Bill Plaschke: Dodgers open the postseason Friday, and with that comes worry

Bill Plaschke: Dodgers open the postseason Friday, and with that comes worry
Dodgers Jeff Kent, left, and J.D. Drew were both tagged out at home plate by Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca in the second inning of Game 1 of the 2006 National League division series. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The baseball that Charlie Culberson yanked over the left-field fence is a souvenir.

The final farewell from Vin Scully is a video on YouTube.


With the last dizzying couple of weeks in the distance, Dodgers fans will now stop the celebrating and reminiscing to do what they do best.

It being October, they will commence worrying.

To be perfectly honest, as the Dodgers open the postseason against the Washington Nationals on Friday at Nationals Park in the opener of the best-of-five-games division series, Los Angeles will be worrying itself into the same kind of rumpled mess that is Bryce Harper's hair.

This is the Dodgers' 10th postseason appearance since they last won a World Series in 1988, but that statistic is filled with as much dread as hope. In each of their previous nine playoffs appearances, doomed by everything from Clayton Kershaw's hanging curves to Jonathan Broxton's fat fastballs to third base brain cramps, their September heroics have swirled into an October abyss.

The Dodgers have not only failed to return to the World Series since 1988, they've rarely even been close, advancing to the National League Championship Series only three times, and only once winning more than one game there.

During those nine postseasons they have accumulated an awful 17-31 record while losing in ways that have been as breathtaking as Kirk Gibson's 1988 fist pumps. Their autumn collapses have been as colorful and diverse as the summer of victories that preceded them. They've never lost in the same way, but they've always lost in the same way: six months of greatness dissolved by a week of madness.

They lost to the New York Mets last season when the Mets scored the tying run in the deciding game after the Dodgers forgot to cover third base. Who forgets to cover third base?

They lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014 and 2013 when Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet, threw two of the worst games of his life.

On the eve of the 2009 NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies, then-Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt announced they were separating. The distracted Dodgers eventually lost the series after blowing a ninth-inning lead in Game 4 while Dodgers star Manny Ramirez was in the clubhouse taking a shower.

Then there was 2006, when they were swept by the Mets in the first round after an opening game in which both Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew were thrown out at home plate — on the same play. The Dodgers were actually doomed two nights before the opener, when star left-handed reliever Joe Beimel cut his hand on a glass of beer while drinking in a New York bar and was lost for the series.

"I wasn't sober by any means,'' Beimel later told The Times' Dylan Hernandez.

Even their best individual performance during those nine postseason trips had a cruel ending. In 2004 against the Cardinals, in one of the greatest postseason pitching displays in Dodger Stadium history, the charismatic Jose Lima threw a five-hit shutout for the Dodgers' only win in the series.

Six years later, Lima died of a massive heart attack at age 37.

In 1996, they were swept out of autumn by three Hall of Fame pitchers, the Atlanta Braves' John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. The previous season, they were swept out by three pitchers who can go to Cooperstown only with a ticket, the Cincinnati Reds' Pete Schourek, John Smiley and David Wells.

Those were the only two postseason series in which the Dodgers had the services of future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, but he was barely there, in six games collecting six hits and driving in three runs.

So, yeah, they're back at it again, and worry away.

They cruise into the postseason with one win in six games since Culberson's clinching home run. They allowed the hated San Francisco Giants entry into the playoffs by losing all three games there on the final weekend of the season.

On that final Sunday, Manager Dave Roberts acknowledged, "We're going to have to hit the reset button.''

However, the Dodgers are saying this October will be different. And if nothing else, these Dodgers actually look different.

They have a new manager. They have a rebuilt rotation. They have far more depth than in past years — they used 55 players this season — and can use the diversity to match up well against most potential postseason foes. They also have one of baseball's best bullpens, leading the National League in fewest walks plus hits per nine innings while ranking second in lowest opponent's batting average.

And finally, they have an attribute that has no statistic but carries lots of October weight: They have a belief system that appears far stronger than the selfish uncertainty that dominated clubhouses past.

They feel if they can win without Kershaw, which they did for two months; if they can win while placing a record 28 players on the disabled list; if they can win with eight players making their major league debuts; how can they lose to more October voodoo?

I can definitely be a part of this and definitely help and definitely be a factor in winning. But I don’t have to be the factor.

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Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw smiles during a news conferencebefore baseball batting practice at Nationals Park on Oct. 6.
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw smiles during a news conferencebefore baseball batting practice at Nationals Park on Oct. 6. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

"I guess the most complete — the most complete team,'' Kershaw said Thursday when asked about the differences in this group. "Maybe the most belief, as well, that we are complete, which is almost as important, probably.''

That kid who failed to cover third base against the Mets last season? Corey Seager is now the Dodgers' best hitter and is poised for a breakout autumn.

The Kershaw who has a 2-6 postseason record with a 4.59 ERA? He is far more rested this October after being forced to rest a back injury, and he had a 2.63 ERA in two starts last postseason against the Mets.

Kershaw acknowledged Thursday that in the past he has felt the burden of carrying the entire team. And who knows how that burden affected him? But now, he says, no more.

"Yeah, I think in the past I've definitely felt that pressure more,'' he said. "But this year's been a little different for me, just as far as having to watch on the sidelines for two months. Understanding how good our team is.''

He added, "I can definitely be a part of this and definitely help and definitely be a factor in winning. But I don't have to be the factor.''

This Dodgers' postseason begins Friday afternoon here with Kershaw on the mound against Nationals' ace Max Scherzer.

The Dodgers might be only seven wins from a World Series, but they're also about seven minutes from a world of worry.

Twitter: @BillPlaschke