As you’ve noticed, the Big Dodger In The Sky has been on sabbatical.
Last seen in the fall of 1988, the BDITS has left Dodgers fans (A) glumly watching someone else lift trophies and wear champagne goggles or (B) angrily bolting the sports bar, looking for the car and a Lakers schedule.
L.A. fans weren’t accustomed to this. The Dodgers won the World Series in their second year on the coast. They were legendary in the 1960s, powerful in the ’70s and inspirational in the ’80s, when they won their last two World Series.
But then they weren’t the Dodgers anymore. Renegade ownership, revolving managers, off-putting players, and yearly disappointment. Every team in the NL West has been to a World Series since the last time the Dodgers have, including the Diamondbacks and Rockies, who weren’t alive in 1988.
Now the BDITS is back and has loaded the deck.
The Dodgers arrive at the National League Championship Series in their most commanding position in years, even counting 1988. The teams will be roughly equal, but not their circumstances.
The Cubs and Nationals played in a cold Chicago rain Wednesday and then shipped to Washington on Thursday. The Cubs won a 4-hour, 38-minute clincher, 9-8, and will fly here on Friday and open the series Saturday. True, baseball players fly like Cabinet secretaries, but they also have body clocks like you and me. At some point adrenaline dissipates.
Chicago and Washington lost their off day because of Tuesday’s rainout. The same thing happened to the Dodgers last year. Game 2 in Washington was postponed because of mist and darkness (it never really rained), so they played Monday and then flew to L.A. for two games and back to Washington for Game 5 Thursday, which Clayton Kershaw saved for Kenley Jansen, sometime after midnight.
The Dodgers partied hard, then remembered they had Game 1 in Chicago Saturday. Kenta Maeda was the starter-by-necessity, and then Kershaw won Sunday, and the Dodgers even won Game 3 on Tuesday to lead, 2-1.
But then the fog arrived, and they blundered their way out of the series, losing Games 4-5-6 by a total score of 23-6.
The Cubs’ pitching was set. Now it is not. Kyle Hendricks won’t work until Game 3 in Chicago on Tuesday. Luis Quintana would have worked Game 1 but was thrown into the chaos of Game 5. The choice is probably John Lackey, although manager Joe Maddon really has no choice. And closer Wade Davis had to get the final seven outs Thursday.
The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts will use his starters when he wants to, not when he has to. It could be Rich Hill in Game 2 after Kershaw or it could be Yu Darvish. But Roberts will not be cornered into using Kershaw’ on three days’ rest this time.
Last year the tires were wobbling on setup reliever Joe Blanton, who had been brilliant all season. He had nothing left for the Cubs and suffered two losses with seven runs in three innings.
This year Pedro Baez has backslid, but the Dodgers have choices, including three lefties if they activate Luis Avilan. None of them need rest. If anything, they need work. With off-days Monday and Friday, Kenley Jansen can begin his work in the eighth. If the starter gets 15 to 18 outs and Jansen gets four to six, Roberts will have more applicants than jobs available. That is rare in October.
Plus, these Dodgers are just different.
Julio Urias, at 19, started Game 4 last year. Maeda started twice. Andrew Toles was the starting left fielder and kicked off Game 6 by botching a fly ball.
Yasiel Puig was benched for Game 6 against Hendricks. That isn’t happening again. Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal were automatics. Now Pederson didn’t make the 25-man NLDS roster, and Grandal and Austin Barnes are splitting time.
And Darvish, or at least the Darvish who silenced Arizona for five innings, is a massive rotation upgrade.
Alex Wood pitched the final inning of the ’16 Dodgers season in hopeless relief. Now he’s 16-3 with a 2.82 ERA and he hasn’t started since Sept. 26.
The 1988 Dodgers were far worse off. In losing 10 of 11 to the Mets in the regular season they were outscored, 49-18.
Writers were wondering if Cooperstown should waive all rules and induct the entire Mets’ roster en masse.
But something in the sky, maybe Mike Scisocia’s Game 4 home run, changed all that.
If this Dodger team doesn’t win this series, you might consider losing your religion.
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