LA’s Wild Card win highlights staff’s resilience

Aside from the fact that the Dodgers advanced into the next round of the postseason — and into the neutral bubble in Arlington — their two-game sweep of the Brewers in the National League Wild Card Series provided some takeaways that might apply to their NL Division Series showdown with

Aside from the fact that the Dodgers advanced into the next round of the postseason — and into the neutral bubble in Arlington — their two-game sweep of the Brewers in the National League Wild Card Series provided some takeaways that might apply to their NL Division Series showdown with the rival Padres.

• NLDS presented by Doosan, Game 1: Tuesday on MLB Network or FS1

Game Date Time Matchup TV
Gm 1 Oct. 6 TBD SD @ LAD MLBN/FS1
Gm 2 Oct. 7 TBD SD @ LAD MLBN/FS1
Gm 3 Oct. 8 TBD LAD @ SD MLBN/FS1
*Gm 4 Oct. 9 TBD LAD @ SD FS1
*Gm 5 Oct. 10 TBD SD @ LAD FS1

Here are four things we learned about the Dodgers during the NL Wild Card Series:

1) Kershaw is still the ace
Clayton Kershaw was good last year — and still good this year — but his vintage masterpiece to clinch against the Brewers caught some by surprise, no doubt because the narrative about his postseason shortcomings has obscured everything else. But part of what makes him great is unmatched work ethic, and he made use of that last offseason by setting aside his notorious stubbornness to accept new training methods, pitch sequencing and less predictable fastball location. Added velocity apparently added a lot of confidence, and that combination has made Kershaw a pitcher other teams shouldn’t want to face. And another thing — he’s healthier than he’s been in years. Kershaw doesn’t talk about injuries, but the way he’s pitching now probably means he was more physically compromised in 2018-19 than we knew. Lastly, he’s got a score to settle with Trent Grisham, who showed him up with a bat-flip homer on Sept. 14.

2) Offense can be slowed, even by a decimated pitching staff
It was a pretty small sample size for sure, but how concerning is it that the explosive Dodgers offense batted .207 against a Milwaukee pitching staff missing its two best pitchers? That they hit only one home run at home, where they averaged more than two a game in the regular season? That Justin Turner, the Dodgers’ Mr. Clutch, went 0-for-8? That Will Smith, after breaking through as a barreling strike-zone master, was 0-for-6? And that Max Muncy’s season-long slump worsened, as he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and two walks? As already noted, two games aren’t a trend. Muncy’s issues, however, are. The Dodgers have hard choices to make with Muncy, because this lineup was constructed with the expectation that he plays every day, regardless of the pitcher.

3) Jansen is the closer, except when he isn’t
The best roster in baseball isn’t lacking for late-innings drama after manager Dave Roberts gave the ball for the clinching save to 101-mph rookie righty Brusdar Graterol one day after Kenley Jansen saved Game 1 but didn’t look great doing it. Roberts could have used the excuse that in the next two series there won’t be days off, and that no team can rely on only one closer that frequently anyway, so he was just practicing for that. Roberts said Jansen will have plenty more save opportunities as the postseason continues. Clearly, the leash on the most decorated closer in franchise history is shorter than ever, especially when his cutter velocity sits below 90 mph.

4) Dodgers already won the World Series of sports medicine
One of the most easily overlooked reasons for the club’s success this season was its ability to stay at full strength during a pandemic, and we’re not just talking about avoiding positive COVID-19 tests. In a season where disrupted schedules and quick ramp-ups risked ailments, the Dodgers finished the season with only two players unavailable because of injuries — Caleb Ferguson (in-season Tommy John surgery) and Jimmy Nelson (back surgery; never pitched). A lot of teams lost that many players in a week. The team they just played (Milwaukee) and the team they’re going to play (San Diego) lost that many key players since the regular season ended. Roberts said medical director Ron Porterfield is an MVP. It doesn’t show up in the club payroll, but whatever the Dodgers are spending on their cutting-edge medical program is a bargain.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

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