Resilient Dodgers return to dominant form, and to the NLCS
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Dodgers’ 1-16 skid from late August into September seemed strange while it was happening. After spending all summer as the most resilient, resourceful team in baseball, Los Angeles suddenly stopped scoring the extra runs and earning the late-game breaks that had made it so dominant.
When the 104-win Dodgers swept past Arizona and into the NL Championship Series on Monday night, that late-season slump looked even more inexplicable.
But it’s clear the Dodgers have flipped their switch back on again, and that should worry every prospective opponent of this high-priced, high-powered dynamo.
The Dodgers earned an extended break with their one-sided series victory over the Diamondbacks, one of the few teams to give consistent trouble to Los Angeles in the regular season. The Dodgers capped the sweep with a 3-1 win in the clincher, getting timely offense from rookie Cody Bellinger and a strong start from late-season pickup Yu Darvish before the formidable bullpen and closer Kenley Jansen slammed another door .
“You look at the three games in the series, and they’re all team wins,” said manager Dave Roberts, whose club outscored Arizona 20-11. “From the first pitch, there was a plan in place, and we executed. We were relentless every single pitch.”
The last four times the Dodgers played for the NL pennant in the past decade, they came up short of their first World Series since 1988. The Cubs and the Nationals both pose enormous challenges, but the Dodgers earned their fifth straight NL West title, racked up the best record in baseball and then swept past the Diamondbacks entirely to get back in position for their best shot yet at the Fall Classic.
Indeed, these Dodgers are a dominant team that doesn’t always dominate in the traditional sense of the term.
While leading the majors in victories for the first time since 1974, they won 25 one-run games and 20 more by two runs. Los Angeles particularly excelled in close games while going on an 82-25 run from late April to late August — matching the 1998 Yankees for the best four-month performance in the past 100 years.
Roberts’ expensive roster shows a remarkable affinity for teamwork and selflessness. Former stars such as Andre Ethier, Curtis Granderson and Chase Utley have capably accepted supporting roles, while longtime starter Kenta Maeda’s acceptance of a move to the bullpen gives the Dodgers a daunting relief specialist against right-handed batters — and provides another example of how much winning means to this club.
Los Angeles’ defense has also been superb, as exemplified by several huge plays from Bellinger in Game 3 at Arizona. Yasiel Puig also plays extraordinary defense in right field when he isn’t driving in runs or spurring on his teammates with his tongue-wagging exuberance and joie de vivre .
The sweep allows Roberts to set his rotation in any way he chooses. Clayton Kershaw — who didn’t even need to pitch in relief in this particular NLDS after his memorable turn last year against the Nationals — can start the NLCS opener Saturday on seven days’ rest, with Rich Hill, Darvish and Alex Wood all well-rested and ready to take their turn.
“I’m not going to do anything for me in the postseason that’s very uncharacteristic,” Roberts said. “I think that each game tells you how to respond. But it is nice to know you have eight fresh arms in the pen.”
Photo credit – Rick Scuteri / Associated Press / Phoenix, AZ