The 2023 MLB postseason has again opened the debate regarding fairness and randomness, especially as some of the best teams were quickly dismissed despite their impressive seasons. The Braves were seemingly swallowed whole by Philadelphia’s crowd, the Orioles fell victim to their own youth, while the Dodgers never held a lead against the plucky Diamondbacks. The disappointment that comes with being eliminated is always hard, but doubly so when it appears to be a yearly tradition.
In the case of Los Angeles, the duality of results between the regular season and playoffs continues to be staggering. Despite being in arguably the greatest period in franchise history (10 division titles in 11 years, averaging nearly 99 wins over full seasons), the Dodgers have only the COVID-shortened 2020 title to show for it, meaning that they are still searching for their first championship over a full campaign since 1988.
While this weird kind of Kirk Gibson-inspired karma continues to hover around Chavez Ravine, we can safely say that not all these eliminations have been created equally. Today, we take a look at how each Dodgers team has exited the postseason over the past decade, ranking each ouster from the least to the most heartbreaking. If you are a Dodger fan and wish to stop reading at this point, it can all be summed up here.
#10 – 2016 NLCS – Lost 4-2 to Cubs
In regular season terms, the 2016 version of the Dodgers boasted the lowest winning total of this generation, with only 91 wins that were enough to claim the NL West. After a hard-fought NLDS that went the distance against Washington, L.A. picked a date with the Cubs, who at that point had already morphed into a team-of-destiny kind of monster.
The series started out strongly for the Dodgers, who took a 2-1 lead after defeating Jake Arrieta in Game 3. However, Chicago made quick work of the next three contests, outscoring LA to the tune of 23-6, ending with a commanding shutout against Clayton Kershaw. All in all, they lost to a better team, as the Cubs would go on and break their own curse in the World Series.
#9 – 2021 NLCS – Lost 4-2 to Braves
Despite an 18-win difference in the standings, by the time the NLCS rolled around, it could be argued that Atlanta was the favorite in this series. While the Braves had cruised to an easy NL East title by 6.5 games, the Dodgers had battled the Giants in an epic regular season, coming short of the division title by one game despite winning 106.
After a thrilling win in the wild-card game and then outlasting San Francisco in a dramatic 5-game NLDS, L.A. was simply gassed. Despite keeping the score close in both opening games, the Braves earned walk-off wins to take control of the series, closing it out with a 4-2 win at home in Game 6. The final game was supposed to be started by Max Scherzer, but he had to be replaced by Walker Buehler on only three days rest, which was evident as he tired by the fourth inning, putting the final nail in the coffin for the Dodgers.
#8 – 2018 World Series – Lost 4-1 to Red Sox
While it is certainly painful to lose a World Series (and for a second straight year, to boot), there is no shame in losing to a better team. With 92 wins in the regular season, the Dodgers had taken a step back, even as they caught fire in the playoffs, defeating the Braves and Brewers to reach the Fall Classic.
There, they met the juggernaut Red Sox, who had won 108 games and had Mookie Betts and Chris Sale leading their roster. Even as the Dodgers can claim they won one of the best World Series games of this century, the epic 18-inning Game 3, the series as a whole was not very competitive. Boston outscored L.A. by a score 26-13 over its four wins, punctuated by Sale coming in relief to seal the championship. His strikeout of mid-season rental Manny Machado remains an indelible image for the Red Sox.
#7 – 2023 NLDS – Lost 3-0 to Diamondbacks
The most recent Dodgers elimination is the only sweep on this list, but it was hardly a shocker for anyone who followed the team recently. As L.A. cruised to another 100-win division title, there were many questions around its roster, especially with a starting rotation made mostly of hopes and dreams.
The wheels came off quickly, as Kershaw had arguably the worst playoff start ever (six runs allowed in two-thirds of an inning), and that set the tone for the upstart Arizona squad, as they used their speed and power to take control of the series. With the pitching in shambles, the offense also failed to produce, as Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman combined to deliver only one hit throughout the NLDS. The Dodgers never had a lead in this series, losing games 2 and 3 with the same 4-2 scoreline.
#6 – 2015 NLDS – Lost 3-2 to Mets
The final game of Don Mattingly as Dodgers manager was a microcosm of his tenure, as his team had it all to advance before surrendering a lead. The series had been tense and low-scoring (outside of a weird Game 3 that saw a 13-7 football-like score), and Game 5 was the best of them all.
The Dodgers jumped to a quick 2-1 lead in the first inning, but they would not score again against a dazzling Jacob deGrom, who would be relieved by Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia as part of a stacked Mets pitching staff. However, the biggest hero for New York was Daniel Murphy, who stole third on a Dodgers blunder before tying the game in the fourth and then hit a solo homer to win it in the sixth. This game is one of the three winner-take-all contests the Dodgers have lost at home in the past decade.
#5 – 2013 NLCS – Lost 4-2 to Cardinals
Following the disastrous Frank McCourt ownership, the Guggenheim group came in to establish a new era of Dodgers baseball, culminating in the team’s first playoff appearance since 2009. After defeating the Braves to advance to the NLCS, there was hope to erase the franchise’s 25-year drought, but it all came to a screeching halt against the Cardinals. After a classic 13-inning Game 1, St. Louis never looked back.
In what would be his second Cy Young season, Clayton Kershaw would begin his reputation as a playoff pariah, losing twice in this series. He took a tough 1-0 loss in Game 2, and with the Dodgers hoping to force a Game 7, Kershaw had his worst outing of the year in Game 6, surrendering seven runs and 10 hits over four innings, and so a yearly ritual was born: the Dodgers getting to see another team celebrate on the field.
#4 – 2014 NLDS – Lost 3-1 to Cardinals
These teams had met in the previous year’s NLCS, and the Dodgers were looking for revenge. With a 94-win team that featured Clayton Kershaw at the top of his game (he would go on to win the Cy Young and MVP), L.A. was favored to advance and potentially set up an epic NLCS with the Giants. Alas, the ghosts of playoff Kershaw made an appearance in this series, as the lefty took two of the team’s three losses.
In both of them, the decision-making of manager Don Mattingly came heavily into question, as he failed to pull Kershaw before ceding leads in the seventh inning. Game 1 was the biggest shocker, as the Dodgers held a 6-2 lead before an out-of-nowhere eight-run inning by the Cardinals, but Game 3 featured its fair share of shock, as a 2-0 lead was erased by a Matt Adams homer, the first-ever he had surrendered to a lefty hitter on a curveball.
#3 – 2022 NLDS – Lost 3-1 to Padres
The 111-win Dodgers, the best team in franchise history, facing the upstart Padres, already anointed as baseball’s next big thing, appeared primed for a memorable series. However, it was clear that L.A. was a heavy favorite, especially since they had already beat San Diego 14 times during the regular season and held a 22-game lead in the standings. The Dodgers took Game 1 handily behind Julio Urías but lost Games 2 and 3, only to set up one of the most chaotic games of the last decade.
Trying to extend the series and set up a winner-take-all at Dodger Stadium, L.A. had a comfortable 3-0 lead in the seventh inning, but a bullpen implosion led to a five-run Padres inning that was punctuated by the raucous crowd and several bat flips by San Diego hitters. Even as the series was gold from a TV and rivalry standpoint, it left a bitter taste in many Dodgers’ mouths.
#2 – 2019 NLDS – Lost 3-2 to Nationals
With 106 wins, the Dodgers were fresh off their best-ever season, while the Nationals barely made it out of the wild card game. The series was pretty unremarkable through four games, as both teams alternated wins to set up a climactic Game 5 in Los Angeles. At that point, the Nationals carried a playoff curse of heartbreaking losses and underachievement, and they promptly started with a 3-0 deficit despite giving the start to eventual playoff legend Stephen Strasburg. From there, this game became one of the most exciting, yet underrated, playoff contests of the 21st century.
Washington cut the deficit to 3-1 in the sixth inning before manager Dave Roberts made a stunning pitching change in the seventh, bringing in Kershaw to replace Walker Buehler. The move started out okay, as the lefty struck out Adam Eaton to squash a threat. However, coming up to start the eighth, he allowed back-to-back homers to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto to make it 3-3, a score that would hold up to reach extra innings (after it looked like Will Smith had hit a walk-off homer in the ninth – he even did a bat flip!). In the 10th, the Nats loaded up the bases for former Dodger Howie Kendrick, who hit a memorable grand slam to seal the win.
The Nationals would end up winning the World Series, while the Dodgers came back in 2020 to do the same (massive asterisk attached).
#1 – 2017 World Series – Lost 4-3 to Astros
Pitting the 101-win Astros and the 104-win Dodgers created one of the most tense and memorable World Series of the decade – one that has become more painful for Dodgers fans as the years progressed. The series had a solid mix of low-scoring games and wacky affairs, as Houston won two extra-inning games that ended up deciding the series.
This matchup is mostly remembered for Game 5, a back-and-forth contest that saw the Dodgers (and Clayton Kershaw, naturally) blow 4-0 and 7-4 leads, only for the Astros to then squander a 3-run advantage in the ninth inning, before winning it on a walk-off single by Alex Bregman in the 10th.
The Dodgers returned home and won to force a Game 7, but the deciding contest was anticlimactic, as Houston took a quick 5-0 lead that was held up by brilliant pitching from Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton, giving the Astros their first-ever title. While that loss per se was not that painful at the moment, the subsequent scandal that shed light into Houston’s sign-stealing throughout 2017 changed the perspective, especially when Game 5 (when the Dodgers could have taken a commanding 3-2 series lead) is analyzed.