The Los Angeles Dodgers felt like they had a championship-caliber team heading into spring training. They’ll get a chance to prove that after clinching the National League West with a win over the defending champion Giants on Tuesday night.
This Dodgers team is one that is built for postseason. Let’s take a look at the keys to their getting through the regular season.
One-two punch on the mound
Kershaw uncharacteristically struggled to a 4.32 ERA in his first nine starts but has been nearly invincible after that. He has a 1.42 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 170 2/3 innings in his past 23 starts. That included a streak of 37 straight scoreless innings (or if you prefer, a five-start run in which he allowed one run and 21 hits in 41 innings).
Greinke had a 45 2/3 innings scoreless streak of his own and threatened to have the lowest ERA in a season since Dwight Gooden’s 1.53 for the 1985 Mets.
The Dodgers are 41-22 in Greinke's and Kershaw's starts this season. They are 47-47 in starts by other pitchers.
Unsung star: Justin Turner
In a lineup loaded with stars, former stars and hyped prospects, Justin Turner is the aberration. He was none of those. But he’s been one of the most valuable Dodgers this season. His 3.6 Wins Above Replacement ranks second among position players on the Dodgers to Adrian Gonzalez’s 3.9.
Turner hit .333 with a .961 OPS over a period that spanned most of May, June and July, and he was hitting above .300 until a slump in September dropped him slightly below that mark.
The Dodgers have two rookies who could make a very significant impact in October. Joc Pederson has struggled for much of the second half, and his batting average is barely above .200, but the average home run among his 25 this season has traveled 423.6 feet, farthest in the majors.
The rookie who has been a hot hitter of late is infielder Corey Seager, who had 20 hits, seven multihit games and nine walks within his first 13 games.
Circle these games
The biggest wins of the Dodgers' season were the three against the Giants from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2. The Giants came to town within 3½ games of the division lead and left 6½ back after losing three straight one-run games. Adrian Gonzalez won the first with a 14th-inning walk-off single. Greinke beat Madison Bumgarner 2-1 in the second game, and Kershaw followed that with a 15-strikeout performance, winning by the same score in the finale.
Arguably the most exciting win of the season was a 9-8 triumph over the Rockies in the second game of a doubleheader on June 2. Alex Guerrero hit a go-ahead grand slam with the Dodgers trailing 8-5 with two outs in the ninth inning.
Playoff matchups could pose a problem
The Dodgers finished a combined 10-17 against the other four playoff teams. They were 4-3 against the Cubs, but were 3-4 against their first-round opponent, the Mets, 2-5 against the Cardinals and 1-5 against the Pirates.
On to October
This is the first time in franchise history the Dodgers have reached the postseason in three straight seasons.
The Dodgers will be making their ninth trip to the postseason since appearing in (and winning) their last World Series, in 1988, all of which have come during the wild-card era. That’s the most of any team without a World Series appearance over that span.
Elias notes that only two teams have gone nine postseason appearances without appearing in a World Series (Athletics and Braves, both active streaks). The Dodgers can join them this year.
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