Next Steps for the Los Angeles Dodgers to Win the NLCS
With a huge payroll, the Los Angeles Dodgers expect nothing less than a trip to the World Series. Here's what they will have to do in order to win the NLCS.
It has been an amazing turnaround in Los Angeles. Not only have the Dodgers drastically improved from last year, but they have gotten much better since early in this season.
An incredible come-from-behind victory in Game 4, with recap courtesy of MLB.com, gave Los Angeles time to rest and set its rotation.
The Dodgers have to be viewed as the favorites to win the title. They are stacked in just about every aspect, and their depth is tough to beat.
Even though Matt Kemp won't be in the lineup, the Dodgers have the talent to win it all. Here's what they have to do in the NLCS to keep their hopes alive.
*All stats are courtesy of MLB.com
Ride the Aces
The Detroit Tigers are the only other team in the postseason that can match what the Dodgers have at the front of their rotation. No National League team can send out two Cy Young winners to start a series.
Los Angeles has the ability to set up their rotation the way it wants. If the series goes the distance, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke will each pitch at least twice apiece.
The key to this series will be for the Dodgers to take advantage of the games that their aces pitch.
Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA this season and was phenomenal in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. The southpaw exceeded expectations by allowing only one run on three hits while striking out 12 over seven innings, and he followed that up with six innings of three-hit ball and allowed two runs—both unearned.
Greinke has been nearly as impressive this year. He finished the regular season with a 15-4 record and a 2.63 ERA. He took the loss in Game 2, but he pitched fairly well. The right-hander allowed only two runs on four hits in six innings. His team was unable to give him much run support.
Sending out two pitchers of that caliber is almost unfair. However, the Dodgers can't waste a start by one of their aces. They overcame a poor offensive showing in Game 2, but they still wasted Greinke's good start. The Dodgers nearly wasted a strong start by Kershaw in Game 4. Had they done that, the rotation for the NLCS would have been thrown off.
Greinke will likely get the ball in Game 1 after Kershaw pitched on Monday. The southpaw would then take the mound in Game 2, so the Dodgers will still be able to start the series with their aces.
If the Dodgers give their aces some runs, that will be enough to give them two quick victories early in the series.
Unleash Yasiel Puig
There's really nothing that Yasiel Puig can't do. He electrifies on offense, and he wows in the field with his cannon for an arm. Los Angeles needs to let him do what he does.
Some have criticized the rookie for his style of play, but his explosiveness brings energy to the team. When he makes a big play, he gives his team a big boost.
Manager Don Mattingly had him batting down in the order in the NLDS. No matter where he bats, Puig must use all of his skills to make things happen.
When Los Angeles needed a run to tie Atlanta in the eighth on Monday, Puig started off the inning with a double. Juan Uribe followed with a two-run shot, so Puig has shown that he can get things going.
The 22-year-old can crush a mistake pitch over the fence, and he can take an extra base on opposing defenses. The Dodgers need to encourage him to put pressure on the defense in order to get the team an extra run or two.
Puig can change a game at any time. When the Dodgers need momentum, Puig will be the guy in the middle of the action.
Grabbing momentum early in a postseason game can't be overlooked. Games can be won or lost in the first few innings, so scoring early is important for Los Angeles.
Carl Crawford, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez will have opportunities to set the tone early. Getting to a pitcher, especially aces, before they settle in has to be a priority.
Crawford can get rallies started in a variety of ways. The speedster can get a hit and take extra bases, and he can leave the yard, as he did twice early in Game 4.
When a team's top pitchers settle in, it's tough to get anything going later in the game.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, they struggled putting runs on the board in the first inning. They scored only 68 runs in the first inning this year, which ranked 24th in all of baseball. The team ranked 14th in runs scored in the second inning and tied for 23rd in the third inning.
However, they reversed that trend in the NLDS. The Dodgers scored first in three of the first four games and were on the board by the second inning of each game. They scored 13 total runs in the first three innings throughout the series, which helped them take control early.
With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on the mound, scoring a run or two early on can be all a team needs to win. Early runs allow the pitchers to pitch aggressively with confidence.
Although it's not something the team has been able to do much this year, the Dodgers are tough to beat with an early lead as they have the major's best rotation.
Don't Let Up on Offense
When looking at this lineup, it seems crazy that one team has so much talent. A lot of talent means the team can score at any time, and the Dodgers have to press for all nine innings.
Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier are just some of the names that the manager gets to pencil in the lineup. Veteran Juan Uribe has shown his value. Mark Ellis is no slouch, and Michael Young is a very dangerous bat off the bench.
Los Angeles got off to a quick start with its ace on the mound on Monday. Normally that would be enough, but shaky defense let the Braves back in the game. The Dodgers learned that they can't let up if they want to advance deep into the playoffs.
If the Dodgers are able to score early, they can't let up. Keep the bats going and don't even give the other team a chance to get back in the game. Some teams stop being aggressive once they get an early lead. With a trip to the World Series on the line, Los Angeles has to take advantage of every opportunity it gets.
Scoring in October is never easy. At this stage, every team has good pitching. Creating scoring chances will be tough, but the Dodgers have players throughout the lineup who can punish a pitcher for a mistake.
Los Angeles doesn't have a great bullpen, so scoring insurance runs will be important.
Steal Games on the Road
The Dodgers weren't a dominant home team, but they were the best road team in baseball in 2013. They won 47 games in Los Angeles, which was the fewest among the 10 playoff teams. However, they were tied with the Texas Rangers for the most road wins in the league with 45.
Los Angeles won 15 straight, and 19 of 20, on the road in the second half of the season. It knows how to go into tough environments and come away with wins.
However, the Dodgers don't know where they will start the NLCS. The other NLDS is tied at two games apiece as the series heads back to St. Louis in a winner-take-all Game 5.
If St. Louis wins that game, Los Angeles will start on the road. With the Cardinals' experience, it would be crucial for the Dodgers to win at least one of the first two games at Busch Stadium. That would give them a chance to close out the series at home.
If Pittsburgh wins Game 5, Los Angeles will have home-field advantage in the NLCS. Greinke and Kershaw would be able to set the tone at home to open the series, so it would be up to one of the pitchers in the middle of the rotation to perform in a tough stadium.
The Cardinals will run out Adam Wainwright in Game 5. If they win, the ace likely wouldn't be able to pitch until Game 3 of the NLCS. That would mean less experienced pitchers would be pitching against the Dodgers' top two pitchers. Although they'd be on the road, those would be games that the Dodgers would be expected to win.
Championship teams have to win on the road in October, and Los Angeles was the best in baseball at doing so in the regular season. Now they have to do it when it counts.