LOS ANGELES — It’s never just one thing that wins or loses a baseball game, and the Dodgers were felled in the first two games of the National League Division Series by the devastating combination of the worst two-start stretch in MLB postseason history and an inept offense that can’t seem to get anything going.
Yes, the Dodgers had five days off before playing their first postseason game, It’s not ideal, and nobody seems to like it. But it’s also not a valid reason for why they are losing.
The layoff is antithetical to the normal flow of baseball, but it comes with the tremendous benefit of not having to play the wild card round. Just think, if the Dodgers laid these two stinkers during the wild card round, their season would already be over.
Now at least they have a fighting chance, but have yet to show they are up to the challenge.
As far as I can tell, the Dodgers aren’t using the layoff as the excuse. They acknowledge the obstacle of staying in rhythm during the days off, which they tried to combat with intrasquad scrimmages and simulated games in the interim both this year and last.
Arizona played on Tuesday and Wednesday, and did so well they didn’t have to play Thursday. They’ve won all four games they’ve played, all on the road, and are back home now, in the driver’s seat for securing their first NLCS trip in 16 years.
“This is the second year we’ve had this format. We’ve been off both times,” Max Muncy said Monday, while acknowledging he hasn’t played in the wild card series under the two years of this format and couldn’t speak to that side of it. “Yeah, we’d rather be playing right away than not. But the reality is if you have the days off, you’re one of the top seeds and you have home-field advantage. And really when you think about it that’s the most important thing.”
The layoff has been bandied about on broadcasts and in columns, because last year the 100-plus-win Dodgers and Braves both lost in the Division Series, and this year the four No. 1 seeds are 2-6 at home, with the 100-win Dodgers and Orioles both on the verge of potentially getting swept. But this line of thinking also ignores that the No. 1-seed Astros last year did not lose a game until the World Series, on their way to a championship.
But the layoffs can be annoying, in that building in so many off days is so different from the normal baseball schedule.
“It’s nice to get into the Division Series, certainly. I don’t think five days is ideal, but that’s the playoff structure. The world’s not perfect,” manager Dave Roberts said before Game 2. “A couple-day break would have been nice, but five’s a little — there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The off days before the Division Series coupled with the weird extra off day between Games 1 and 2 are related, in that they contributed to producing a potential ruinous matchup problem for the Dodgers. But it was well-earned by Arizona.
The weird Division Series off day exists as a mechanism to stagger the two leagues, so there are fewer days with zero baseball games in October. The American League Division Series had this off day last year.
My thought was to stagger the leagues during the wild card round instead — eliminating that DS day off between Games 1 and 2 — which would guarantee at least three days of wild card action even if every series ends in a sweep, like this year. But that would also mean that the top two seeds in one league each year would have six days off, and teams already don’t like five days off so that’s a no-go.
If there is a solution to be had — if one is even needed, which is debatable — it might be eliminating the off day between the wild card and Division Series. That means only four days off for the top two seeds in each league, and applies a further penalty to teams from the wild card round, potentially having to start one series the day after finishing off another.
But the bottom line is teams just need to win, which the Diamondbacks have done in spades so far this October.
They got good starts by Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen to win the first two games of the NLDS, and if the Dodgers are to come back in this series they’ll have to win games started by those two again. Any question of whether it’s fair that a wild card team would get to use its two best starters four times in five games in the Division Series ignores a key point — the D-backs justified that right with their play during the wild card round.
Because Gallen and Kelly pitched in the final weekend of the regular season — 84-win Arizona had to fight to get into the playoffs — neither was available in Game 1 against the Brewers. The D-backs started rookie Brandon Pfaadt against former Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes in Milwaukee. Pfaadt recorded only eight outs, which is more than Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller combined during this postseason, but the D-backs won anyway.
Then Arizona swept away the Brewers, so they didn’t have to use Kelly in the wild card round.
But the real question here isn’t whether it’s fair that Gallen and Kelly get to pitch four times in five games. It’s why don’t the Dodgers have two starters who you’d want to pitch four times in five games?