Dave Roberts held a champagne bottle in his left hand Monday afternoon, briefly shielded from the alcohol-soaked commotion in the Dodgers clubhouse, and he was resolute. He insisted he never wavered, that he always thought the Dodgers would claim their sixth straight National League West title. He declared it on April 29, when they were baseball's disappointment, believed it when they were 16-26 a couple of weeks later, and did not stop believing, even when they woke up Saturday a game behind with two games remaining.
But not even Roberts could have envisioned the fortuitous spot the Dodgers find themselves occupying after their tumultuous 163-game regular season. Forty-eight hours after their playoff spot remained unsettled, the Dodgers not only claimed the division again and avoided the perilous wild-card game on Tuesday, they seized home-field advantage in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. Game 1 is Thursday at Dodger Stadium.
"I want to -- and want our guys to -- stay in the moment," Roberts said. "It took that kind of focus for today to win this baseball game. After this celebration, we'll quickly turn our focus to the Braves."
The Dodgers will stay in Los Angeles because the Braves lost four of six games to the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies to conclude the regular season with 90 victories. The Dodgers entered Monday's tiebreaker a 91-win club after a three-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants. A loss Monday and they wouldn't have held home-field advantage in any series no matter who they played in the postseason. The Rockies will have to take that route after Monday's result.
"It feels good," Clayton Kershaw said. "That feels really good. It's good to be home, good to stay home for a couple days."
Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu are on turn to pitch Games 1 and 2 on regular rest against the Braves. Roberts said "that's probably the way it looks like" when asked if that is the plan. Walker Buehler would be available for Game 3 Sunday at SunTrust Park on an extra day of rest after limiting the Rockies to one run in 6 2/3 innings on Monday. All-star right-hander Mike Foltynewicz is expected to take the ball for Atlanta in Game 1.
"The pitching's set up," Roberts said. "And obviously, that's all we talked about. It wasn't an elimination game, but for us to prepare for the division series, we thought it was a must-win. And I managed accordingly and our guys took the field with that mind-set."
The clubs met in the NLDS in 2013 – the last time Atlanta advanced to the playoffs and the year Los Angeles began its division-title streak. The Dodgers won the series 3-1. Kershaw, Ryu, Kenley Jansen and Yasiel Puig remain on the Dodgers' roster from that clash. Freddie Freeman is the lone Brave left. Alex Wood, who was a rookie on the Braves then, will likely come out of the Dodgers bullpen five years later.
This year, the Dodgers took the season series over the Braves 5-2, including three of four at Dodger Stadium in late July. Kershaw and Foltynewicz opposed each other on July 27. Kershaw yielded one run on six hits across seven innings in a Dodgers win. He struck out eight and didn't issue a walk. Foltynewicz allowed four runs in five innings.
But that was two months ago. Manny Machado was just getting acclimated. David Freese and Brian Dozier were not yet Dodgers. Jansen's heart trouble hadn't resurfaced. The Braves were days from acquiring Kevin Gausman, rookie of the year favorite Ronald Acuna hadn't hit his stride, and Foltynewicz posted a 2.55 ERA over his next 11 outings to close the regular season.
It all resets on Thursday, when the Dodgers continue the chase for their first World Series championship in 30 years in prime position at home.
"I think we're the best team out there," Roberts said. "We have so much depth. Now it's up to us to go out there and play like it."