The Dodgers' quest for their first World Series championship in a quarter of a century begins tonight at 5:37 p.m. at Atlanta's Turner Field. It's Los Angeles versus the Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, with Clayton Kershaw facing off against Kris Medlen. L.A.'s ace vs. the Braves' hottest starter. Watch it on TBS.
If you don't have a knot in your stomach yet, you will quite soon, I assure you. The NLDS, and the entire Major League Baseball postseason, is edge-of-your-seat stuff. A game, and a season, can turn at any moment, and on any play.
Here are 15 points to ponder as the Dodgers prepare for the playoffs, some of which can only be phrased in the form of a question.
1. First and foremost, October baseball is wholly unpredictable. Just as there is no crying in baseball — and that's debatable, actually — there is no jinxing in baseball, and even more so, there is no predicting in baseball.
There simply is no telling how the postseason will shake out. No one knows, and only the baseball savviest of those with a keyboard know they don't know.
Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci has as fine a perspective as you'll find, and though he wrote “keeping in mind that any seed is capable of winning it all” as a parenthetical, no wiser summary can be posed.
For every Babe Ruth there is a Gene Tenace. For every Sandy Koufax, there is a Bruce Kison. For every Reggie Jackson there is a Donn Clendenon, and for every Brooks Robinson a Sandy Amoros. Watch out for the little guy; Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker, for example.
2. How's this for an amazing grasp of the obvious? This is Kershaw's chance to shine. He's the best pitcher in baseball, he's expected to win his second Cy Young Award in three seasons, perhaps by unanimous vote come November, and while all Kershaw, Koufax comparisons have been on the table for months, if not years, the Dodgers' current left-handed savior has not had a recent opportunity to match his predecessor in history-book type fall accomplishments.
After pitching well vs. the Cards in a 2009 NLDS start, Kershaw struggled in the following National League Championship Series with Philadelphia. But remember this was as a 21-year-old, with one full season under his belt. This is a completely different animal we're looking at now, something the Atlanta Braves are about to find out.
3. More obviousness. Kershaw and Zack Greinke make for the one of the toughest one-two punches in this, or possibly and postseason. Perhaps Greinke will out-perform his rotation-mate, perhaps number three starter Hyun-Jin Ryu will best them both. Or maybe number four man, Rickey Nolasco, takes home the World Series Most Valuable Award.
4. While Los Angeles has a more-than-capable bullpen and an excellent closer in Kenley Jansen, look for their starters — Kershaw in particular — to go deep into games, and complete them if at all possible.
5. L.A. hurlers contribute on the other side of the ball. Greinke hit .328 in 2013, with three doubles, two steals and .788 OPS. Kershaw hit .444 in September. Ryu hit .207 with three doubles and a triple, after not touching a bat during his career in the Korean Baseball Organization, which uses the designated hitter. Dodger pitchers get their bunts down as a matter of course.
6. Paco Rodriguez was getting too much work for the first five and a half months of the season (74 games through September 18), he didn't get enough afterwards, throwing an inning and a third in two appearances over the final 11 days.
September was a rough month, with Rodriguez allowing a .308 batting average against, a 5.68 earned run average and three home runs, but he still held lefties to a .143 (2-14) during the month. If Don Mattingly uses Rodriguez properly, as I suggested earlier, his left-handed specialist will succeed as a left-handed specialist.
7. Will Dee Gordon make the NLDS roster? It sure looks like it now, with Andre Ethier still hobbled by an ankle injury, and likely needing a pinch runner should he reach base. At least early in the series.
8. Ethier will play. Pinch hitting is playing. He'll play.
9. L.A. must field the baseball.
10. The Dodgers must limit the mental mistakes on the bases. To zero, preferably.
11. If the manager and his coaches hope to see their charges play smart, they must lead by doing the same. Tim Wallach must avoid the tendency to get a runner thrown out at the plate by 20 feet and Don Mattingly must be equal to challenges posed by his counterparts.
12. Chris Capuano will make the roster as both a long man and an extra left-handed specialist. Mattingly will have to decide on the fly if he can relieve in Atlanta Thursday or Friday, and still pick up for a starter later, or vice versa.
13. Can we ease up on the bunting, please? It's called “sacrifice” for a reason.
14. How important is home field advantage? You know, “the tenth man” — uh, person. Well, just because the Braves lost right out of the gate in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2012, five of those times with home field advantage, doesn't mean they will again this year, does it? And it's not like the Dodgers play as many as five straight road games.
Much has been written about the great crowds in Pittsburgh's PNC Park down the stretch and in Tuesday night's tiebreaker game, with the Pirates beating the Reds, 6-2, and all of it completely worthy of note. And say what you will about the laid back, late-arriving L.A. faithful; Dodger fans are as capable of rocking a stadium — a really big stadium — as any fans in America.
Bucs' fans waited 21 years for the chance to lose their voices in an October ball game, and good luck finding a bottle of Chloraseptic in Western Pennsylvania this morning. Dodger fans have been waiting 25 years for a 56,000-strong orgasm to match the one after Kirk Gibson's walkoff, and I'd argue the decibel levels at Chavez Ravine have topped the readings of that magical October 15, 1988 night on more than one occasion since.
Ask anyone in attendance when Steve Finely's walkoff grand slam gave L.A. the National League West crown over the rival Giants on October 2, 2004.
I've been to NLCS games in which pennants were won, and all manner of World Series contests, including the Gibson game, but the loudest, most-in concert, sustained loudness I've experienced at Dodger Stadium was at Game 3 of the 2004 NLDS. October 9; the Jose Lima game, a 4-0 shutout of St. Louis in front of 55,992.
We're talking three hours, non-stop-Aerosmith loud. I'd put Game 4, a 6-2 series-ending loss to the Cards the next day as the second loudest. Just as ballplayers can rise to the occasion for the big moment, so too can fans, and Los Angeles fans may surprise you.
15. Prediction: Dodgers in four.