It's been a magical season for the Dodgers, their franchise-record 111 wins earning them home-field advantage throughout the postseason, which for them begins Tuesday night against the winner of the New York Mets-San Diego Padres wild-card series. That best-of-three series, with all games slated for Citi Field, begins Friday.
Win all their games at Dodger Stadium and Dave Roberts' team will be champions for the second time in three seasons.
In a roundtable discussion moderated by Times baseball editor Hans Tesselaar, Times reporters Jack Harris, Jorge Castillo, Mike DiGiovanna and Bill Shaikin discuss the Dodgers' chances as they pursue an eighth title in their history.
The Dodgers will play the winner of the Mets-Padres series. Who do they match up with better?
Castillo: The Dodgers want to play the Padres. San Diego is talented. Manny Machado and Juan Soto are scary. The starting rotation is solid. But the Dodgers dominated their kid brothers to the south this season, going 14-5.
Meanwhile, the Mets have an elite one-two pitching punch in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, and that is crucial in a five-game series. Granted, neither one would start more than one game in a five-game series because they’ll start in the wild-card series, but they would start two games and that means two tough challenges for the Dodgers.
Don’t forget: The Nationals were short on bullpen depth in 2019, but they rode their top three starters (Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin) and a few relievers to a five-game series win over the Dodgers on their way to an unlikely World Series title. Chris Bassitt is a solid No. 3 for the Mets. Add Edwin Díaz, the best closer in the majors this season, and the Mets can quickly shorten games.
DiGiovanna: The Mets, actually. DeGrom and Scherzer give the Mets a formidable one-two pitching punch, but Padres ace Yu Darvish (5-1, 1.85 ERA in last six starts) and left-hander Blake Snell (2-1, 0.72 ERA in last four starts) have been dominant of late, new closer Josh Hader hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 10 appearances, and if Soto gets hot in front of MVP candidate Machado, San Diego’s lineup could be better than New York’s.
Harris: I think the Padres are the easier opponent for the Dodgers. They didn't lose a single series to San Diego this year. They kept the Padres lineup in check — before and after their trade deadline frenzy. They'd also have easier travel to San Diego in a condensed schedule (not to mention a likely less hostile road environment).
If the Dodgers are facing the Mets in the NLDS, they'll have to navigate a much tougher rotation and a team that, despite faltering down the stretch to its division race, had enough firepower at the plate to win 100 games.
Shaikin: The Dodgers are likely to start three left-handers, but the Mets (.246 batting average/.716 OPS) and Padres (.245/.705) are similarly mediocre against left-handers. If Mets outfielder Starling Marte can return from a broken finger, that would help against left-handers. It's not so much a matter of which team the Dodgers face as much as whether the Mets and Padres play a two- or three-game series. If the Mets and Padres play three, that would figure to take aces Scherzer and Darvish out of play for Game 1 against the Dodgers and would put a No. 4 starter in play. The Padres' likely No. 4 starter, Mike Clevinger, was scratched from his last start because of illness, and a start against the Dodgers could be his first action in 10 days.
The Dodgers won the National League West in a runaway this season, unlike in 2021 when they battled the Giants to the last day for the division title. Will that help them this postseason?
Castillo: One thing I’ll always remember from the playoffs last year was flying to Atlanta from San Francisco the morning after the Dodgers beat the Giants in Game 5 of the NLDS. I went from the airport straight to Truist Park where the Dodgers had Justin Turner speak to the media. Game 1 of the NLCS was the next day. I was exhausted, and I remember thinking, “If I’m this tired, then these guys must be running on fumes.”
And they were. It showed in that Braves series. Vying for the NL West crown until Game 162, playing in the wild-card game, and going five games against the Giants left the Dodgers fatigued. That’s not an excuse. They had a weak bench, they got too cute deploying their pitching, and the offense didn’t produce when needed. But that exhausting stretch didn’t help.
That’s a long way of saying they prefer running away with the division than last year’s marathon. You could argue they’ll have some rust for Game 1, but they’ve done just fine with a few days off in past postseasons.
DiGiovanna: Definitely. Not only will they have home-field advantage, they can start their two best pitchers — Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw — in Games 1, 2 and 5, if necessary, in the first round. If the left-handers had to pitch in a wild-card series, they’d get one start apiece in the division series. Five days off will also give Tony Gonsolin time to build endurance in a simulated game and their banged-up players (Chris Taylor, Dustin May, Blake Treinen) extra time to heal.
Harris: It certainly won’t hurt. Since the start of spring training, Dave Roberts and his players have referenced how worn out they were by the end of last season by both the division race and the more arduous postseason path they took as a wild-card team.
This year, it could be flipped, with the Dodgers not only getting to line up a rested pitching staff, but also because they could face a Mets team that came up short in its own heated division race this year.
Shaikin: Losing the 2021 race to the Giants meant the Dodgers had to use Scherzer in a wild-card game — and that meant Scherzer could start only once in the NLDS. In 2022, while the Dodgers can rest their pitchers in advance of the NLDS, Scherzer (or Darvish) might only be able to start once against them. The Dodgers' Game 1 starter could start a possible Game 5 on regular rest. Of course, if the Dodgers don't hit in the NLDS, we'll say clinching a playoff spot with a month to go and resting for a week after the regular season were hazards, not benefits.
What should concern the Dodgers the most? The lack of an established closer? The rotation after Urías and Kershaw? Or the lack of consistent offense from the likes of Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and some others?
Castillo: The rotation after Urías and Kershaw is a fair concern without Walker Buehler, but the Dodgers should be able to piece together innings between Gonsolin, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, and (maybe) Dustin May.
I think the back end of the bullpen — not just the closer — is the most pressing question. It’s not just that the Dodgers don’t have a traditional closer after Craig Kimbrel’s demotion; the Red Sox in 2018 and the Dodgers in 2020 both proved a team can win a World Series without an established closer assigned the ninth inning for every save situation. The problem is the Dodgers might be without Treinen for at least the NLDS — after already losing Daniel Hudson, a veteran with World Series experience, for the season in June.
The Dodgers’ bullpen was statistically the best in the majors this season. It might not end up being a problem at all. But the Dodgers know the postseason and the regular season aren’t the same. Elite pitching beats elite hitting. Treinen, when healthy, is elite. Kimbrel was supposed to be.
Not having them in their roles has a domino effect. Instead of Treinen playing fireman, Evan Phillips, the team’s top reliever this season, might be the one called on to escape a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning. Without Kimbrel closing (if he makes the roster at all), Brusdar Graterol or Tommy Kahnle or Chris Martin or Alex Vesia might be held until the ninth inning. The Dodgers will have options. They would’ve had more top-tier ones if Treinen and Kimbrel were right.
DiGiovanna: The lack of an established closer. Phillips and Vesia have been great in setup roles, veteran Martin was a nice trade-deadline addition, and Graterol throws 100 mph, but there is very little that can prepare them for the stress of holding a one-run, ninth-inning lead — especially in a hostile stadium — in a playoff game.
Harris: I think the rotation poses the biggest pitfalls. Urías and Kershaw are a solid 1-2 punch. Even without a set closer, the Dodgers bullpen has plenty of trustworthy depth. The thing that could trip up the pitching staff is short outings from their Game 3 and 4 starts (likely Anderson and Gonsolin).
If they aren’t getting length from those guys, it could tire out the rest of the staff, force lesser pitchers into higher-leverage roles and create cascading dilemmas the deeper into the postseason they get (similar to last year, when it seemed like the team ran out of pitching by the end).
Shaikin: The schedule. The lockout-compressed postseason schedule eliminates the usual off day between Games 3 and 4 of the NLDS and Games 5 and 6 of the NLCS. In theory, that should mean a team needs one more starter than usual, and a deeper bullpen so the best relievers do not pitch, say, four days in a row. The Dodgers can mix and match, and the front office will consider unconventional ways to deploy pitchers, but analytical voodoo is not a preferred substitute for Buehler and May.
What team is the biggest threat to the Dodgers and why?
Castillo: The Atlanta Braves because they might just be the best team in the National League. Yes, the Dodgers set a franchise record in wins. Yes, they won the most games by a National League team since the 1906 Cubs won 116. Yes, they compiled the best run differential since the 1939 Yankees.
But the Braves, the defending World Series champions, have been just as good over the last four months. Let’s look at the teams’ records before and since June 1:
Braves on June 1: 24-27 (-10 run differential)
Braves since June 1: 77-34, (+190)
Dodgers on June 1: 33-17 (+112)
Dodgers since June 1: 78-34 (+222)
The Dodgers’ run differential is superior by a significant margin, but the records are virtually identical. They’re both great teams. And each would rather not face the other in the NLCS for the third straight year.
DiGiovanna: The Braves can slug with the Dodgers, their lineup boasting eight players who have hit 15 homers or more; they have a superior bullpen, with two closers (Kenley Jansen, Raisel Iglesias) and three effective left-handers (A.J. Minter, Dylan Lee, Tyler Matzek), and a rotation led by Max Fried, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton that can pitch with the Dodgers.
Harris: A month ago, I would have said the Mets. But now, it’s the Braves.
Atlanta crushes lefties, not great for a Dodgers team with three southpaw starters. They have a deep pitching staff, especially in the bullpen where they can try and exploit matchups against the bottom half of the Dodgers lineup. They also have the most dangerous offense of any other NL team, one that could wear down Dodgers pitching over the course of a seven-game series.
The Mets have a great rotation, but won’t be able to reset it between the wild-card series and NLDS. The Cardinals also hit lefties, but aren’t nearly as imposing on the mound. The Phillies were the sixth seed for a reason, with a shaky bullpen leading their list of flaws. And the Padres, well, they didn’t beat the Dodgers once in a series this year — even after their flashy trade-deadline deals.
Shaikin: The Braves. In 2021, the Braves won 88 games, overcoming an eight-game deficit in June and rolling into October. In 2022, the Braves won 101 games, overcoming a 10½-game deficit in June and rolling into October. The Braves led the NL in home runs in the final month, and for the season too. They don't have Freddie Freeman and the injured Ozzie Albies, but they do have rookie stars Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider. They have Matt Olson, who replaced Freeman at first base and hit 34 home runs to Freeman's 21. And, while the Dodgers mix and match the arms in the back end of their bullpen amid the Craig Kimbrel implosion, the Braves could deploy Iglesias — acquired in a salary dump from the Angels — in the eighth inning and old friend and NL save leader Jansen in the ninth.
The Dodgers have had the greatest regular season in their history. They are only the fifth team to ever reach 111 wins. How disappointing would it be if they were to fall short of winning the World Series?
Castillo: Very. If they fall short, they’ll have won just one championship over 10 consecutive playoff trips. That macro lens depicts a failure. The Dodgers have spent more money on players than any other franchise over that decade. They should have more than one title in 10 tries.
The Dodgers are the best team in Major League Baseball. There’s a six-month sample size to prove it. But the postseason is a different beast that the Dodgers have had trouble taming.
Results suggest the tournament has been a relative crapshoot since the MLB first expanded the field to eight teams in 1994. The randomness only grew when two more teams were added in 2012.
Mathematically, it will be more difficult for a team to survive the postseason this year than ever (not including 2020 when 16 teams made the playoffs) because another two teams were added. The Dodgers — and the other top two teams in each league — will receive byes to the NLDS, but more participants equals more variables.
Here’s the math: The Dodgers have a 15.1% chance of winning the World Series this season, according to FanGraphs. A year ago, they had a 16.6% chance even though they didn’t win the NL West and had to play in the wild-card game. Probability suggests it is more difficult to win a championship — having two 100-win NL teams in the Braves and the Mets in the way is also a factor. And, in the end, it won’t matter. Not winning the World Series would be a huge disappointment that would stain another otherwise pristine season.
DiGiovanna: Extremely disappointing but not surprising. The 111 wins is a reflection of their deep lineup and vast organizational pitching depth, but it’s going to be tough to win a title without their ace (Buehler) and an established playoff closer and with three of their best pitchers (Treinen, May, Gonsolin) diminished by injuries.
Harris: It would not only be hugely disappointing for the team, but also likely reignite the narrative that the Dodgers can’t finish in October. Yes, they won the 2020 title. But the idea of winning only one World Series out of 10 consecutive postseason appearances — and none with any of their four 100-win teams — would feel like a missed opportunity to cement what would otherwise be one of baseball’s all-time great dynasties.
Shaikin: Two years ago, the Dodgers didn't need to acquire Mookie Betts to win the NL West. They got him to win the World Series, and they did. The Dodgers didn't need to sign Freddie Freeman to win the National League West this year, but they got him to win the World Series. It's not all on Freeman, of course, and the Dodgers should be applauded for going all-in. The Angels would have been delighted to win a wild card. The Dodgers are here to win the World Series.
Complete this sentence: The Dodgers will finish the postseason …
Castillo: … with their second World Series title in three seasons, beating the Houston Astros.
DiGiovanna: ... just like they did last October, with a six-game loss to the Braves in the NL Championship Series.
Harris: … suffering another World Series heartbreak. I do think the Dodgers win the pennant, buoyed by their lineup and buttressed with just enough pitching. But, as referenced above, I think they could emerge from a potentially lengthy NLCS against the Braves (or even the Cardinals, for that matter) worn down on the mound and unable to contain a dangerous lineup such as the Astros or New York Yankees.
If the Dodgers breeze through the NL (which is also very much possible), then it’s probably a different story. But if they reach the Fall Classic with a top-heavy lineup and patchwork pitching staff, they might finally face one obstacle too tall to clear.
Shaikin: ... meeting the Braves in the NLCS, for the third consecutive year. For the second consecutive year, the Braves win.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.