The Los Angeles Dodgers enter Friday with the best record in baseball at 76-32 and have only lost a whopping three games since July 4. The team is on a historic pace, but all will be for not if it cannot continue its success when the postseason arrives in October.
The Dodgers have won the NL West the previous four seasons – soon to be five – but they have failed to make the World Series in all four. To find the last time Los Angeles took part in the Fall Classic, you have to go back to 1988. The Dodgers are too good to be satisfied with not at least reaching the World Series this fall, while the pressure of coming up short the last four seasons is sure to be weighing on them. They look invincible as of now, but is this team set up to be successful in the 2017 postseason?
Many will tell you that success cannot be achieved in baseball without quality starting pitching, and this gets magnified even more in the postseason. There are usually four turns in a postseason rotation, and sometimes only three if a pitcher goes on short rest.
The Dodgers have their top slot covered with the man who has been the best pitcher in baseball for years now. Clayton Kershaw is 15-2 this season with an unbelievable 2.04 ERA, but these type of numbers have just become normal for the dominant lefty at this point.
Kershaw went on the disabled list a little less than two weeks ago with back discomfort but is expected back before the start of the postseason. He has made 14 postseason starts throughout his career but with an ERA all the way up at 4.55. However, Kershaw did see an improvement last season, giving up just four runs in 12 innings pitched. As long as he is healthy for October, I think the Dodgers are safe while sending out their ace in this year’s postseason.
The No. 2 slot may be the most important for the Dodgers. Last year they went with crafty lefty Rich Hill, who respectably gave up five runs in 13 innings over two starts. Hill is pitching well again this season with a 3.35 ERA over 15 starts and will likely be used again in October. However, Los Angeles’ No. 2 slot in the 2017 playoffs is set up for Yu Darvish.
The Dodgers acquired the frontline starter from the Rangers just before the trade deadline, and he may just make or break a potential postseason run. Darvish has been a little shaky so far in 2017 – going 6-9 with a 4.01 ERA – but has certainly been battled tested in the postseason. He has pitched in the postseason with Texas in 2012 and 2016, and the Dodgers are banking on that experience panning out.
If Kershaw did not pitch in Los Angeles, the Dodgers might still have baseball’s best pitcher in 2017. Fellow lefty Alex Wood is 13-1 with a 2.33 ERA. Wood has been phenomenal but has never made a postseason start.
Overall, the Dodgers 1-4 spots in the rotation look extremely solid assuming Kershaw is able to make it back from injury.
The bullpen is magnified in modern baseball more than it has ever been in the past. With all the power arms we see now, managers are calling upon numerous pitchers just to come in and get one out in a postseason game. Knowing this, the Dodgers went out and picked up left-handed relievers Tony Cingrani from Cincinnati and Tony Watson from Pittsburgh.
Neither pitcher has stats that are off the charts this season, but both have proven to be tricky against left-handed hitters. This is all the Dodgers want from the two in October. They will team up with another quality lefty, Luis Avilan, who has an ERA of 3.19 in 46 appearances this season.
The Dodgers bullpen seems to be set up for success as long as it can get to the ninth inning, where closer Kenley Jansen will be waiting. Jansen has posted a 1.33 ERA in 45 appearances in 2017 and has only one blown save in 29 opportunities.
There have been few teams that have scored more runs this year than the Dodgers, but they in Chavez Ravine, which is not exactly a hitter-friendly ballpark. I tried to find some uncertainty in the Dodgers’ lineup for the postseason, but it just is not there.
Most of their lineup has a considerable amount of postseason at-bats, including Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig, who have both hit well over .300 in the postseason. Two main contributors this season, Michael Taylor and Cody Bellinger, will be seeing their first postseason action, however.
The Los Angeles lineup does not sway heavy toward the left or right side of the plate either. It has plenty of favorable matchups and depth off the bench to prevent any pitcher from matching up well.
The team is loaded with young talents like Bellinger, who has blasted 30 home runs and 71 RBI on the season. Veterans such as Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez (when he returns from injury) will also surely be ready when called upon.
The Dodgers will likely be dealing with the same tough opponents as last fall in the Cubs and Nationals, but this roster is the most complete in baseball and best set up for postseason success. There is absolutely no reason Los Angeles should not be one of the final teams standing in late October, and only the building pressure to win a ring will stop them.