The 2017 NLDS is promising to shape up a bit differently than previous postseasons—Clayton Kershaw probably won’t be pitching on short rest. This is an extremely good thing.
The NLDS is approaching quickly for the Dodgers, with Game 1 against either the Diamondbacks or the Rockies on Friday in Los Angeles. Last year, October began with the Dodgers playing under the gorgeous autumn skies of the nation’s capital. This year, however, the Dodgers get to enjoy not only home field advantage but minimal traveling during the NLDS. Phoenix, a brief 55-minute flight from Los Angeles, and the easy two-hour flight from L.A. to Denver differ greatly from the five-hour flight, not to mention the three-hour time jump that the Dodgers experienced in Washington last fall.
Whichever NL West rival the Dodgers end up facing, a lack of familiarity will be the last thing anyone is worried about since Los Angeles has seen the Rockies and the Diamondbacks more than virtually any other team in the game. Right now, the Dodgers may not know who they’ll be facing in the NLDS, but they do know how to play October baseball, and if you’re asking me, the latter is all that matters.
So what does an ideal NLDS look like for the Dodgers? It looks like a series that begins in Los Angeles and ends in…wait for it… Colorado. I know what you might be thinking, “Sarah, games can go south incredibly quickly in Denver. The air plays a major role.”
I’m not denying that, but I’m also not relying on it. Ignoring the statistics that correlate with a specific ballpark and the teams that play there won’t help anybody, but in my opinion, relying solely on statistics is just as bad as ignoring them completely.
This year the Dodgers played 10 games at Coors Field and won five of them, outscoring the Rockies 31-14 in the process. They’re not lying when they say the ball flies in Colorado, but I’m not too worried about it. I’ll take the pitching expertise of Kershaw over the thin air in Denver any day. The Rockies can hit, and so can the Dodgers. The Rockies can pitch, and so can the Dodgers. It comes down to individual performances and individual stats, not to mention that when Kershaw or Rich Hill is on the mound, I couldn’t be less worried, no matter which ballpark they’re pitching in.
This is Cody Bellinger‘s first postseason, but from the way he’s been playing and his confidence at the plate, you wouldn’t know it. Ideally, he’ll be hitting like…well…he’ll be hitting like Cody Bellinger. Usually, in the postseason players strive for greatness, and I have no doubt that’s one of the many things the Dodgers are focusing on, but when it comes to Bellinger, less than great is still pretty extraordinary. The Dodger offense has slowed down over the past few weeks, but maybe that was just the calm before the storm. Maybe the Dodgers are going to score runs at a historic pace, and not just in Colorado. Maybe they are going to shock even the most loyal among us. If the AL Wild Card Game set the tone for the entirety of October, we’re in for a few surprises, and maybe even some late-inning heroics.
The Dodgers’ bullpen is good, but you don’t always want to rely solely on the ‘pen if you don’t have to. Kershaw, when he’s pitching at the Cy Young caliber level we’ve seen oh so often, can go seven incredibly strong innings. So let’s say that’s how things turn out, and Kershaw goes seven strong in a game against the Rockies. In the eighth, I’d bring in Brandon Morrow, he’s proved that he is one of the best setup men there is. Should the matchup suggest a different pitcher—like a very delicate lefty-on-lefty scenario—Tony Cingrani has also shown he can be clutch just when the Dodgers need him to be. Then the ninth, the fragile and anxiety-inducing ninth, bring in Kenley Jansen, the best closer in baseball. Three pitchers over nine innings, each one giving the Dodgers their best chance to become legendary.
If the pitching is working, and home runs aren’t few and far between, the Dodgers put themselves in an extremely good place. When we look at teams in the postseason, some of us see them and we get worried. We see our team, our favorite team, and know that they are good enough to win the World Series, but then we realize that if our team is good enough, chances are somebody else’s favorite team is, too. When it comes to the postseason, there’s more than one elite team. If there wasn’t, October wouldn’t be so unpredictable.
An ideal NLDS for the Dodgers consists of strong pitching, strong hitting, and elite defense. They have all of that. Ideally, this series will be like any other, but we all know that it won’t be. If October was ideal, and if it was simple, then the postseason would look more like a book we’ve all read before, rather than a story all of us are waiting nervously to read.
As a fan, I have my worries, but if there is ever an October in which I am not worried, I’ll let you know. The ferocity of October cannot and will not be ignored, nor will the storylines it creates. The Dodgers, whoever they face, will be smart, and they will be vigilant. It’s how they are every postseason, the only difference is, this year, the ideal situations we all hope for might just become a reality.
(FOLLOW SARAH ON TWITTER: @SARAHMANINGER)