- Jon Weisman, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The Los Angeles Dodgers' 20-11 record to begin the 2012 season, tied for the best in the National League, has been shot down by the gatekeepers of the Fraternity of Legitimate Hot Starts as being asterisk-worthy -- to the point that the footnote almost seems bigger than its antecedent.
Los Angeles 20-11*
* Haven't played anybody
Nevertheless, that's 20 wins in the bank with 131 games to go, so the Dodgers' start –- rather than dominant, let's call it, say, affable –- might make you wonder what it means for the team's postseason chances.
Keeping it within the family, there have been seven Dodgers teams to win at least 20 of their first 31 games in the era of divisional play, dating back to 1969. Of those teams, only the 1975 squad didn't advance to the postseason -- and if there had been a wild card that year, the Dodgers' 88 wins would have been first in line.
Admittedly, the 1981 team was the only one to win the World Series of that set. The 1977 Dodgers, whose 24-7 start matched the best in the divisional era, finished 98-64 and went to the World Series before smacking into Reggie Jackson and the New York Yankees.
But that's a pretty small sample size, so let's look at what's happened throughout the major leagues.
From 1995 (the first year of the wild card following the previous season's labor stoppage) through 2011, there have been 28 MLB teams to start 20-11. Sixteen made the playoffs (57.1 percent) and 12 did not, which doesn't exactly offer much encouragement that the Dodgers' fast start means much.
If you look at the 62 teams that began at least 20-11 since 1995, 39 made the playoffs (62.9 percent), so it's barely better than a coin toss that winning at least 20 of the first 31 games will net you a playoff spot.
Of those 62 teams that were 20-11 or better in the past 17 seasons, a grand total of five won the World Series: the Yankees of 1998, 1999 and 2000, the 2005 Chicago White Sox and the 2007 Boston Red Sox.
Hammering home the point: The best of the bunch, the 1995 Philadelphia Phillies, which began 23-8, ended their season with a 69-75 record and finished 21 games behind the NL East champion Atlanta Braves, which started 19-12.
Does the news get any better if you stretch back to the start of division play in the major leagues? Afraid not. Going back to 1969 adds 83 more teams that began at least 20-11 to the mix, of which 37 went to the playoffs and 15 more finished second in their division. Even if you assume each of those second-place finishers would have earned a wild-card playoff spot, that gives you a 62.7 percent postsesason rate, a virtual tie with the post-1995 era.
Nine of those 83 teams won the World Series. Within that group, of the 41 teams that began their seasons with exactly 20 victories in their first 31 games from 1969-1993, 12 made the playoffs (29.3 percent) and two won the World Series.
The results shouldn't be too surprising. After all, the Dodgers finished 2011 even better than they've started 2012, winning 21 of their final 31 as part of a 27-12 stretch run. All that did was bring Los Angeles to an 82-79 record, 7½ games shy of a playoff spot.
So the Dodgers still have plenty of work to do over the remaining five months of the season. And if you're thinking that the schedule gets harder from here, you might be right. The Dodgers have played only six games against the NL East, which might be the NL's toughest division when you consider that four teams are above .500 and the fifth is perennial contender Philadelphia. The Dodgers have yet to tangle with St. Louis, the NL's other 20-11 team but one with a much more impressive run differential, and they have yet to take on any American League teams, which they have performed notoriously rotten against over the years.
On the bright side, as long as the Dodgers keep winning games within their division -– they're an NL West-best 9-4 -– no one is likely to overtake them. They can worry about the postseason when it comes.
Some observers firmly place an asterisk after the Dodgers record so far this season.