LOS ANGELES – Nobody asked Don Mattingly about it, but as he was wrapping up his remarks in the Dodgers interview room after Monday night’s thrilling win to send his team to the NLCS, Mattingly made a point of congratulating the Atlanta Braves.
He spoke about the regard he has for manager Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves coaches and then he said, “They have some great young players.”
The emphasis should be on “young.” The Dodgers’ talent edge prevailed in the series, as did their edge in experience. Aside from some sloppy mistakes in Game 4, the Dodgers looked poised and ready while the Braves often looked overwhelmed.
The reason the Dodgers spend so much on player salaries isn’t that their players are so much better than everybody else’s (arguably the best player in the world, Mike Trout, makes $510,000), it’s that they’re both good and experienced. The combination can be tough to beat in October.
Remember when people were fretting about whether the Dodgers could flip the switch after they sleepily shuffled their way to the end of the regular season? They flipped it and out came a blinding light. The Dodgers started out by pressuring Braves ace Kris Medlen in the second inning and they rarely relented in a bravura offensive series.
The Dodgers set a National League postseason record by batting .333 in the series. Their on-base percentage (.390) and slugging percentage (.572) were off the charts. The Dodgers averaged 6.5 runs per game.
It was the big boys leading the way: Hanley Ramirez (1.618 OPS), Carl Crawford (1.303) Yasiel Puig (1.029), Adrian Gonzalez (.833). Catcher A.J. Ellis caught every inning and still managed to hit .333 with two doubles and a home run.
The Braves earned home field advantage in the series by winning a lot of games on home runs. They hit 181 in the regular season, but the Dodgers hit seven to their one in the NLDS.
It rarely happens for a starting pitcher, but Clayton Kershaw might have become the Dodgers team leader with his NLDS performance. He fought hard for the chance to pitch Game 4 on three days rest and then put the game on a tee by pitching six innings without allowing an earned run. Juan Uribe hit it off that tee, smashing the two-run home run that gave the Dodgers the series.
But there were other notable pitching performances. Zack Greinke took the only loss, but he answered some questions about his postseason nerves by allowing just four hits and two runs over six innings. Relievers Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell combined for 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Jansen struck out seven of the nine batters he faced.
Even Chris Capuano, who had barely pitched in a month, gave the Dodgers three scoreless innings.
Still, there were some troubling trends, considering the Dodgers will need four, rather than three, starters for the next round. They showed little confidence in Ricky Nolasco by rushing Kershaw to pitch a day early and Hyun-Jin Ryu, while saying he’s healthy, didn’t look it in getting knocked around for six hits and three runs in just three innings. Paco Rodriguez is in a funk at a bad time.
Personally, I would have let Chris Withrow face Jose Costanza in Game 2, but even the strange sequence of events that led to Jason Heyward batting with the bases loaded didn’t look so strange later in the series. Costanza came up with what might have been the hit of the series -- an RBI single off righty Ronald Belisario to put the Braves ahead in Game 4 -- if not for Uribe’s blast.
And the way Rodriguez pitched, letting him face Reed Johnson also seems like less of a good idea in retrospect. Kershaw made the Dodgers look good for starting him on short rest. In other words, Mattingly was kind of redeemed.
Which is not to say the entire city of Los Angeles and the Southern California media won’t be all over Mattingly the next time he makes a questionable decision in his first postseason. It’s kind of what people do in October.
Mattingly had an interesting comment before Game 1. Somebody asked him the demeanor of the team going into what was, for many players, their first postseasons. He said they seemed more relaxed than they did during the regular season, because media members are not allowed into the clubhouse before games.
“I think guys like this time of year, because really it’s their clubhouse,” Mattingly said.
STATE OF CONTENTION
The Dodgers players had to pack for a trip to St. Louis. They’ll bring their luggage to Dodger Stadium for Wednesday afternoon’s workout hoping they can leave everything in their suitcases for another four days. If St. Louis beats Pittsburgh, the Dodgers will fly Wednesday evening to St. Louis. If Pittsburgh prevails, they’ll open Friday at home.
Either way, clinching in four games was a massive edge, allowing their aching bodies to rest. The fact they used Kershaw Monday shouldn’t be a big deal, because he and Greinke both could still get two NLCS starts. Greinke figures to go in Games 1 and 5 and Kershaw in Games 2 and 6.
The only scary thing is that, as it stands now, Ryu might be the guy on the mound for Game 7.