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Dodgers have decisions to make in quest for World Series return

Andy McCullough, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

LOS ANGELES -- His eyes gleaming, his season over, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen stood before a crowd of reporters and issued a declaration.

"This team is not going to give up," Jansen said. "We're going to bring a championship back to L.A. I promise you that."

On any day before Wednesday -- on Feb. 1 or July 1 or Oct. 1 -- the words would have sounded like a pledge. But Jansen spoke on Nov. 1, minutes after his team lost to the Houston Astros in the seventh game of the World Series. In moments like these, all proclamations ring hollow.

The 2017 Dodgers won 104 regular-season games and accumulated enough accolades to fill a trophy case -- a fifth National League West title, the best regular-season record since leaving Brooklyn, the team's first National League pennant since 1988 -- yet they headed into the winter without reaching the last goal on their checklist. They stood at the base of the summit, but could not reach the top. As the players packed for the winter, they struggled to acknowledge how difficult it might be to get back.

"I'm not really thinking about next year," pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. "We all know the team we're going to have coming back."

The collection of talent does not guarantee a return to the Fall Classic. Houston assembled a similarly youthful roster. There will be healthy challenges from the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals in the National League, while the New York Yankees appear to be a budding force in the American League, along with the Cleveland Indians. And history does not appear to be on the Dodgers' side.

No team has won back-to-back championships since the Yankees captured three in a row from 1998 to 2000. Since 2000, four teams have appeared in the World Series in consecutive seasons: the 2000-2001 Yankees, 2008-2009 Philadelphia Phillies, 2010-2011 Texas Rangers and the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

Only the Royals won a title in their return engagement -- after falling in Game 7 the year before to San Francisco. Kansas City leaned on that agony throughout the following season. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts suggested his players could find similar motivation.

"I know our guys and I know that there won't be a hangover," Roberts said. "They will be more incentivized, and I think they'll be hungrier."

Except baseball does not always reward its best. The Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the World Series to the Cubs last October. Focused on atoning, the Indians raced to the best record in the American League this season. Yet they still fell in the first round to the Yankees.

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