I’m trying to remember a postseason in which a team that won as many games as the Dodgers did during the regular season inspired so little excitement, emotion or confidence. L.A. won 104 games this year and they’re getting less press and it seems as though they have fewer people predicting a deep playoff run for them than any of the other division winners. It’s like they’re the 1998 Braves or something.
Part of this is recency bias, of course. The Dodgers were on a record pace for wins as late as mid-August, everyone was talking about them and they graced the cover of Sports Illustrated with the words “Best. Team. Ever?” slapped across it. Then they went on a 1-16 skid, stumbling through late August and much of September and they seemed extraordinarily mortal. They were, suddenly, just the latest super talented Dodges team that seemed destined to flame out in the playoffs.
I suppose it’s certainly possible that will happen again, but we probably shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a really, really good Dodgers team.
All of the Dodgers playoff teams of recent years have been good, but this one is a bit more versatile. They’re better on defense. They’re nowhere near as susceptible to lefties as they have been in the past. If one bat goes cold, as so often happens, it’s not as big a deal because there are more big bats, including Dodgers playoff newcomer Cody Bellinger. Clayton Kershaw is still Clayton Kershaw. Kenley Jansen is still Kenley Jansen. The rotation is deeper thanks to the emergence of Alex Wood, which will allow Dave Roberts to keep Kershaw on regular rest unless all hell breaks loose. There’s every reason to think that the 2017 Dodgers have a better chance to finally break through and win a pennant than the 2013-2016 editions.
Still, no one seems all that confident in the Dodgers’ chances. Arizona took 11 of 19 meetings between the clubs and won the last six games against the Dodgers in the regular season. Robbie Ray may not pitch until Game 2 or 3, but he dominated the Dodgers during the regular season, going 3-0 in five starts with a 2.27 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 31.2 innings. Diamondbacks pitchers tamed Cody Bellinger in their matchups. Rich Hill got lit up by the Dbacks in four meetings. You can look at the position-by-position breakdowns of these two clubs and conclude that Los Angeles is a bit better than Arizona in just about every department, yet still think that Arizona has the edge for whatever psychic reasons augment your thinking about such things.
Which leads us to an almost absurd question: is a 104-win team an underdog in a series against a Wild Card team?
I think that’s too much — I still favor the Dodgers here, and I’ll never abide the Los Angeles freakin’ Dodgers or their fans playing the “no one believed in us” card — but at the very least, this series could prove to be a fantastic case study of momentum, juju and vibe. I have no idea what to expect. I don’t even know if the Dodgers do, if they’re being honest.