As 2006 reminds us, NL West race just getting started
By Jon Weisman
On this day 10 years ago, the 2006 National League West champion* Dodgers lost their eighth game in a row.
It’s a contradiction that, frankly, should provide comfort to the 2016 NL West-leading San Francisco Giants, who have lost eight of nine games since the All-Star Break, allowing the Dodgers to come with 2 1/2 games of first place for the first time since May 18.
But the larger point is that even with four months of baseball nearly in the books, nothing is decided.
Those 2006 Dodgers, man, were they a roller-coaster team. After starting the season 12-17 and falling into the division’s basement (remember, this was a team that had gone 71-91 the year before), they won 15 of their next 18 and ultimately moved into first place by early June.
But it was a tight, crazy-making race. On the first four days of July, Los Angeles finished the night in a different position in the division: second place on July 1, fourth place on July 2, third place on July 3, tied for first Independence Day.
Then came the All-Star Break, and a horror show worse than even the Giants have experienced. The Dodgers went from 46-42 to 47-55, losing 13 of 14 to fall back into last, 7 1/2 games behind the Padres. Jake Peavy, who pitched Monday for the Giants, was the winning pitcher for San Diego on July 26, 2006 in the completion of a three-game sweep that seemed to doom Los Angeles.
The next day, July 27, was an off day, and I published a column for SI.com in which I said the Dodgers shouldn’t feel stigmatized about being sellers at the trade deadline.
So what happened next? Oh, nothing much, except the Dodgers won their next 11 games and 17 out of 18, again moving all the way from last place to first. I got to write a whole new column for SI, one that began with a quote from Vin Scully.
“It is the same old story with the Dodgers these days,” Scully said. “You give them an inch, and they take a whole ballgame.”
The Dodgers weren’t done messing with our heads yet. Leading the division by four games after play September 1, the Dodgers gave it all back, falling half a game behind the Padres with a ninth-inning loss September 17, the day before the 4+1 game put them back into first — but only for 24 hours.
Despite finishing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak and making the playoffs, the Dodgers never had sole possession of first place again that year. San Diego, hardly devastated by allowing four consecutive homers in the bottom of the ninth that Monday night in Los Angeles, had a six-game winning streak of its own and closed the season 10-3.
Both the Dodgers and Padres finished 88-74 (*the Padres won the division thanks to head-to-head records), the Dodgers went to Shea Stadium as the NL’s wild-card team, Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew were thrown out at the plate on the same play in the second inning of the first playoff game, and that was about that.
Unhappy endings aside, it’s hard to emphasize enough how much baseball is left in the 2016 season. And the Dodgers, despite being in second place, are well positioned. Tonight, they will play their first home game in 16 days, and yet they’ve gained four games in the standings in that time.
It’s not only because of the San Francisco treatment. In winning their 56th game Sunday, the Dodgers matched their best record after 100 games since 2009, the only year in the past decade the Dodgers have started better than 56-44.
The 2016 Giants (58-41) will still be only the third NL West team since 2010 to play better than .560 ball in their first 100 games — but neither the 2010 Padres (60-40) nor the 2011 Giants (57-43) ended up winning the division.
Just as it made sense that the Giants wouldn’t play their best forever, there’s zero reason to think they’ll play this poorly for long. All that’s safe to conclude is this: The race is on. And with nine games remaining between the Dodgers and Giants — six of them in Los Angeles — it should be tear-your-hair out crazy.