Dodgers clinch 7th straight NL West crown
BALTIMORE — The Los Angeles Dodgers are dancing. Again.
Los Angeles beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-3 on Tuesday night at Camden Yards to clinch their seventh straight National League West pennant.
In the divisional era (since 1969), only the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees have strung together more consecutive crowns. The Braves won 14 straight NL East titles, from 1991 to 2005 (there was no postseason in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign). The Yankees were AL East champs nine years running, from 1998 through 2006.
Besides building on their impressive streak of pennants on Tuesday, the Dodgers also became the first MLB team to secure a spot in the 2019 postseason.
Unlike last year, when they beat the Colorado Rockies in a Game 163 tiebreaker to earn a sixth straight division title, the Dodgers got it done early this time around. By nabbing the crown in their 146th contest of the season, they tied the 2016 Chicago Cubs for the fourth-fastest clincher this century. The three teams ahead Los Angeles — the 2002 Braves, the 2017 Nationals and the 2008 Angels — all failed to advance in the playoffs, though the ’16 Cubs went on to win the World Series. Despite that recent history, manager Dave Roberts is a fan of front-loading.
“I would rather the early one versus the late one,” said Roberts, who has guided Los Angeles in each of the past four seasons, prior to Tuesday’s win. “We did the late one last year, and 163 was aggressive. I like this one, just so you can really get it past you, get guys rest, put guys into rolls and positions you might face in the postseason.”
Prior to this year, the earliest clinch during the Dodgers’ current string came in 2013, when they claimed the division in their 153rd game. From a calendar perspective, L.A.’s clincher is tied for the sixth soonest in the wild-card era, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. The 2008 Angels and 2017 Nationals also clinched on Sept. 10. The 1998 Yankees, who did it on Aug. 30, were the earliest.
As little suspense as there has been in the NL West this year, there was just as little on Tuesday night at Camden Yards. The visiting Dodgers jumped out to an early lead, scoring four runs in the top of the first, three of which came courtesy of shortstop Corey Seager‘s 15th home run of the season. Seager also hit a two-run blast in the third, while highly touted rookie Gavin Lux launched a towering solo shot in the fifth, the first round-tripper of his career.
Right-hander Walker Buehler picked up the win, pitching seven scoreless frames to improve to 13-3 on the season. He walked none and fanned 11, in the process reaching 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career. With the division already decided, Los Angeles will now turn its attention toward gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“It’s certainly very important considering how we’ve played at home,” said Roberts, whose club has a .737 home winning percentage (56-20) that ranks second in the majors behind the Houston Astros. “But there’s still a cost with everything, and I think the main thing is keeping guys healthy, keeping guys sharp, and not trying to redline just to win by any means necessary. If we play to our potential and play the way we’re capable of, that should take care of itself.”
With the victory over Baltimore, the Dodgers moved to 94-52. They began the day with a three-game lead over Atlanta for the best record in the National League, and were two games behind the Yankees and Astros for baseball’s best mark. They were 17.5 games ahead of the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks, and have held at least a share of first for all but six days this year.