BALTIMORE — It has become baseball's September inevitability – not if, but when the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the National League West.
That moment came earlier than ever Tuesday night, when the Dodgers put away their seventh consecutive division title with a game result almost as certain as their march to the division title.
Walker Buehler vs. the rebuilding and outmanned Baltimore Orioles was no match, as the right-hander and likely playoff ace quieted one of the worst teams in baseball and the Dodgers rode a pair of Corey Seager home runs to a 7-3 victory at Camden Yards.
The Dodgers – now an NL-best 94-52 – can once again use the rest of September as their playoff lab, testing lineup combos and running out an enviable group of rookies to see which ones best complement a two-time pennant-winning core of Cody Bellinger, Clayton Kershaw and Co.
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Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager homers in the first inning against the Orioles. (Photo: Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports)
They are seeking their third consecutive NL title and, ultimately, their first World Series championship since 1988. Tuesday, the appetizer was consumed, the earliest clinch since their division domination commenced in 2013.
They become just the third team to win seven or more consecutive division titles, joining the New York Yankees (nine from 1998-2006) and Atlanta Braves (14 from 1991-2005).
"To clinch the division for the seventh year in a row – it’s important, and it’s a byproduct of playing good baseball," says Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose club needed a one-game playoff in Game No. 163 to put away the Colorado Rockies last year. "I would rather the early than the late one. We did the late one last year – 163 was aggressive. Just to get it past you, get guys rest, get guys in roles they may face in the postseason."
NL WEST CHAMPS. pic.twitter.com/0jHjVfp9NJ
The Dodgers needed just 146 games to put away the Arizona Diamondbacks and the rest of the West, by far their earliest crown by date and game number; the 2013 squad began this run by clinching in Game No. 153, on Sept. 19.
The Dodgers have been in first place since April 17 and saw their lead get as big as 21 games. With MVP favorite Bellinger leading the charge, the team boasts the NL's highest-scoring offense and three players who already have 30 homers.
Tuesday, Buehler struck out 11 Orioles in seven shutout innings, his fifth start this season with double-digit strikeouts and no walks, according to STATS Inc.
Now? The Dodgers have 16 games to determine if rookies like infielder Gavin Lux – who hit his first major league home run Tuesday – and pitchers Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin will join the stalwarts on the Division Series roster.
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The Dodgers figure to open the NLDS on Oct. 3 at Dodger Stadium, likely against the wild-card game winner. In the meantime, complacency shouldn't be a problem.
"The carrot is the postseason roster," says Roberts. "There’s very few certainties. We have a lot of guys on our current roster that want that opportunity.
"Every day is a test and guys want that opportunity. The incentive doesn’t need to come from me."
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