The 2017 NLDS is here, and the Dodgers are going to play the Arizona Diamondbacks. I was all set to throw a lot of numbers at you and analyze all the minutiae of the series, but when I woke up this morning, I changed my mind.
I don’t know who’s going to win, but here are some things the Dodgers need to happen in order to win:
Who’s going to step up?
They need an unexpected hitter to rise up and become a stud. The playoffs of the past are littered with players you don’t expect to become a star for one series, or one playoffs. Daniel Murphy, Scott Brosius, Mickey Hatcher, Steve Yeager, Jay Johnstone, Brian Doyle. The list goes on.
That’s one of the things the Dodgers have been missing the last four years in the playoffs. No one unexpected has stepped up on offense. No one has claimed the spotlight on the national stage that most people (other than Dodgers fans) have not heard of. Who will that unexpected person be this season? Yasiel Puig? Austin Barnes? Chris Taylor? Someone besides Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger will have to have a hot series.
Clayton Kershaw needs to take the next step to greatness. Great pitchers have great postseasons. We can talk all day about how amazing it was for Kershaw to come in and save Game 5 against Washington last season, but the fact remains Kershaw has not been a great postseason pitcher. Let’s recap:
2013: Gives up seven runs in four innings of the series-deciding Game 6 of the NLCS.
2014: Goes 0-2 in the NLDS against St. Louis, giving up 11 runs in 12.2 innings.
2015: His best postseason, giving up four runs in 13.2 innings against the Mets, including staving off elimination by winning Game 4.
2016: He gave up eight runs in 11.2 innings in two starts against Washington before coming in in relief to save the clinching Game 5 victory. After pitching seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs, he gave up five runs in five innings of the series-deciding Game 6.
Those aren’t exactly Sandy Koufax-like results there. Kershaw has won three Cy Young Awards, let’s take a look at how all pitchers with at least three Cy Youngs have done in the postseason:
Roger Clemens, 12-8, 3.75 ERA, 1.221 WHIP, 2 World Series titles
Randy Johnson, 7-9, 3.50, 1.140, 1 World Series title, 1 World Series MVP
Steve Carlton, 6-6, 3.26, 1.480, 2 World Series titles
Greg Maddux, 11-14, 3.27, 1.242, 1 World Series title
Clayton Kershaw, 4-7, 4.55, 1.157, 0 World Series title
Sandy Koufax, 4-3, 0.95, 0.825, 3 World Series titles, 2 World Series MVPs
Pedro Martinez, 6-4, 3.46, 1.080, 1 World Series title
Jim Palmer, 8-3, 2.61, 1.214, 3 World Series titles
Tom Seaver, 3-3, 2.77, 1.086, 1 World Series title
Kershaw has the worst ERA, the worst winning percentage and is the only pitcher with three Cy Youngs to not have a World Series title.
For the Dodgers to win, he needs to dominate every start.
Every year, the Dodgers try to find someone who can bridge the gap between the starter and Kenley Jansen, and every year they fail. Middle relief has been their Achilles heel for five years now. Someone always blows a game. Pedro Baez. Joe Blanton. I don’t even want to name any more.
The bullpen needs to be in lockdown mode. They pitched great the first five months of the season before falling to pieces in September. Can Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson successfully bridge the gap between the sixth inning and Jansen? Will Roberts be forced to get a few two-inning saves from Jansen? Will we go into the offseason wondering how the Dodgers have gone five seasons without having a shutdown relief crew in the postseason?
So to me, those are the keys.
I’m a little nervous going into this series against Arizona. This feels like the last great chance for this group of Dodgers to win it all. There will be a lot of changes the next couple of seasons. Kershaw can opt out of his contract after 2018. Perhaps it’s just the disappointment of 29 years since a World Series making me uneasy as another postseason begins.
This Dodgers team can win the World Series. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on them. But there’s a scared Dodgers fan inside me who wished he had known at the time that Game 2 of the 1988 World Series would be the last time he would get to see a World Series game at Dodger Stadium. It was the last Dodgers game I went to with my dad. I’d like for this year’s team to be the first World Series game at Dodger Stadium I get to see with my daughters.
Game 1: Friday, 7:30 p.m. PT, Arizona (Taijuan Walker) at Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw), 7:30 p.m. PST, TBS
Game 2: Saturday, 6 p.m. PT, Arizona (TBA) at Dodgers (Rich Hill), 6 p.m. PST, TBS
Game 3: Monday, TBD, Dodgers (Yu Darvish) at Arizona (TBA), TBS
Game 4*: Tuesday, TBD, Dodgers (TBA) at Arizona (TBA), TBS
Game 5*: Thursday, TBD, Arizona (TBA) at Dodgers (TBA), TBS
There’s nothing left to be said. Time to win a World Series.