Not since 2017, a year they were cheated out of a World Series title, have the Los Angeles Dodgers begun the postseason 5-0.
Three years later, and the Dodgers remain perfect to start the postseason after dispatching of the San Diego Padres, 12-3, in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
Fans watching from home had to wait nearly four hours for a finish that seemed predetermined when the Dodgers stepped on the field on Thursday night.
The Dodgers were going to advance to their fourth NLCS in five years. That much was obvious once they scored five runs in the third inning to take a 6-2 lead, but how they got there, and how it would end, turned out to be just as surprising and head-scratching as the experts who picked the Padres to win this series.
The Dodgers made the decision before Thursday night’s closeout game to start 23-year-old rookie right-hander Dustin May, only to abruptly replace him after one inning with left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek. The decision was likely designed to somehow gain an advantage against San Diego, who has plenty of right-handed batters at the top of their order.
However, the move backfired spectacularly. May retired the side on just 16 pitches and had a 1-0 lead after the Dodgers scored first, but Roberts removed him anyway, revealing that May, who made 10 starts in 2020, was merely acting as an opener in Game 3. Kolarek struggled with command and walked in a run before allowing an RBI single to Grisham that gave the Padres a 2-1 lead.
Roberts replaced him with left-hander Julio Urias, who arguably should have been starting from the beginning, or at the very least, starting the second inning. Regardless, order was ultimately restored after Urias took over.
The brief back-and-forth battle between the two division rivals came to an abrupt end in the third inning.
Corey Seager and Justin Turner plated two on back-to-back singles. Four batters later, A.J. Pollock scored Turner on a bloop single, and Pederson punctuated the five-run inning with a two-run single to left field.
Urias dazzled after that, retiring the first 10 batters he faced before issuing a leadoff single to Manny Machado in the 6th inning.
Urias was filthy on Thursday, allowing one unearned run over five innings with six strikeouts, earning the win. After Urias, the chain was Blake Treinen to Pedro Baez to Dylan Floro.
The Dodgers extended their lead with runs in the fourth, fifth, and four more in the ninth. They scored 12 runs on 14 hits, the most since 1974. Will Smith became the first player in franchise history to have five hits in a playoff game, and just the ninth in MLB history to accomplish the feat.
Cody Bellinger was 2-for-5 with a triple, three RBI and a run scored. Everyone was excited by the Dodgers offensive explosion, but by the time the final out was recorded, and the sweep of San Diego was complete, it was back to business for the Boys in Blue.
Sure, the Dodgers had a muted celebration on the field, but behind their smiling faces was a revelation that has become more of a rallying cry this season: we’re not finished until we’re the last team left standing.
Ultimately it would have taken something miraculous and calamitous for San Diego to stop the Dodgers after falling behind 0-2 in the series. But maybe for the first time in 32 years, fate is on the Dodgers side for once.
Thus far, the breaks have gone the Dodgers way, and if we’ve learned anything over these last eight consecutive postseasons, there is nothing more powerful than luck, and the promise of a chance (unless you’re cheating).
The Dodgers will soon play the Atlanta Braves on Monday in a rematch of the 2018 NLDS that Los Angeles won in four games.
They’ll wait for their opponents to join them inside the bubble in Arlington, where the Braves have yet to play at the billion-dollar building known as Globe Life Field. There, they will host the Braves at their new “home” ballpark, a perfect this postseason, and winners of nine straight overall.
However, the Braves also enter their battle with the Boys in Blue undefeated this postseason, and are much improved since the last time these two teams met.
Max Fried, a reliever in that NLDS series is now a starting pitcher, and a bona fide Cy Young Award candidate. The Braves’ bullpen, once considered a weakness in 2018, now has A.J. Minter, Darren O’Day, Will Smith, and Mark Melancon. They’ve added power as well in sluggers Adam Duvall and Marcell Ozuna.
But these Dodgers are built different. They have been the best team in baseball since Opening Day, and when they take the field again, they will have a crowd behind them for the first time this season.
The NCAA tournament is known as “March Madness” because anything can happen. When MLB expanded the 2020 postseason to 16 teams, they created their own version entitled “October Madness.” The Dodgers have dominated the first two rounds designed to derail them, and have reached the Final Four once again.
“Eight more wins,” that’s what they’ll be saying tonight as their heads hit the pillows.
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