Win it if you make it

Teams rarely ever get a second shot at the World Series immediately after losing one, and they virtually never get a third go after two consecutive losses.
The Dodgers have an opportunity to do what they couldn’t a year ago. History suggests they better win it this time.

When the Cleveland Indians got run off the field by the Houston Astros in this year’s ALDS, my mind went to Rajai Davis in 2016. Cleveland had a Game 7 with last licks at the World Series, the pinnacle of professional baseball. They lost then, and since, haven’t been able to escape the Divisional Series. They were this close to becoming champions, where “this” is the space between words, and that’s only slightly dramatic.

This kind of thing happens in baseball: teams come close to winning the World Series, close enough that you start believing in the determining powers of bad hops and fractional seconds of a swing, and then they don’t get another crack at it, not immediately anyway. The 2015 New York Mets lost three games in the 8th inning or later, and haven’t been beyond the Wild Card game since; the 2010 and 2011 Texas Rangers lost the World Series both years and haven’t been beyond the Division Series in two subsequent playoff trips; the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays never got another shot; the 2007 Colorado Rockies swept through the National League, then got swept out of the World Series and haven’t made an NLCS in three postseason trips since; the Detroit Tigers went six years between World Series turns, and haven’t been back after losing both; the 2005 Houston Astros, 2003 New York Yankees and 2002 San Francisco Giants won years later with mostly new teams 12, six and eight years apart.

This year’s Dodgers have an incredibly rare opportunity to make up for a World Series loss. In the last 10 years, it’s technically more likely to return to the World Series after losing it versus winning it. But only technically, because the raw numbers are not promising either way—three losers have been back the next season; one winner got an immediate second go. Either way, practically speaking, it’s unlikely.

In the Wild Card era, five winners returned to the World Series the following year (three of which were the turn-of-the-century Yankees dynasty). That number is still three for the losers. Three. Out of 24 series, including this season’s Boston-Los Angeles showdown. Only seven teams (including the three immediate returners) have been back to the World Series within three seasons of losing it.

The Dodgers are trying to end a championship drought that turned 30 this year. In their way stands a 108-win Boston Red Sox team that just scorched the two other best teams in the AL. The degree of difficulty is pretty high for Los Angeles, but they’ve arguably cleared the more significant hurdle already by making it this far for the second straight season.

But championship opportunities are hard to come by, and the Dodgers need to cash in on this immediate return. There’s this bit of coping talk about teams that lose in the playoffs, about how promising they are, that they’re built to contend for years to come, and that they’ll be back. “There’s always next year” clichés turn into closing-window clichés faster than you can draw the blinds. We’re going through this at the BtB offices right now: our Brewers contingent just went to a winner-take-all game for the NL pennant; our Yankee corner is only a year removed from coming up just short against one of the most grueling brackets in modern MLB history. Maybe these teams get a chance to get farther than so, so close in the immediate future. Recent history suggests it’s rare to make the entire grueling journey twice.

Can the Dodgers do what only two other teams—the 2015 Kansas City Royals and the 1989 Oakland Athletics—have done in the last 40 years—win the very next year after losing the World Series? Despite Los Angeles’s resources and strong young talent, the urgency to win now should be dialed up: losing World Series teams are scarcely afforded an immediate second chance at the storybook ending.

A team hasn’t lost twice in a row and gotten to a third-straight Fall Classic in 95 years.

Khurram Kalim is the senior writer for Bronx to Bushville.

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