There was no sprint out of the visiting dugout following the final out this time, not after NL West titles in each of the previous six years and a 2019 so dominant the Dodgers clinched the division with almost three weeks to go.
In the past, Los Angeles did not hold back its emotions, famously celebrating in Arizona’s outfield pool in 2013 after clinching a tense race. That was before a pair of World Series defeats and the heightened expectations that sprouted from those near-misses. There is no longer as much satisfaction in merely reaching the postseason. The berth-securing win over the Orioles on Tuesday, then, represented a checkpoint rather than an endpoint.
So Clayton Kershaw reflected first on the temperature of the postgame alcohol shower during his TV interview in the clubhouse, then acknowledged his team’s feat in reserved terms. Around him, veterans such as Russell Martin and Kenley Jansen appeared subdued. They have grander ambitions on their minds.
Several important contributors to this Dodgers group, though, were not part of LA’s success before this campaign.
On Tuesday, rookies Gavin Lux, Edwin Rios, Will Smith and Matt Beaty received at-bats. Smith and Beaty have each made a significant offensive impact this year. So too has first-year outfielder Alex Verdugo, currently on the IL but responsible for 12 home runs and 44 RBIs. The team’s postseason pitching staff could feature Dustin May, the hard-throwing right-hander who debuted last month.
Those players can lean on teammates who broke through somewhere in the middle of the Dodgers’ run. Corey Seager was one of the newcomers in 2015. Cody Bellinger was one of them in 2017. For right-hander Walker Buehler, the moment came last season.
The talent just keeps coming for this club, which has been on the rise for a decade. Maybe this is the year it’ll lead to a ring.
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