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Dodgers aren't devaluing World Series title in coronavirus-shortened season

Jorge Castillo, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

LOS ANGELES -- For three months, as Major League Baseball's owners and the players' union snapped public jabs at each other, an uncomfortable reality was again exposed. MLB, above all, is a business, the same as other major professional sports leagues. And before a 2020 season was staged, figuring out how to divide billions of dollars was a struggle even as a global pandemic worsened the optics. Money came first.

Now that the money is squared away, players reported to training camp this weekend to reach the next, more romantic goal in these unprecedented circumstances: winning the World Series.

But what would a championship mean after this strange season, if COVID-19 doesn't force a shutdown before the World Series? A 60-game season would mark the shortest in MLB history. Rules have been changed, rosters will be expanded, travel will be limited. This season would be unlike any other. Does this new normal diminish the championship?

"I think if there's a championship to be won, we're going to do everything in our power to win that championship," Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. "So, people are going to say whatever they're going to say but if there's an opportunity to win a championship, we're going to show up every day and work towards that goal and do everything we can to win it."

A championship this year wouldn't be the Dodgers' first in an abbreviated season; the Dodgers won the title at the end of a strike-shortened, 110-game season in 1981.

That year, the standings were divided into halves. Division winners from the halves reached the postseason. The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals finished with the best records in the National League, but didn't win their divisions in either half and didn't make the postseason. The Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in six games to cap off Fernandomania; Fernando Valenzuela won both the NL Cy Young and rookie of the year awards.

 

The Dodgers expect to contend for the championship 39 years later after seven straight National League West titles without claiming the ultimate prize. Fans are thirsting for the end of a drought going on 32 years. They were teased twice recently, in 2017 and 2018, with World Series appearances. If the Dodgers pull it off this year, there's a chance none of them will be in attendance.

The truncated season hurts the Dodgers' chances of reaching the playoffs, where competition would return to a normal format. They were finely tuned for the 162-game marathon better than their peers. Shortening the season reduces the sample size, allowing for less-equipped teams to sneak into the postseason after hot starts. A 60-game sprint comes with different variables.

Those variables don't include the hoops every person involved in staging the season is required to jump through to attempt to stymie the spread of the novel coronavirus. This season's champion could wind up being the team that best avoids the virus.

"To say there's an asterisk on it or things like that, I don't think is fair," Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw said. "I think there needs to be a whole different category for what this season is. But at the end of the day, I think if you win this season, it's going to feel pretty good no matter what."

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