yeah, that’s going to leave a bitter taste. I don’t think it’s unfair to hope that with Clayton Kershaw & Zack Greinke on the mound in a short series, the Dodgers are in a good position to win — most previews I’ve seen have picked them in 4 or 5 — and it’s important that they do. But if they do, and then lose to the Cardinals in the NLCS or in the World Series to the Tigers or whomever else, is that failure?
I don’t think it is. Maybe the events play in such a way that it feels like it is, like if Evan Gattis or Matt Adams or someone becomes the next Matt Stairs in Dodger lore. The first step, I think we can all agree, is simply beating Atlanta starting tonight. From there? How you feel about the 2013 Dodgers may be very much up to you.