SAN DIEGO —
They didn’t mob the mound. They didn’t spray champagne.
If not for the newly-issued hats with a specialty playoff patch on the side, and a scattering of half-empty glasses left over from a brief postgame toast in the clubhouse, it would have been hard to tell that the Dodgers had just clinched a postseason berth at all.
Instead, after an 11-2 rout of the San Diego Padres on Sunday that made them the first team in the majors to punch an October ticket, the Dodgers calmly filed out of Petco Park with bigger goals in mind.
“It’s an accomplishment,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Like most of the previous nine years, a Dodgers playoff berth this season felt almost inevitable from the start.
They were coming off a 106-win season and had the highest payroll in the majors. They were World Series favorites in Las Vegas and had a 97.7% likelihood of reaching the playoffs in Fangraphs’ projection model.
Roberts went as far as guaranteeing not only another October run, but a World Series championship too.
And all they’ve done since then is rack up the most wins in the majors (they are 96-43) while building a massive lead in the National League West and an even larger cushion over the playoff cut line.
“To do it this quick is pretty amazing,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said.
Added third baseman Justin Turner, who hit two home runs in the win, including a grand slam: “We got everyone together and Dave gave a short little toast, to just enjoy this one a little bit and know we still have a lot of work to do in front of us.”
Indeed, the most encouraging developments for the Dodgers on Sunday happened on the field, not in the standings.
Before the game, Blake Treinen felt good during catch play, a positive sign for the reliever after he was placed on the injured list Saturday with right shoulder tightness.
“I’ve just got some soreness in the muscle,” Treinen said, explaining that the issue was separate from the torn shoulder capsule that cost him four months this season and something he occasionally dealt with during his process of getting built back up on the mound.
“They’re choosing to be cautious and I appreciate that,” he added. “Just take a breather, get it right and then have a chance to be ready to go in a week or when it’s back to normal.”
The ensuing blowout of the Padres — which completed the Dodgers’ eighth straight series win over their division rivals — was full of promising signs from the lineup, as well.
Turner continued to swing a sizzling bat, getting the Dodgers on the board with a solo home run in the fifth before putting the game away with his second career grand slam in the seventh.
“This is as good a stretch as he’s been on since I’ve seen him,” Roberts said of Turner, who raised his on-base-plus-slugging percentage to a season-best .798. “It’s pretty special.”
Chris Taylor continued to show signs of life at the plate, picking up his fourth hit of the series with a solo home run in the fifth inning to erase the Padres’ early 2-0 lead.
Max Muncy returned to the lineup after some recent knee irritation and ripped a go-ahead two-run single in the sixth.
Andrew Heaney bounced back from a couple rocky outings, giving up just two runs (one earned) over five innings while flashing much better fastball command and dominance with his slider.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been on a playoff team,” said Heaney, an offseason signing who was designated for assignment by the New York Yankees last year days before they clinched a playoff spot. “I was joking with some guys, it’s ho-hum for them. But I was like, this a big deal for me.”
Clinching the division will likely be a bigger deal to the team, something they failed to do last season and could clinch as soon as Tuesday with their magic number down to two.
“I don’t think it’s going to be ho-hum when we win the division,” Freeman said. “Whenever you win a division, that’s special and you celebrate that.”
Still, even that inevitable milestone might seem somewhat subdued. The Dodgers’ place in the standings, and plans for October, were all but secured long ago. They’re marching toward what they hope will be a far grander destination.
“It’s not a rite of passage to get in the postseason every year,” Roberts said.
But, he quickly added, “I feel our best baseball is yet to be played.”