As the Dodgers embark upon the next stage of their 2018 postseason quest, the landscape seems to be in great shape in terms of team dynamics, as the squad will have three full days to recover before firing the engines back up in Milwaukee.
All four members of the playoff rotation appear to be fresh heading into the NLCS. Each pitcher was used once, and lefties Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu are coming off perhaps their best performances of the season. Team management had already decided previously that Kersh would start the next game, whether it was a Game 5 in the NLDS in Los Angeles or the NLCS opener. Seemingly, when considering a multitude of factors, the club couldn’t have made a better choice.
“Yep. Looking forward to it,” a happy Kershaw told Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group shortly after Game 4 on Monday.
There shouldn’t be any roster changes headed into the NLCS, despite a few rumblings that All-Star righty Ross Stripling could conceivably be included when the squads are announced later this week.
According to Plunkett, “the Dodgers had a simulated game Sunday afternoon for pitchers Ross Stripling, Julio Urias and Josh Fields who threw to Chase Utley, Austin Barnes and Kyle Farmer. Roberts said Stripling, in particular, was in play for a potential NL Championship Series roster.”
But the entire relief corps is fresh, especially when considering the three-off days prior to Friday night’s opener. It was rumored that the final NLDS spot came down to a decision between Stripling and Dylan Floro, but there doesn’t seem to be enough reasons to deviate from the current crew. There was quite a bit of fan criticism when the team announced the inclusion of Ryan Madson to the NLDS bullpen; however, the veteran righty delivered in one of the most critical moments of the series, stifling the Braves while escaping damage in the bottom of the fifth inning in Game 4.
Just like we predicted, Enrique Hernandez will head into the NLCS as the club’s primary second baseman. There had been some speculation that he could be in a platoon situation enetring the playoffs, but his increased offensive success against right-handed pitching has finally warranted him a regular spot. Considering his strong defensive metrics, there really isn’t a scenario where anyone else on the club would be a better option at the keystone.
Broadcaster Joe Davis brought up an interesting question in the final moments of Game 4, asking the entire FS1 on-field crew who it believed deserved to be the MVP of the NLDS, should such an award exist. The answers varied from Max Muncy to Manny Machado to Kershaw, but it appeared to be difficult to decide on a consensus winner. Muncy hit just .182 in the series, and Machado, despite delivering three of the biggest hits in the entire NLDS, ended up hitting just .176 for the series. Kershaw gets my vote, as he took most of the baseball world by surprise, proving to tons of critics that there’s still plenty of gas left in his 30-year-old tank.
Another question which was contemplated over the past several days surrounded whether or not the Dodgers are a better team than the 2017 version that hung around until the deciding game of last year’s World Series. When considering the emergence of both Muncy and Walker Buehler, alongside the mid-season acquisition of Machado, I’d like to think they are better; yet, there’s a huge difference between being superior on paper and actually executing on the diamond. The Dodgers have been labelled as underachievers by pundits many times throughout the regular season, but they could be at a season-high peak right now, albeit their latest series victory having resulted against a very young and inexperienced Atlanta side.
The biggest difference between this year and last is that the Dodgers won’t have home-field advantage in this year’s NLCS, and they definitely won’t have it should they advance to the World Series. Nevertheless, Los Angeles had a slightly better regular-season road record than when playing at home this year, so, theoretically at least, it shouldn’t have much of an impact.