The Dodgers have won eight straight division titles. They have appeared in the World Series in three of the last four years, ending their title drought against the Rays in 2020.
As it stands, though, Los Angeles would be thrown into a winner-takes-all wild card game. They have the pitching to be favored in such a scenario, but it is a lottery to a degree. That element of randomness, the risk of one bad night ending their season, should make it hard for them to be World Series favorites.
Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager have missed considerable time this year. Betts is on the Injured List at the moment.
Clayton Kershaw only resumed throwing a few days ago. Dustin May is out for the year. Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, and Joe Kelly are also on the IL. It’s unclear if Trevor Bauer will play again in 2021.
The fact the Dodgers could still win 100 games despite all of these absences is remarkable. It also leaves them with no margin for error should they suffer additional injuries or see a drop off in performance. The Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer one-two punch might be the best in the
Majors, but it is lacking in support.
They have taken these issues in their stride all year. A 14-12 record in July was their worst month so far, but they have rebounded with a scintillating 11-3 in August. The Giants are still within reach. No one would be surprised to see the Dodgers surge late in the season and make it nine consecutive NL West triumphs.
The division is just one element of uncertainty, however. Health concerns across the roster remain, making it hard to know what the team will look like come October.
If they reach the NLDS and have their four best starters healthy, they deserve to be viewed as favorites. If they are missing one or two arms and a key position player (as they are at the moment), they are suddenly very beatable.
This scenario depends on either catching the white-hot Giants or winning a wildcard game. Not often over the last few years have the Dodgers been under this amount of pressure in August and September.
When healthy, Dave Roberts still has the best roster in the Majors, and by a distance. They have the second-best record in baseball. Their weaknesses are minimal.
Believing the Dodgers are still favorites is understandable. They are more complete than any other contender, but they have hurdles to overcome if they are to become the first team to defend the World Series since the 2000 Yankees.
These Dodgers are a juggernaut. Perhaps the prospect of Buehler and Scherzer in a wildcard game makes them World Series favorites even if the Giants take the division. For now, though, the Dodgers are just one of a well-matched group of contenders with the Astros, Rays, White Sox and Brewers.