As the Dodgers completed a 94-win regular season Sunday with a 10-5 demolition of the downtrodden Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium, they were already preparing for what was next: Another postseason showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals were crowned NL Central champions earlier in the day, when the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates dropped a 4-1 decision to the Cincinnati Reds. That earned the Cardinals a place in a best-of-five division series against the Dodgers, starting Friday at Dodger Stadium.
Last year, the Dodgers’ season ended with a defeat to the Cardinals in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series, when Clayton Kershaw was pounded for seven runs in four-plus innings.
Kershaw is lined up to pitch Game 1.
“I definitely hope I’m a little more prepared,” Kershaw said.
Kershaw considered pitching in relief Sunday against the Rockies to maintain his sharpness, but ultimately decided on throwing a simulated game instead.
“Now, I’m kind of on a normal five-day [routine] until Friday, so that was the plan,” he said.
Kershaw’s simulated game wasn’t the only closely-monitored throwing session of the day.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has been sidelined for more than two weeks with shoulder problems, threw a 40-pitch bullpen session.
Ryu sounded optimistic about his chances of returning for the NLDS, in which he presumably would be the Game 3 starter.
“It went very well,” Ryu said through an interpreter. “I didn’t feel any discomfort in my shoulder.”
As for the likely Game 2 starter, Zack Greinke, he did his work in the actual game.
Greinke earned his career-high 17th win by limiting the Rockies to a run and four hits over five innings. His start was shorter than usual by design.
“Everything went well,” Greinke said. “It felt good. I used all my pitches. They all had some crispness to them.”
Greinke acknowledged the Cardinals (90-72) would present a significant challenge. The Dodgers won four of seven regular-season meetings, including three of four at Dodger Stadium.
“Their lineup’s deeper than most,” Greinke said. “It’s never easy.”
But Greinke said the Dodgers probably are playing better now than they were at this time last year.
The offense is certainly more productive — and also less dependent on a single player as it was last year, when Hanley Ramirez was arguably the most dangerous hitter in the league.
The Dodgers averaged 4.83 runs per game after the All-Star break, which was the most in the major leagues.
They collected 16 more hits Sunday, including home runs by Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez.
The two-run home run Kemp hit in the first inning was his sixth homer in his last 13 games and his 25th of the season.
Gonzalez guaranteed himself the team home-run title with his 27th, a three-run shot in the third inning, and also cemented his place as the major league leader in runs batted in. He finished the season with 116 RBIs, five more than second-place Mike Trout of the Angels.
“We’ve got some positivity going forward,” left fielder Carl Crawford said. “It’s always good having that momentum going into the playoffs.”
The Dodgers also received positive news about Dee Gordon, who made an early departure the previous night because of an irritated left hip. Gordon underwent a MRI exam, which revealed nothing alarming.
“It felt better today,” Gordon said, adding that he expects to be ready to play Friday.
The regular-season finale offered the Dodgers an opportunity to share some laughs.
Manager Don Mattingly adopted the practice of predecessor Joe Torre and allowed one of his players to manage the last game.
That player was third baseman Juan Uribe, who started the game wearing Mattingly’s jersey and finished it wearing Hall of Famer Tom Lasorda’s.
Ramirez, who was out of the lineup, served as Uribe’s bench coach. Kershaw was the pitching coach.
Greinke said of Kershaw: “He was half doing his job, it seemed like.”
“Juan was more intense with his efforts today, I thought,” Greinke said.