The 1998 New York Yankees are arguably the greatest team in baseball history.
They won 114 games, the most in the live-ball era, and capped the season with a World Series Victory. The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, but failed to reach the World Series.
With 40 games left, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in position to make history of their own.
The team has a chance to reach 117 wins, but doesn’t want to put too much pressure on itself.
This is how you set a pace of 116 wins: A lot of talent, a lot of depth, a lot of good vibes in the clubhouse and maybe a little good fortune here and there. The 2001 Mariners and the 1906 Cubs hold the single-season record of 116. With 43 games remaining, the Dodgers have a chance at history.
Here’s the thing, though: The Dodgers don’t care about the record. They certainly don’t care about what they’ve accomplished so far, seemingly unimpressed even by going 50-9 since June 7.
“We’re not looking back right now, we’re looking forward,” closer Kenley Jansen told me last week in New York. “To be honest, when [Justin Turner] and I signed, we knew what kind of group of guys we had and wanted to come back here. We had unfinished business, we saw how far we got last year and we’re playing for that one goal: To win a championship.”
Veteran starter Rich Hill echoed similar thoughts.
“I don’t even like talking about wins and losses, because that’s not really what it is for us at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s really about the effort we give out on the field and the consistency of that effort. If you look at this team, there is something different, and it’s that intensity all 25 guys bring every single night.”
Hill said there had been no talk about the record in the clubhouse, and that even if the Dodgers had a shot at it near the end of the regular season, that the team wouldn’t be discussing it. “I don’t think so,” he said.
“Don’t me get wrong about the wins and losses,” he reiterated, “but it really is about the consistency of everybody doing what they need to do.”
This is in stark contrast to how the Mariners viewed things in 2001. That team started off hot and never cooled off. They went 20-5 in April and 20-7 in May for a 63-24 first half. The All-Star Game was in Seattle that year, and by then, the talk had already started. The city became consumed with the record.
“For the last month and a half, the chase was for the record,” Mariners second baseman Bret Boone told Art Thiel in his book, “Out of Left Field.”
“The worldwide media coverage was intense in the countdown. Once we [tied the MLB mark], it was kind of a relief: ‘Oh, it’s over — no, wait a minute, next is the playoffs.’ Not to use that as an excuse, but the grind and the scrutiny kind of beat us down.”
The Mariners reached the American League Championship Series but lost to the New York Yankees in five games. Manager Lou Piniella had pushed the team pretty hard down the stretch. Mike Cameron, for example, started 33 of the final 34 games. Boone missed three games because of a minor ailment in mid-September but sat only two other games the final two months. Ichiro Suzuki played 157 games.
“I don’t think you can say we shouldn’t have gone for the record,” Boone said in the 2003 book. “If you can do something in a sport that’s never been done, you gotta go for it. That’s greatness. Lou did the right thing. Take your chances. No matter how bittersweet the end result, everyone on that team and in that organization will be a footnote in history.”
Only three of the best 11 teams of the wild-card era (since 1995) have won the World Series.
The Dodgers are currently 87-35 with a win percentage of .713.
That pace puts them ahead of the ‘98 Yankees (.704) and a hair behind the ‘01 Mariners (.716).
The record is within striking distance, but the best overall record without a championship ring is irrelevant.
The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors found that out after setting the all-time regular season record of 73-9, then losing the finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Dodgers are in a great position.
Their roster is stacked, and soon they’ll be adding a player from the disabled list: Clayton Kershaw. The best pitcher in baseball.