Dodgers firing on all cylinders
L.A. back in NLCS, puts late-season swoon behind
PHOENIX The floor of the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field was covered with a plastic tarp for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ celebration, which included so much champagne and beer spraying that the liquid started pooling.
It made for yet another way several of the Dodgers got their feet wet.
Despite making the playoffs in each of the last five years, the Dodgers have a number of players who were participating in the postseason for the first time in the National League Division Series, among them Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Tony Cingrani and Brandon Morrow.
Each of them played a role in Monday’s 3-1 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks, which sent the Dodgers to their third NL Championship Series in five years, this time perhaps better suited to challenge for the title than in the previous four.
It’s not just their seasoned veterans who now have playoff experience, and that could go a long way toward helping them end the franchise’s 28-year World Series drought.
“This team feels a little different,” said third baseman Justin Turner, who joined the Dodgers in 2014. “This is a group of 25 guys who understand how to do whatever it takes to win games. The unselfishness from every guy in this room is incredible. I can’t say enough about it.”
Lots of good things were said about this club when it was on pace to tie the record for wins in a season, and plenty of them were retracted when the Dodgers went into a 1-16 tailspin in late August and early September, raising doubts about their playoff potential.
Many of those were erased with their three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks that featured smart hitting approaches, help from some unlikely sources and, on Monday, the best postseason start of Yu Darvish’s career.
Darvish had several shaky outings after joining the Dodgers in a trade July 31, and it wasn’t until his last three starts (0.47 ERA) that he looked like the four-time All-Star he is. That finishing flourish came against inferior competition.
On Monday, making his first appearance since Sept. 25, Darvish was facing a Diamondbacks lineup that ranked second in the league in runs and OPS at home. They never had a chance.
Mixing a devilish slider with a fastball that reached 98 mph, Darvish allowed two hits and one run while striking out seven in five innings to notch the first playoff win of his career.
“He was fun to catch. He was pretty much on cruise control,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “His stuff was pretty special tonight.”
Darvish’s performance provided a reason to believe this L.A. club might have staying power, but it was far from the only one.
Bellinger, the NL Rookie of the Year favorite who had a single in 10 at-bats coming in, drove in the game’s first run with a grounder and belted a homer off Zack Greinke in the fifth to extend Los Angeles’ lead to 2-0.
Bellinger saw a total of three pitches in his first two at-bats but worked a 3-1 count before homering to left field. He also made three sparkling defensive plays at first base, at one point reaching over the railing and stumbling into the dugout to catch a pop-up that ended the bottom of the fifth.
“I try to focus on defense as much as I can, because the offensive side is going to come and go,” Bellinger said.
“It was far away from me in the last two weeks of the season leading up to now, but we’re getting there. (Roberts) came up to me and said, ‘Don’t try to do too much.’
“I was pressing a little bit, trying to do too much with every pitch, and they were pitching to my aggressiveness. It’s hard to hit like that.”
The Dodgers also got a home run from Barnes, the backup whose playing time has increased of late. They again wore down a Diamondbacks starter, forcing Greinke to throw 54 pitches in the first two innings and knocking him out in the sixth. And they benefited from four sterling innings from their relievers, among them Cingrani, Morrow and Kenta Maeda, a starter who made his second appearance of the series out of the bullpen.
Kenley Jansen, who struck out Paul Goldschmidt with a runner on base to complete his second save of the series, has harped for months about the importance of all 25 players on the roster contributing. When the Dodgers play that way, they’re awfully tough to beat.
“We know how good we are,” Jansen said as the Dodgers celebrated. “We trust in every single one of those guys.”
None of them is a playoff rookie anymore.
The Dodgers celebrate their win Monday that advanced them to the NL Championship Series.