April 21, 2024

In Los Angeles, the window does not shut.

The modern baseball fan has been conditioned to believe that each team has a competitive window, that you can keep the core of a contending team together for only so long before the window inevitably closes.

To that, Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers are here to say ho, ho, ho to Dodgers fans and ha, ha, ha to the rest of the league.

When might we expect any other team to win the National League West?

The Dodgers have won 10 times in the past 11 years. The exception was 2021, when the Dodgers still won 106 games.

The San Francisco Giants won 107, in a season that increasingly reveals itself to be one of the more remarkable flukes in baseball history. The Giants have not posted a winning record since then, and they did not post a winning record in any of the four seasons before then.

In 2018, the Colorado Rockies pushed the Dodgers to an NL West tiebreaker. The Rockies have not posted a winning record since then.

The San Diego Padres poured a gazillion dollars into beating the Dodgers. They did, once, over three games in October. They never got to the World Series. They could lose their best hitter, their best starting pitcher, and their closer this winter.

The Arizona Diamondbacks did get to the World Series this year, after beating the Dodgers over three games in October. They have a promising young core. They could be in a position to challenge the Dodgers for a few years.

But that is what we said about the Rockies in 2018, the Giants in 2021, the Padres in 2022 … and here we are yet again, this time with Andrew Friedman’s smarts and Mark Walter’s wallet fortified by Shohei Ohtani’s amusement park: He hits! He runs! He pitches (sorry, this attraction closed until 2025). He lures international tourists!

Mika Shimura sits in the stands at Angel Stadium holding a "I love Shohei Ohtani more than my husband" sign.

Mika Shimura, a Shohei Ohtani fan from Japan, holds up a sign while attending a game at Angel Stadium last season.

(Sarah Valenzuela / Los Angeles Times)

Ohtani’s record $700-million contract is made possible in large part by the Dodgers’ record $8.35-million SportsNet LA deal. The regional sports networks that once carried and helped fund the Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies have collapsed.

The Dodgers’ window is always open, and their Southern California forecast is consistent: a sunny summer, followed by a lengthy October.

The first three spots in the Dodgers lineup could be filled by potential Hall of Famers in Mookie Betts, Ohtani, and Freddie Freeman. If Clayton Kershaw returns, the Dodgers could have four Hall of Famers.

The Dodgers’ 1959 World Series championship team, their first in Los Angeles, had four Hall of Famers too: Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Gil Hodges, and Duke Snider.

With the Angels, Ohtani never finished within 10 games of first place. The Angels posted a .451 winning percentage last season, finishing 17 games out of first place.

The last time the Dodgers finished so far out of first place, America was worried about a Y2K computer crash. The last time they posted so low a winning percentage, they solicited the input of a Russian physicist who said he had “diagnosed the disconnects” among the manager, general manager and players. (For real.)

With the Dodgers, October will be on Ohtani’s schedule.

For all the tiresome East Coast whining, what is best for baseball is for Ohtani to play before a national audience in the postseason, and the best way to get Ohtani into the playoffs is for him to play with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers should extend their postseason streak to 12 consecutive years come next October. With Ohtani, Betts and Freeman — and a rapidly developing collection of young arms — they could meet or beat the major league record: 14 consecutive postseason appearances, set by Stan Kasten’s Atlanta Braves.

Shohei Ohtani bats during the 2022 MLB All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.

Shohei Ohtani bats during the 2022 MLB All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers could have traded some of those young arms for proven ones last July, and perhaps the team would not have gone three and out last October. But now the Dodgers have Ohtani and all those young arms too, and they have enviable resources — plenty of money, plenty of prospects, and plenty of time — to get an established starter or two.

This is what teams mean when they preach sustainability and financial flexibility. It is much easier said than done. For too many teams, it is jargon that ends up meaning the owner is pocketing more money and the general manager is forever talking up the future.

That the Dodgers are well-run guarantees nothing in October, as the Padres and Diamondbacks have shown the Dodgers over the past two Octobers. If Major League Baseball operated like the Premier League, where the team with the best record is the winner, the Dodgers would have three championships over the past eight years, not one.

The playoffs have not been kind to the Dodgers. But the Dodgers will be in the playoffs and, for the first time in his major league career, Ohtani will be playing for something.

Baseball’s most mysterious star will be playing in Hollywood. His team is bound for October. His team could sell 4 million tickets next season, something no other MLB team can do. On behalf of MLB, Rob Manfred probably is singing out loud right about now: We love L.A.


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