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These Dodgers May Be Different

Between 2013 and 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers won 369 regular-season ballgames (second-most in baseball) and played the second-most playoff games (30) of any MLB team. They advanced to the National League Championship Series twice, each time coming within a couple of wins of securing the franchise’s first pennant since 1988. But L.A. also had a knack for throwing away winnable games, losses that crippled any chance of postseason success. Whether they were falling short despite starting one of the best pitchers in the game or otherwise finding ways to lose, the Dodgers would show clear championship potential and then promptly bungle it.

This year, however, Los Angeles has turned that narrative on its head. The Dodgers had MLB’s best regular-season record, and once again they’ve found themselves against teams with on-paper upset potential in the form of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. They’ve even found themselves trailing early on multiple occasions. And yet, L.A. has been the one storming back and winning at the expense of another team’s misery.

Maybe these Dodgers really are different after all.

During that 2013-16 period, the Dodgers lost nine playoff games during which they had at least a 60 percent chance of winning at some point, according to The Baseball Gauge — including five in which they had at least a 75 percent win probability. On the other side of the ledger, they won only six games in which they had at least a 60 percent chance of losing, and three with at least a 75 percent chance of losing. In other words, L.A. excelled at botching games from ahead and struggled to win from behind.

The Dodgers don’t choke anymore

Postseason wins and losses by the Los Angeles Dodgers that featured big comebacks or collapses, 2013-17

Dodger comebacks (wins) …
SERIES OPPONENT GAME NO. OPPONENT’S HIGHEST WIN PROB.
2017 NLCS Cubs 2 64%
2017 NLCS Cubs 1 75
2017 NLDS Diamondbacks 2 72
2016 NLDS Nationals 5 77
2016 NLDS Nationals 4 65
2015 NLDS Mets 2 79
2013 NLCS Cardinals 5 68
2013 NLDS Braves 4 78
2013 NLDS Braves 3 73
… and Dodger collapses (losses)
SERIES OPPONENT GAME NO. DODGERS’ HIGHEST WIN PROB.
2016 NLDS Nationals 3 67%
2016 NLDS Nationals 2 79
2015 NLDS Mets 5 75
2015 NLDS Mets 3 84
2015 NLDS Mets 1 62
2014 NLDS Cardinals 4 84
2014 NLDS Cardinals 1 98
2013 NLCS Cardinals 1 74
2013 NLDS Braves 2 65

A big comeback or collapse is defined as games where the eventual loser had at least a 60% chance of winning at any point during the game.

Source: The Baseball Gauge

This postseason, however, the Dodgers have three comebacks from win probabilities below 40 percent, including two against the Cubs to start the NLCS. And they didn’t let up with huge leads against the D-Backs in the Division Series — the kinds of games they ought to win but haven’t always in the past.

Facing the defending champs, the Dodgers have been the ones performing heroics at the plate — in Game 2, Justin Turner cranked L.A.’s first postseason walkoff home run since Kirk Gibson’s iconic blast 29 years earlier (to the day). And the Cubs have made the head-scratching managerial decisions (Joe Maddon brought past-his-prime starter John Lackey into the ninth inning instead of closer Wade Davis). The Dodgers won even though Clayton Kershaw didn’t have his best stuff, a situation that has doomed them in playoffs past. They look every bit the part of the dominating club we saw at midseason, when they were clear World Series favorites.

There’s still time for Chicago to mount a comeback of its own, of course. The Cubs were down 2-1 to the Dodgers last year, with only about a 30 percent chance of winning the series; right now, that probability is about 20 percent. But it would require one of the biggest LCS comebacks of the past couple decades, against a Dodgers team that might finally have all the pieces in place to escape its history of playoff disappointment.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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