The 2018 Los Angeles Dodgers are an interesting case study.
After reaching Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, the Dodgers were a few runs and a few outs away from securing their first championship in nearly 30 years.
As they entered the spring of 2018, the hype had never been greater, the hopes and never been higher, and the goals had never been more attainable.
Then the season began, and the Dodgers were a disaster for the first six weeks before All-Star Justin Turner returned from the disabled list and the Dodgers finally found their mojo.
Flash forward to today, and the Dodgers have been in a merry-go-round for first place in the National League West with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies as summer comes to an end.
Unlike last season in which the team won a franchise record 104 games and clinched the division by Sept. 22nd, this season has been a grind. Nothing has come easy, and frankly, nothing has gone their way.
Inconsistency seems to be the biggest culprit this year, but overall it's been a bit of a disappointment to date for a team that started the season as the betting favorite to win the NL Pennant and return to the Fall Classic.
Now, with just 22 games left in the season, they're fighting for their lives just to reach the postseason.
"We're treating every game like its a playoff game," many players in the clubhouse have told me throughout September, a far cry from the team that went 1-16 in September last season, but were so far in front by that point it didn't matter.
Monday's loss to the Cincinnati Reds was a perfect microcosm of their season thus far. After a four-run first inning that saw some sloppy defense and poor pitching, the Dodgers found themselves behind 4-0 before they could even say "Holy Great America Ballpark, Batman!"
Similarly, the Dodgers started the season in a slump, and by May 16, they found themselves in the cellar of the NL West, with a record of 16-26, 10 games below .500. Ironically, they had just come off a four-game sweep at home of the last place Cincinnati Reds.
Most people buried the Dodgers at that point and read them their rite of passage.
However, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and the team themselves never gave up, they never stopped fighting, and they scratched and clawed their way back into the race.
On Monday, Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer in the top of the fourth inning and suddenly the Dodgers had cut a four-run deficit in half, and trailed the Reds by a score of 5-3. It seemed like things had finally turned around and Los Angeles was ready for another miraculous comeback as they did time and time again in 2017.
By the All-Star Break in July, the Dodgers had also made a comeback in the division standings, going from 10 games below .500 to 10 games over .500, owning the best win percentage in MLB history at the All-Star Break for a team that fell 10 games below the "50-50" line at any point in the first half of the season.
Nonetheless, just as it appeared the Dodgers were ready to break out both after the All-Star Break and during the game on Monday, inconsistency reared its ugly head yet again.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth inning, Taylor had appeared to throw out Billy Hamilton at the plate. The throw beat the runner by a mile, and catcher Yasmani Grandal easily applied the tag before Hamilton touched the plate.
However, as has happened countless times this season, the ball fell out of Grandal's glove on the tag and Hamilton was safe at the plate. What should have been the second out of the inning, instead scored a run, allowed a runner to move into scoring position, and the team still had only one out recorded for their struggling starter Alex Wood.
Naturally, Wood would strike out the next batter in Joey Votto, but instead of the third out of the inning and the score still 5-3, another run scored on an RBI single by Scooter Gennett and the Dodgers once again trailed by four runs.
On August 7, the Dodgers found themselves in first place in the National League west after a 4-2 victory over the red-hot Oakland Athletics. Things were finally looking up and the Dodgers were ready to runaway with the division, but like Grandal dropping the ball on the tag, the season also hinged on a bit of some bad luck.
After relief pitcher Pedro Baez blew a lead the following day, the Dodgers traveled to Denver, Colorado that evening where All-Star closer Kenley Jansen awoke with an irregular heartbeat and was rushed to the hospital. Meanwhile, another All-Star, pitcher Ross Stripling woke up on the wrong side of the bed as he injured his lower back on a bad mattress in the Mile High City.
Both players went on the disabled list, and over the course of the next seven consecutive games, the Dodgers bullpen surrendered leads or losses (in tie games) every night as the Dodgers once again dropped five games out of first place.
Flashback to Monday in Cincinnati, and the Dodgers were not ready to give up on the game just yet. After an RBI single by Max Muncy, cut the lead to 10-6, Yasiel Puig came to the plate with the bases loaded and a chance to tie the game in the seventh inning.
After narrowly missing a bases-clearing double by inches, Puig hit a rocket to third base. But, much like their luck during the season itself, the ball was hit right at Eugenio Suarez who caught the line drive and threw to second for the inning-ending double play.
Similarly, after taking three of four from the Diamondbacks to move back into first place at the start of September, the Dodgers interim closer Kenta Maeda blew a tie game with the New York Mets and the Dodgers dropped a series to a team they should beat (and have beat) easily.
The unlucky streak continued a day later when it was announced that Jansen was advised by Doctors not to travel to Colorado because of his heart. Line drive caught. Double play recorded. Rally killed.
The ending of the Dodgers 2018 season is still unwritten, and with 22 games left and six of them against the teams their bunched together with, Los Angeles can still achieve all their goals they set back in spring training.
However, in order to accomplish greatness and be the best in baseball, you need to beat the teams you're supposed to beat and flex your dominance over the minnows in the league.
Losing series to the Mets and Reds is not how you accomplish those things. Tomorrow is a new day, and I'm sure the Dodgers will fight until the final day of the season, but right now their destiny is in their own hands.