From 1991-2005, the Atlanta Braves achieved an unprecedented level of regular-season success, winning division titles in 14 consecutive seasons — a record across all of professional sports.
It’s one of those sports records that many people say will never be broken.
But after clinching the National League West title on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers are halfway to the Braves’ mark with seven straight division championships, and have a chance to make a run at matching or even surpassing the record.
The sheer thought of winning 14 straight division titles is incredible — imagine the Minnesota Twins, a potential division winner this year for the first time since 2010, winning the AL Central every year until 2032. That’s what makes the Braves run so remarkable, and what makes the Dodgers’ chance at a parallel run impressive.
When the Dodgers won the NL West in 2013, they did not have a club with the appearance of a long-term run of success, but instead a very veteran-laden club. Six of the team’s eight position-player regulars that year were 31 or older, including Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford (and Hanley Ramirez was 29), with Yasiel Puig serving as the one young gun in the daily lineup.
The pitching staff wasn’t quite as old, led by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenley Jansen, but among the contributors were Ricky Nolasco, Chris Capuano, J.P. Howell and Brian Wilson, all at or near the end of their respective careers.
In the years since, there’s been plenty of turnover — Kershaw, Ryu and Jansen are the only three players to play on all seven division-winning teams — but they’ve continued to win, and in almost every year of the streak have won comfortably.
That’s because the franchise has been able to replenish the roster without ever having to rebuild — and remarkably, turning over nearly the entire roster without ever finishing out of first. A big reason that’s been done is the players they’ve drafted and developed to become major-league stars.
Current Dodgers Walker Buehler, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and potential NL MVP Cody Bellinger have become key pieces after coming up through the Dodgers farm system. Others, like Puig and Dee Gordon, were key contributors to multiple division titles before being dealt away.
Some of the Dodger players who weren’t drafted by the team have also been a key to the team’s success, including several players who they found as diamonds in the rough: Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Andrew Toles were each released by their previous organizations, while Chris Taylor was part of a trade that seemed inconsequential at the time.
The result today is a well-rounded team who is built to continue winning in the coming years. Nearly all of the team’s offensive contributors are 29 and younger, and despite age starting to become a factor for the pitching staff the rotation is as strong as ever, including Ryu, in the midst of a career year at age 32. The bullpen is far from the team’s strength, but between the organization’s deep pockets and its depth of minor-league prospects, that problem may fix itself moving into next year as they go for division title No. 8.
The Dodgers are halfway to the Braves’ thought-to-be-unattainable record, and they’re better built for the future than they were at the beginning of the streak. And this is all while each of the other NL West teams appears to lack the strength to make a run at them, at least in the immediate future.
So, seven years from now, it’s quite feasible that Bobby Cox’s Braves could have some company.