The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves last night, 4-3, and in the process took back the leading spot in the NL West. The fact that it took them until September to reclaim their place atop the division is a shock in of itself. This Dodgers squad is laughably stacked; it was before the trade deadline and even more so afterwards upon acquiring both Trea Turner and Max Scherzer in one fell swoop. We rarely see baseball teams go all-in like this, and yet here we are, with the defending champs not only better than they were last year, but significantly more talented.
The team that defied the odds to hold off the Dodgers this long is in a bit of a slide. The San Francisco Giants have lost four straight, giving Los Angeles a window of opportunity in the process. It's been a remarkable year in the Bay Area to this point, with unexpected big years coming from players whose primes have long past or players who have never before reached the heights they find themselves at now.
There are 29 games remaining for these Giants. Twenty-nine games to cover the half-game deficit that currently bridges the gap between themselves and the Dodgers in the divisional race. And they must do it.
Because if the Giants win the NL West, that means the Dodgers have to go into a one-game Wild Card playoff game to determine their fate. Right now, that would mean they play the Reds, but the race for the second spot is so close that it could be the Padres or the Phillies or the Cardinals by season's end. Who the opponent is doesn't matter as much as the fact that the Dodgers, with all their power and pitching, would be subject to the whims of the baseball gods for one game.
Part of what's so fun about baseball when the postseason draws near is the unpredictability. The best team usually wins, but the nature of the game is so fickle that one hot streak from an unsuspecting utility guy or fifth rotation pitcher can change an entire series, or even an entire playoff run. Part of the reason this can happen is that the elite talent is dispersed fairly evenly in a normal year among the top teams. The bad teams are bad, sometimes really bad, but when October rolls around no one team has so many good players it can easily overcome the aforementioned variable of one or two opposing players getting unusually hot.
Except this year's Dodgers. They are an anomaly, so preposterously talented that it's nearly impossible to comprehend the team featuring Mookie Betts, Scherzer, Trea Turner, Max Turner, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, David Price, and Walker Buehler losing four contests in a seven-game series. There have been teams this good before who lost when it mattered-- the 116-win Mariners in 2001 come to mind-- but rarely, if ever, has there been a team with such a deep well of top-tier talent.
But in a one-game playoff? Anything can happen. A Dodgers loss in the Wild Card round would be an eternal reminder that baseball is unpredictable. And the Giants have the fate of that possibility in their hands. The first step is up to them. San Francisco must push in the final games of the year to take the division and ensure the Dodgers' fate is left to the fragility of a single baseball game. For the greater good.