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Kolakowski: World Series Favorites Streaking in Opposite Directions

| Thursday, September 14, 2017

We are midway through September, a time that is typically filled with action in the sporting world. The college and professional football seasons are underway. Basketball and hockey seasons will be starting in only a few short weeks. And Major League Baseball is in the heat of playoff races.

That is, the MLB should be in the heat of playoff races. Of the six divisions in baseball, one, the National League East, has already been decided, and three others are essentially wrapped up as well. Only two divisions, the National League Central and the American League East, are still in in question at this point. Even so, the runner-up in the AL East will most likely secure a wild card berth. Only a small handful of teams are battling for a remaining playoff spot, and many fans have already turned their eyes to the postseason.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians have nearly clinched the National League West and American League Central, respectively, after entering the season as favorites to win their divisions.

The Indians, World Series runners-up from a year ago, returned many key players while adding Edwin Encarnacion, a power-hitting designated hitter and first baseman. The Dodgers, NL West division champions for the last four seasons, re-signed key players such as third baseman Justin Turner and relief pitcher Kenley Jansen. Over the course of the season, both teams added strong pieces to their rosters in the hopes of making a World Series run. The Indians added slugging right fielder Jay Bruce to bolster the lineup, and the Dodgers added front-line starting pitcher Yu Darvish to pair with their ace, Clayton Kershaw.

And for much of the year, those moves seemed to pay off. On Aug. 28, the Dodgers’ Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the caption states, “Best. Team. Ever?” On the date of publication, the Dodgers held the best record in Major League Baseball at 91-38. Meanwhile, in the American League, the Cleveland Indians held a 74-56 record, and the Tribe had just won their fifth consecutive game. Both teams were clearly bound for division titles, and it is likely that they had their sights set on a World Series run.

But since Aug. 28, only one of these teams has continued to play championship-caliber baseball. The other has looked like a group of minor leaguers.

The Cleveland Indians have not dropped a game since the Sports Illustrated issue praising the Dodgers was published. In fact, the Indians have not lost since Aug. 23. In that time, Cleveland has won 21 games, outscoring their opponents 139 runs to 35. This means that Cleveland has outscored its opponents by nearly five runs per game, an astounding showing of dominance.

While the Indians plow their way to the postseason, the Dodgers have suddenly appeared not so superhuman as previously thought. Over its last 16 games, Los Angeles has only managed two wins. At one point, the Dodgers dropped 11 games in a row. The pitching staff has struggled, and the lineup has had a hard time bringing baserunners across home plate. Put simply, the team looks lost at the most critical point in the season.

While the Indians look ready to steamroll the postseason, the Dodgers appear ready to get swept off to an early vacation.

Despite current appearances, all images can change when the calendar turns to October. Ten teams will be gunning for one goal: a World Series title. For the Indians, failure to claim the title would erase all the good feelings from this 21-game winning streak. This failure would tack on to the heartbreak of collapsing against the Chicago Cubs in the World Series a season ago. For the Dodgers, hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy would make everyone forget about these late-season struggles. All the while, eight additional teams will hope to have their own magical postseason.

Both teams have to win it all. It is entirely possible that neither team will.

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