First comes shock, then denial

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Kurt Helin, at our NBC corporate cousin in Los Angeles, thinks that the Dodgers recent swoon is a good thing in that it will cause them to be challeneged and make their stomach muscles ripple and all of that:

Coasting can lead to a flat team not ready to rise to a challenge — and a couple months back that looked like the Dodgers. But their mediocre play has closed their lead and forced them to focus.

Now they have to be sharp. That will carry over into the playoffs (which the Dodgers almost certainly will still make).

Hey, I love optimism as much as the next guy, and to be fair to Kurt, that was written before last night’s extra-innings loss to the Rockies.  But I have a hard time buying this argument. 

Coasting into the playoffs may not have worked for last year’s Angels team (Helin’s primary example), but you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone in baseball who wouldn’t rather have a rested bullpen, experienced bench players and the ability to set up their rotation just the way they want to heading into October.

And of course, there’s the small matter of a team not being able to simply step on the gas when they want too.  Personally, I’d rather have to figure out a way to motivate a team that coasts into the playoffs than to have a sharply-honed and battle tested team that finishes a game out.  Wouldn’t you?

(link via BTF)

Bellinger, Puig power Game 7 win to send Dodgers to the World Series

Yasiel Puig
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The Dodgers are headed back to the World Series following a 5-1 win over the Brewers during Game 7 of the NLCS. Cody Bellinger delivered the go-ahead shot after taking Jhoulys Chacín deep in the second inning, and Yasiel Puig‘s three-run blast in the sixth helped bolster the Dodgers’ lead as they wrapped up their second consecutive NL pennant.

The Brewers looked dominant from the get-go. Jhoulys Chacín set down a scoreless first inning while Christian Yelich proved he was capable of harnessing the power that nearly won him the Triple Crown during the regular season. He smashed an 0-1 pitch from rookie right-hander Walker Buehler in the bottom of the first, sending it out to center field to mark his first home run since Game 1 of the NLDS.

It wasn’t long before the cracks began to show, however. Cody Bellinger returned with a two-run shot in the second inning, and another double from Puig signaled the end of Chacín’s outing. He used just six pitches to get through all three outs in the second, then handed the ball to southpaw Josh Hader to start the third. The lefty didn’t disappoint. After sitting out of Game 6, he pitched a flawless three innings to keep the Brewers on the Dodgers’ tail, issuing just one hit, one walk, and four strikeouts until he made his exit in the sixth.

Had the Brewers been able to rely on Hader for a longer outing, they might have chosen to do so. Instead, Xavier Cedeño and Jeremy Jeffress combined for a disastrous outing in the sixth, first with back-to-back singles from Max Muncy and Justin Turner, then with a three-RBI homer from Puig that allowed Los Angeles to pull ahead with a four-run lead.

The Dodgers did their fair share of shutting down the Brewers at the plate, too. In the bottom of the fifth, Milwaukee verged on a tie after Lorenzo Cain drove a two-out, line drive double into left field. Julio Urias replaced Walker as Yelich came back up to the plate, but any thought of a go-ahead homer was quickly shut down as Chris Taylor sprinted to make a jaw-dropping, over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track.

The bats settled down from the sixth inning on — neither the Dodgers nor the Brewers found an opening against Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel and Brandon Woodruff and L.A.’s Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw, respectively. Woodruff struck out the side in the eighth, while Jansen refused to allow a single batter to reach base in 1 1/3 innings of work. Things appeared to shift back in the Dodgers’ favor in the ninth, as Puig and Taylor collected a single and double and Woodruff loaded the bases after intentionally walking Matt Kemp to get to Enrique Hernández. That feeling was short-lived, though, as Woodruff decimated Hernández and Muncy in back-to-back strikeouts to cap the inning.

With a World Series berth on the line, not to mention the club’s 23rd NL pennant, the Dodgers weren’t taking any chances when the bottom of the ninth rolled around. Up 5-1 with three outs remaining, Clayton Kershaw stepped on the mound for the first time since his Game 5 win. He looked just as dominant in relief, retiring Shaw on a groundout, inducing a six-pitch strikeout from Jesús Aguilar, and effectively dashing the Brewers’ World Series hopes as Mike Moustakas struck out swinging for the third and final out of the game.

Game 1 of the World Series is set for Tuesday, October 23 at 8:09 PM EDT, when left-hander Chris Sale will take the mound for the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The Dodgers’ starter has yet to be formally announced. The Red Sox are currently looking for their ninth championship title, while the Dodgers are on the cusp of their seventh.