The Dodgers Are World Series Champions

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the results of Justin Turner’s initial COVID test were inconclusive, prompting the processing of his second test to be expedited. That test was positive, resulting in his removal from the game.

The players gathered on the field in various states of face-covering. The winning team was at home, but wasn’t; they gathered in the middle of a dark, huge, faraway stadium, with fans spread haphazardly in the stands, some gathered in jubilant, worrying clusters. And as the trophies were about to be presented, the broadcast was interrupted by an announcement: Justin Turner, one of the most important members of this team for the past eight years, had exited the game mysteriously in the eighth inning. The reason for that exit, the public was somberly told, was that he had received a positive COVID-19 test.

But then, all of a sudden, it cut back to the field, to the smiling, hugging, weeping players, the speeches and the trophies and the booing and the cheering, just as if it was a normal World Series. Even Turner got his on-field shot with the trophy, despite being removed from the game to be isolated and prevent the spread of infection; even Turner joined the team for their group photo.

The pandemic rages on, even within the confines of the diamond: a place that so often attempts to shelter itself from the realities of living in society, that had been fighting to keep their bubble — or, at the very least, its appearance — intact. Turner’s test results from yesterday were, apparently, revealed to be inconclusive in the second inning of tonight’s game. His test results from today were confirmed positive later. And yet, they kept playing baseball, right to the very end, through Game 6 of the World Series, with over 11,000 fans in attendance. The Dodgers, appearing in their third Fall Classic over the last four seasons, beat the Rays 3-1. In this truncated, bedeviled, dubious season, in a world rife with uncertainty, and heading into a dark and fearful winter, it was the best team in baseball that emerged victorious. And now, with Turner’s positive test and the questions it raises, the best team in baseball leaves their celebration not to celebrate further, but to rapid testing and quarantining — a shadow hanging over the sublime joy of a championship a long time in the making.

Just a few hours ago, though, none of this — Turner, COVID, the questions facing MLB and the Dodgers going forward — was in the game story. The game story was Randy Arozarena putting an exclamation point on his historic postseason, hitting his 10th October home run off Tony Gonsolin in the first to put the Rays up 1-0. When we look back on this October, Arozarena’s out-of-nowhere explosion into the most fearsome hitter on any postseason team’s lineup, a bonafide star carrying the Rays’ offense on his back, will certainly be near the top of the list of memorable moments.

And the game story was the Dodgers’ bullpen, so often postseason goats, who took over from the clearly struggling Gonsolin after just five outs in what was intended to be a full start from him. It was Dylan Floro, who came in with two on in the second and struck out Arozarena on three pitches to end the inning. It was the mostly-sidelined Alex Wood pitching two perfect, shockingly efficient innings of middle-relief; Pedro Báez, to whom much is always, somehow, given, redeeming the two-homer egg he laid in that wild Game 4; Victor González, who bailed out Báez after Arozarena got yet another hit; Brusdar Graterol, who overcame his wildness — and got a little help from Cody Bellinger’s superb fielding in center — to record two outs in the seventh; and Julio Urías, who closed out the NLCS, once again shutting down the opposing team over the final innings of the game.

And, perhaps more than anything, the game story was Blake Snell’s dominant, electrifying performance through five and a third: nine strikeouts, no walks, and just two hits, with the second hit being — controversially — the final batter he faced in the game. The score at that point was 1-0, just as it had been since the night’s second batter; Nick Anderson, who had allowed six runs in his six postseason appearances to that point, took over. It didn’t stay 1-0 for long. Mookie Betts, who struck out swinging twice against Snell, quickly doubled. A wild pitch brought home Barnes, and Betts, with his baserunning ability, came home on a Corey Seager groundball. The lead had changed for the final time in this World Series.

On some level, it wasn’t surprising that Snell was lifted. He hadn’t seen a seventh inning all season. The few sixth innings he’d seen were largely unsuccessful. This is what the Rays do; with their dominant bullpen, it had worked out to that point. But it was also easy to see why Snell seemed so incensed at his removal. The Dodgers’ powerful lineup, so productive in this World Series — the Dodgers, you may recall, had held a lead at some point in 27 consecutive innings prior to tonight — seemed utterly useless against Snell. Their fearsome top-of-the-lineup trio of Betts, Seager, and Turner were all 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against him through the first five innings; he was at a very reasonable 73 pitches on the night. Snell’s CSW% on all his pitches was an eye-popping 40%. In short, he looked fantastic. It’s hard to imagine a pitcher looking much better than Snell did for most of Game 6; it’s hard to imagine how the outcome might have differed had he stayed in the game.

But, ultimately, it was the Rays’ struggling lineup that doomed them. Only scoring one run meant that perfection was demanded of a bullpen that had already been worked extraordinarily hard, tasked with preserving many a tight lead over the course of this postseason. Maybe Snell would have thrown a complete-game shutout if left to his own devices. Or maybe he would have given up a single run, and the Dodgers would have scratched one across on Anderson or Pete Fairbanks anyway. Lifting Snell may have given the Dodgers a second wind, and Anderson may not have been the right choice to replace him if a replacement needed to be made, but with Rays relievers fallible and the Rays’ hitters almost entirely ineffective, it was an uphill battle for them regardless of the pitching choices. When Betts added an exclamation-point solo shot in the eighth to bring the score to 3-1, the writing was on the wall.

When we did our staff postseason predictions, 13 of us picked the Dodgers to win it all. It was the obvious choice; they were the strongest team in the bracket. They breezed to their eighth straight division title, and they hardly broke a sweat against the Brewers and Padres in the first two postseason rounds. It was in the NLCS, where they returned from series deficits of 2-0 and 3-1, where they seemed to exorcise some of the demons that have haunted their run of postseason losses. And in that incredible, whirlwind Game 4, one could see the specters rising again: the narrative of the Dodgers, who managed to find new and bizarre ways to lose when it mattered the most. Not this year. Clayton Kershaw had his best postseason, not on the hook for any heartbreakers. Kenley Jansen was the loser in Game 4, but was critical in the come-from-behind NLCS victory. Mookie Betts, the new star in town who will be around for a long, long time, led them to a title in his first year; and looking at this team, whose depth is their great strength, one can see the contributions coming from every direction — even from Joe Kelly.

It should be so satisfying, this story. And it was! And then, at the same time, it wasn’t — as Turner, having been instructed to isolate himself for the health of the public in the biggest moment of his life, ran around the field, sometimes masked and sometimes not, posing with the trophy and joining the team photo. “I didn’t touch him,” said Dave Roberts, the second Black and first Asian-American manager to win a World Series, and a cancer survivor whose health could be severely jeopardized by COVID. There was the overwhelming joy, the history of it all, and there was the fear, and there was moment of realization, the memory of all those shots of maskless fans under a closed roof, the deep unknown in the days ahead: What are we doing? What are we doing? All of it, all at the same time, all over again — for one last time in this tragic, maddening year.





Rachael is the current managing editor of The Hardball Times and dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

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dodgerbleu
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dodgerbleu

I felt terrible for, and would be all for an article about Justin Turner and his test and him not being able to celebrate with his teammates. A separate story. Considering it’s their first World Series in 32 years, the focus probably should have been on that, and not COVID. You have nice prose. Just wish you were a baseball writer.

mikejunt
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mikejunt

I don’t really think this is a fair assessment; the news about Turner, coming almost immediately after the game ended, threw quite the confusing pall over the celebration, first because of his very noticable absence, and then because of his presence.

It’s always going to be part of this experience for all of us, and it’s going to ensure that the memory of this championship is even more directly entwined with the memory of the pandemic than it might have been otherwise. You won’t be able to ignore it, it’s always going to be there.

There’s also only so much to say about the Dodgers that hasn’t already been said. We know the story – well. Everyone does. It ended happily. This was the best or 2nd best team I’ve ever seen play baseball – a peer of the 1998 Yankees. They did everything you could want players to do on a baseball field, and they did it well.

And we won’t forget them any time soon.

zwibi
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zwibi

Then maybe don’t mention it and give it a rest for one night.

Give the players a chance to enjoy their accomplishment. Even if it is the effing dodgers

Bartolo Cologne
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Bartolo Cologne

zwibi, this is the exact mentality that leads to the type of uncontrolled spreading that we see afflicting the entire country while Americans refuse to get their act together. MLB and the Dodgers knew better, Turner definitely should have known better, and the fact that he decided to participate and they let him means that they cast the pall over their own party themselves. Although I’m sure it isn’t what the Dodgers want, this is the story they created, and it’s right for Fangraphs and many other organizations doing similar reporting to talk about it.

RonnieDobbs
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RonnieDobbs

This is a hateful take. There is no set of actions that makes Coronavirus stop spreading. “Out of control” is a completely arbitrary standard that we use to further political agendas. We never even scraped “the curve”, so that means it is controlled right? Either that or the threat was completely misunderstood. As we get together and do things it will spread. Are you losing your mind that restaurants are open or that some kids are at school? I am sure many more people got Coronavirus in restaurants last night than what will come from the Dodgers organization. We accept many risks but condemn others – the further removed from our lives the better, right? Blaming people for the spread of a pandemic is a very poor display of humanity.

Patrick
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Patrick

It’s a poor display of humanity to ignore the human cost of a pandemic that has killed over 200k Americans this year alone. It’s a poor display of humanity for Turner to potentially expose his own teammates, and their own families in turn, to a deadly virus, and it’s a poor display of humanity to sweep that fact under the rug.

ianmSC
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ianmSC

Man I had no idea Fangraphs readers were even more uninformed than the employees here

tonycpsu
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tonycpsu

Right, because I’m sure that Justin Turner is *all over* Fangraphs right now just waiting to see what those mean writers will say about him putting his teammates in jeopardy.

tz
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This may be the most perfect comment ever.

RonnieDobbs
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RonnieDobbs

While this team qualifies as a dynasty in my book, this was not a contender for one of the best teams I have seen in my life. This team has two starting pitchers, no closer, a bad defense and two elite hitters. They are good but I’ll take the 2019 Astros and a bunch of other teams. No reason to tarnish their accomplishments but this team doesn’t strike me as having any argument as an all-time great squad.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I actually almost agree with this, which might be the first time I am agreeing with RonnieDobbs. If we think about Muncy and Bellinger’s performance the previous year you’re looking at an all-timer lineup all the way through #6, but Muncy and Bellinger were not that great this year.

This is a deserving World Series champion, on par with or better than every one we’ve seen in the last 20 years or so, and you have to go back to 1998 to find a team that was clearly, obviously better. But in the more recent past, it’s hard to separate them from the most recent Red Sox championship team, or the Astros championship team, or the Cubs championship team.

3rdgenbruin
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3rdgenbruin

Well, let’s see.

– They had the best winning percentage in about 100 years
– They had the best run generation in baseball
– They had the best run prevention in baseball
– They just had the second best offensive output in playoff history (if the telecast last night is to be believed)
– Of the last 10 world series winners, they had the 6th best regular season run differential despite only playing 60 games (including besting all three Giants WS winners!)
– Other great teams may derive their greatness from how many superstars they have, but the Dodgers are great because they may be the deepest best team ever. It is ridiculous to grade a team solely on number of great players.

So of course they’re in consideration for best team ever.

3rdgenbruin
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3rdgenbruin

Oh, and according to Fivethirtyeight elo rankings:

Dodgers: 1612 (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2020-mlb-predictions/)

Best teams of all time: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-best-mlb-teams-of-all-time-according-to-elo/

This puts them firmly in the top 10 teams of all time.

Adam C
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Adam C

They had the best winning percentage in about 100 years? For a 60 game season. Not the same as a 162 game season. Until this group of Dodgers can prove it over a 162 schedule they cannot be rated with the past all time great teams. Perhaps they will prove it in 2021?

3rdgenbruin
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3rdgenbruin

It isn’t like they were a one year wonder. They have won over 300 games the last three years and have largely the same team and then added Mookie. All they did was exactly what everyone predicted they would do.

Their FiveThirtyEight ELO rating is top 10 all time.

What exactly is not believable about this?

emh1969
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emh1969

No one’s saying they’re not a great team. They clearly are. But this season was so different from any other that it’s hard to put it in historical perspective. Just off the top of my head you have – shortest schedule ever, changes in schedule construction, larger rosters, in game rule changes.

Of course, the shorter schedule is the biggest factor of all. Going 43-17 is impressive. But multiple teams do that (or better) every single year over a 60 game stretch. The vast, vast, vast majority, however, can’t keep that up over 162 games due to injuries, regression to the means and other factors.

Adam C
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Adam C

The Dodgers in 2020 were a great team…for 60 games. I guess people cannot grasp that? It simply does not compare to the past all time great teams. They can potentially join the pantheon of all time great teams but that is not assured. To me at least then need to win another World Series. All the great dynasties of the past won multiple World Series titles.

mikejunt
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mikejunt

I think part of the point re: the Dodgers performance is that it didn’t involve overshooting projections. Most teams that win 105+ games get there by having a bunch of guys exceed their projections. The Dodgers won 70% of their games with the run differential of a team that should win 70% of their games, then went through the playoffs with a run differential of a team that should win 70% of it’s games, and did all of that while multiple, core pieces under-performed their projections (Bellinger, Muncy, Pederson, for example). This is how they were able to sustain that level of performance in the playoffs, as they were as good as they were while they had players who were due for -positive regression- towards their established performance levels (and we saw exactly that, with Muncy performing more or less at his typical levels and Bellinger doing the same for most of the postseason).

Its too bad we didn’t have the chance to see this team over 162, and I do fully believe they could have challenged the single-season wins record if they had a Padres team that was good enough to push them to try. In both 17 and 19 they had been on or near paces to do so and fallen off when they went into postseason preparation mode, started resting guys and auditioning relievers for bullpen roles, etc. And that was before they had Mookie Betts!

Out of the Park Baseball isn’t a perfect baseball simulation, but it does a pretty darn good job, and it’s worth considering that in all 3 full 162 game sims run by major baseball websites during the shutdown (Here at FG, at baseball reference and at baseball prospectus), the Dodgers teams in those simulations broke the single season wins record.

They were the first team in the history of most projection systems that projected for a mean wins total above 100.

Last, and I’m a little reluctant to point to this because it’s something of an appeal to authority but I do think it’s notable, Jeff Sullivan implied the Rays themselves see it in a similar light. You can check out his post-world series tweet and follow-up conversation, where he doesn’t really reveal much (because he can’t) but implies that the Rays evaluated the Dodgers internally as one of the greatest teams ever assembled. You can take that as you will, but Jeff’s not one prone to hyperbole and I’m inclined to take him at his word.

sweepcut
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sweepcut

It would have been nice to hear a little more analysis about the game, but I understand the observation about COVID. Go Dodgers!!!

Handsome Wes
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Handsome Wes

This is the most downvotes I have seen for a post since I said Steve Garvey should be in the Hall of Fame

Keith
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Imagine telling a writer employed by a baseball-focused site that they’re not a baseball writer?

ianmSC
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ianmSC

They’re a politics writer who happens to occasionally write about baseball