They were the favorites in 2017, having steamrolled their way through the competition for most of the year. It was a different story with this year’s team that struggled mightily at times to put together winning streaks.
All of that doesn’t matter now.
It’s simple math that everybody understands. Just 11 wins now separate the Dodgers from the top of the baseball world for the first time in 30 years. They’re certainly capable of getting those wins, but the recipe has changed a little.
Instead of Clayton Kershaw taking the ball in Game 1, Hyun-jin Ryu will lead the Dodgers into the postseason. That’s a departure from the expected — maybe for the best. Rookie Walker Buehler might have been the Game 1 starter had he not pitched Monday to put the Dodgers in this position.
Ryu has proven in the past to be a big game pitcher, allowing one run in 13 innings in his last two appearances in the postseason. The last came in 2014 when he entered his start against the Cardinals, having not been on the mound in nearly a month due to shoulder inflammation.
“Guys who can pitch well in big games, they command the baseball. They don’t beat themselves, they don’t walk guys,” Dodger manager Dave Roberts said. “You see it every time he takes the baseball, he’s under control. His ability to strike three or four different pitches, he gets lefties and gets righties out, and again not beating yourself, not creating unnecessary traffic, he does a great job of that.”
Over the last seven starts of the season, the lefty allowed just eight earned runs in 42 2⁄3 innings (1.69 ERA), striking out 43 batters against a stingy four walks. Ryu walked only three over the final six starts of the year and 15 in 15 starts.
Moving Kershaw to Game 2 still leaves room for the (former?) Dodger ace to start a possible Game 5. But Roberts left even that up in the air, saying their would be further discussion if the scenario presented itself.
But the starting pitching has been the least of the Dodgers worries when it comes to winning games. When Kenley Jansen gave up a pair of solo homers in the ninth inning to the Rockies in the tiebreaker game Monday, it was another instance when the right-hander wasn’t the dominant reliever his team has relied on in recent years.
Jansen has been leaned on through the postseason, especially last season when he tossed 16 2⁄3 innings in 13 appearances. Despite his struggles this year, the Dodgers’ trust their big man will come through when it counts this October — at least outwardly. What other option do they have really?
“My confidence level is high and my expectation for him to pitch well in this big series is the same, as it has been the last three years,” said Roberts. “He’s shown to perform on this stage, in this environment. And that’s what I’m going to pull from, his teammates are going to pull from, and I’m going to encourage him to pull from.
”So, I know that Kenley is a very confident player, so I don’t think that it’s a concern of his, and it’s not mine either. I’m going to talk to him and just confirm that he’s in a good head space, which I expect he is.”
Ready or not, the bright lights of October are here.