Postseason preview: Dodgers win West, but can they get past NLCS?
(Editor’s note: We’ll analyze each team’s postseason chances after it clinches a playoff berth.)
For the third consecutive year, the Los Angeles Dodgers will be playing October baseball after clinching the NL West with an 8-0 victory at the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night. The Dodgers will open the postseason against the Mets in the best-of-five NLDS.
Now in the midst of the longest postseason drought in franchise history, the Dodgers will try to win their first World Series since 1988.
Equipped with the most dominant one-two punch in baseball in aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers hope to reverse their recent postseason disappointments with a parade through the streets of Los Angeles in November.
Here’s what to expect from Don Mattingly’s club as it strives for its first World Series in 27 years and a seventh championship in franchise history …
Why they can win the World Series: Whoever matches up against the Dodgers will have to face Cy Young candidates in Games 1 and 2. Kershaw, who tossed a one-hit, 13-K shutout in Tuesday’s clincher, is determined to shake his postseason woes this year, and Greinke has been remarkably consistent, holding a sub-2.00 ERA throughout the entire season.
The organization’s bottomless pockets have allowed the front office to construct one of the deepest rosters in baseball while lugging around millions in dead payroll.
Though it hasn’t been the smoothest of roads for the team this year, each blow was counterbalanced by a positive event.
For instance, an injury-hampered season for Yasiel Puig, who is not expected to play in the NLDS, has been mitigated by the resurgence of veteran right fielder Andre Ethier. A major slump for rookie sensation Joc Pederson has been offset by the emergence of utility man Kiké Hernandez.
They parted ways with clubhouse leader Juan Uribe, then added veteran middle infielder and World Series champion Chase Utley, the longtime teammate of offseason acquisition Jimmy Rollins.
The always consistent Howie Kendrick — on pace to match his .292 career batting average this year — has provided stability to the Dodgers. Late-season additions Justin Ruggiano and Scott Schebler have proven to be useful in their short time with the team.
The addition of Ron Roenicke as third-base coach has vastly improved the Dodgers’ baserunning, which has helped them rely less on home runs to score. Thirty percent of the team’s runs were scored by home runs before the All-Star break, compared to 25 percent after.
Among a lineup stacked with talent, top prospect Corey Seager has thrived since his September call-up, slashing .333/.423 with three homers and 15 RBI in 23 games.
Why they can’t win the World Series: In order to win it all this year, the Dodgers might have to get past the team that’s knocked them out the past two postseasons: the St. Louis Cardinals. So, Los Angeles is undoubtedly hoping that the Cardinals get eliminated before the two teams are destined to meet in the NLCS.
The Cardinals have been Kershaw’s kryptonite in the postseason. The three-time Cy Young winner has posted an 0-4 record with a 7.15 ERA against St. Louis over the past two postseasons.
Despite having Kershaw and Greinke, the Dodgers don’t have a reliable starter beyond the duo. Hyun-jin Ryu was lost for the season before it even began, Brett Anderson and Alex Wood have been inconsistent, and trade-deadline pickup Mat Latos was cut.
Their lack of stability at the back end of the rotation, combined with a shaky bullpen (11th in ERA in the NL, 12th in the NL in opponent batting average entering this week) leading up to closer Kenley Jansen, has set them up for another scenario in which Kershaw (or Greinke, if he starts Game 1) will pitch on short rest, which hasn’t turned out well in the past.
Even if the Dodgers don’t face the Cardinals this postseason, they haven’t fared well against the other National League teams that have made the playoffs, going a collective 8-12 against the Pirates, Cubs and Mets this season.
Although the Dodgers have some pop in their lineup, they have struggled to score runs in the second half of the season — they’re middle of the pack in the NL in runs and extra-base hits after the All-Star break.
Pair that with the aforementioned pitching instability, and Los Angeles features a team that needs some luck to make it deep into October.