The Los Angeles Dodgers looked like an embarrassment for the first two months of the season. Yet after Sept. 17, the Dodgers are now one win in Arizona away from being the first team to clinch a division title. Los Angeles took that next-to-last step on Sept. 17, in beating an Arizona Diamondbacks team that was out of the NL West race long ago.
The once last-place Dodgers are up to 87 wins after their 9-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. Although Los Angeles had lost four straight, its inability to lose in the summer made it blow the NL West wide open before September. As such, the Dodgers have a 10 1/2 game lead over the Diamondbacks and a magic number of two, which they can reduce to zero with one more win in Arizona on Sept. 18 or Sept. 19.
Los Angeles got this done largely without Matt Kemp, yet he was activated just in time for the home stretch and got four hits on Sept. 17. With a healthy lineup and Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke anchoring the pitching staff, the Dodgers may have the edge in October over a questionable Atlanta Braves squad, as well as three NL Central teams eating each other alive.
For now, the Dodgers have almost won the race for the earliest division champion in baseball. It has been a close competition, since the Braves are blowing out the NL East and the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics are pulling away in the American League. There should be a slew of divisional title clinching in the next few days, yet the Dodgers are the only one with a magic number of two.
The Red Sox have a magic number of three while the Braves are stuck at four and the Tigers and Athletics lag behind at six. Aside from the NL Central, this hasn’t been a September of suspense when it comes to divisional races, although the AL West and East didn’t get lopsided until a week or two ago.
The Dodgers got a jump start on all of them in ending the NL West chase by late summer. Now they can make it official before the weekend and become the first team to officially punch a divisional series ticket -- then work towards being the first to arrive in the playoffs and the last to leave.