“We’ve been playing really good baseball, and to be honest, we were trying to balance making the team better without disrupting what we had,” Dodgers General Manager Farhan Zaidi said. “We were very specific in what we wanted to add. It’s definitely an emotional boost for the team, but it’s hard to say they need it, the way they’ve been playing.”
The Dodgers are 74-31 and have won eight games in a row. In the era of the 162-game schedule, which dates to the early 1960s, only two other teams have won more through 105 games: the 1998 Yankees and the 2001 Seattle Mariners.
That Yankees team finished with 114 victories in the regular season and won the World Series. The Mariners, though, fell short of the World Series — a feeling the Dodgers know all too well.
The Dodgers have won four consecutive National League West titles but have fallen twice in division series and twice in the N.L. Championship Series. It gets worse: Their past 10 playoff teams — featuring a constellation of stars including Mike Piazza, Adrian Beltre, Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez and Zack Greinke — have all been eliminated before the World Series.
In some ways, Watson and Cingrani could matter as much as Darvish, if they collect critical outs against left-handed sluggers in tight playoff games. Washington’s Bryce Harper is 0 for 6 off Watson and 2 for 9 off Cingrani, and the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo is 4 for 20 off Watson and 4 for 19 off Cingrani.
“The top teams in the National League have a lot of elite left-handed hitters,” Zaidi said. “Having guys who match up well in terms of stuff and the various hitters’ strengths and weaknesses, that factored into the equation.”
The other N.L. teams in playoff position also made significant upgrades in July — the Cubs with the left-handers Jose Quintana and Justin Wilson; the Nationals with relievers Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle and Brandon Kintzler; the Arizona Diamondbacks with outfielder J. D. Martinez; and the Colorado Rockies with catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Pat Neshek.
The Dodgers could have the best weapon of all in their ace, Clayton Kershaw, who is 15-2 with a 2.04 earned run average. But in order to win in October, they need the best version of Kershaw. He will miss several more weeks with a lower back strain, an injury with symbolism: Every fall, the Dodgers ask Kershaw to carry the team on his back, and the load becomes too much to bear.
Five of Kershaw’s past 11 playoff starts have been on short rest, and he also saved last year’s first-round clincher in Washington with one day of rest. While Kershaw has held postseason opponents to a .229 average, with 106 strikeouts in 89 innings, he is 4-7 with a 4.55 E.R.A. over all.
Darvish pitched poorly in his playoff start last season, and he was blitzed for 10 runs in his last Rangers start. He is 6-9 with a 4.01 E.R.A., but has 148 strikeouts in 137 innings and can slot in with the left-handers Alex Wood (12-1, 2.38) and Rich Hill (8-4, 3.35) behind Kershaw in the rotation.
“The more options you have in terms of starters, the more different ways you can set up your rotation,” Zaidi said. “Even during the course of the season, we’ve had six, or at times, seven starting pitchers we’ve been able to rotate through, and that has helped our guys stay fresh and get the most of their abilities. Going into the playoffs, it’s the same thing — the more you can share the load across the pitching staff, the better chance each guy has of being at his best.”
The Dodgers have not won the World Series since 1988, but the Houston Astros, who had the A.L.’s best record at 68-36 entering Monday, have never won. The Astros were subdued at the deadline, acquiring the left-hander Francisco Liriano from Toronto for outfielders Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez. They also placed the All-Star starter Lance McCullers on the disabled list with back discomfort.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed in not getting some of the moves done that we were working on,” Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters in Houston.
He added later: “But I do believe that this team has what it takes to win in the postseason with the players we have. It doesn’t mean we didn’t try hard to improve those chances, even just a little bit.”
The Dodgers and the Yankees tried hard, too, and now have new players who could make a big difference.
A capsule summary with an earlier version of this article misstated the given name of a pitcher acquired in a trade by the Yankees. He is Sonny Gray, not Sonner Gray.