The last time Alex Wood pitched in a game that counted, the Angels still were alive in the race for a playoff berth.
No pressure, or at least not the way Wood tells it. The Dodgers won their first five playoff games — a sweep of the division series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the first two games of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs.
“We’re kind of back to being the fun Dodgers now,” Wood said. “The energy is back in our clubhouse.”
The 11-game winning streak is a memory now. So is the 11-game losing streak.
“Our focus is locked back in,” he said, “and we feel like we’re playing the kind of ball that we know how to play, and playing to our potential.”
Wood more than realized his potential this season. The Dodgers stashed him in the bullpen coming out of spring training, but he joined the starting rotation in April and might have been the most effective starter in the league in the first half.
He put up a 10-0 record with a 1.67 earned-run average. In this season of the home run, Wood faced 314 batters in the first half and gave up two home runs.
The second half was not as kind to him. He went 6-3 with a 3.89 ERA. He faced 300 batters and gave up 15 home runs.
His strikeouts went down. His velocity went down too. On the day of his final start, amid speculation the Dodgers might use Wood in their playoff bullpen and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the rotation, manager Dave Roberts said the team was “not prepared to make a decision.”
The next day, Wood said, the Dodgers told him he would be in the playoff rotation but asked him not to say so. He said Tuesday that he believes his command and consistency have improved recently, and presumably his velocity would solidify as well.
“Honestly, all that stuff is out the window at this point,” Wood said. “It’s the playoffs, and it comes down to who wants it more and who executes when they need to execute.
“I feel I’m going to do both those things, and I’m really excited for the opportunity.”
Wood faces another starter who has struggled with command recently. Jake Arrieta, the Cubs’ scheduled starter Wednesday, walked five in four innings of his lone start in the division series against Washington. Arrieta was limited to 10 innings in September because of a hamstring strain.
Wood has pitched in four postseason games, but he never has started one. And, while the Dodgers regularly have provided him with extra rest this season, he has been most effective without it.
In the five games he started on the normal four days of rest this season, he posted a 0.94 ERA. In his other 20 starts, his ERA was 3.27.
In September, his ERA was 4.03, and he gave up as many home runs as he had in the first four months of the season, combined.
The Dodgers hope the rest, and a couple of simulated games, have revived Wood. They will find out Wednesday.
“It’s a little bit different than getting in the game scenario,” he said, “but I feel good with where I’m at. Getting that time off too, [because] it’s late in the year … that part of it is probably a little more of an advantage getting your legs back underneath you and getting ready.”
Is he ready?
“I’m really excited to have it be my turn and hopefully throw well and pass the torch on to the next guy,” Wood said. “I’m very excited.”
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