Make it 11 in a row … and counting.
When the Dodgers begin play in a National League Division Series on Saturday at Dodger Stadium, it will mark the 11th consecutive time they’ve qualified for the postseason. For the 10th time in that span they will chase a World Series title as champions of the NL West.
Their opponent will be the winner of the wild-card series between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. That best-of-three series, with all games set for American Family Field in Milwaukee, starts Tuesday.
In a roundtable discussion moderated by Times baseball editor Hans Tesselaar, Times reporters Jack Harris, Mike DiGiovanna and Jorge Castillo discuss the Dodgers’ chances of winning an eighth championship in franchise history.
Unlike previous seasons, the Dodgers didn’t enter 2023 as huge favorites to win the division. They followed their stunning upset loss to the San Diego Padres in the NLDS last season by losing Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger to free agency. They signed several veterans (Jason Heyward, David Peralta and J.D. Martinez, to name a few) who were coming off subpar seasons. They lost pitchers to season-ending injuries (Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin), and their ace, Julio Urías, was placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball after his arrest on suspicion of felony domestic violence. And yet they still ran away with the division and won 100 games. How did they do it?
Harris: The easy answers: star power from Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Clayton Kershaw; and surprise depth production from unheralded veterans and rookies. Betts and Freeman were the catalysts for an offense that finished second in the majors in scoring, the first 1-2 hitters ever to both bat .300 and post an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .975 or better. Kershaw was the rock for their 13th-ranked pitching staff, his 13-5, 2.46 ERA season serving as the best in a revolving, short-handed rotation.
Elsewhere, rookie James Outman settled in at center field. A collection of young arms led by Bobby Miller accounted for the sixth-most innings pitched by rookies, and fourth-most wins above replacement. And the Dodgers hit on low-risk offseason signings in Martinez (33 home runs, 103 RBIs) and Heyward (who finished with the fourth-best OPS on the team).
DiGiovanna: Rookie right-handers Miller, Emmet Sheehan and — for the past six weeks — Ryan Pepiot plugged some holes in the rotation, and a bullpen led by closer Evan Phillips and setup men Ryan Brasier and Brusdar Graterol has been the best in baseball since June 20, when Brasier was called up from triple-A. MVP candidates Betts and Freeman fueled an offense that ranked second in baseball in runs, homers and OPS, but the lineup got deeper as the season went on, with Max Muncy, Martinez and Outman providing plenty of thump. The Dodgers also hit well in the clutch, leading the league with 359 two-out RBIs and a .791 OPS with two outs.
Castillo: With two of the best players in the world and the ability to consistently develop major-league talent. The Dodgers’ combination of spending and player development is unmatched. They boast the sixth-most expensive payroll in the majors, according to Spotrac, and the sixth-best farm system, according to MLB Pipeline.
Down the 5 Freeway, the Angels won 73 games and have the 28th-ranked farm system. The Dodgers not only can sign Betts and Freeman — two top-four NL MVP candidates — long term, but they have players like Miller, Pepiot, Sheehan and Outman contribute in meaningful ways as rookies. They prepare for the future without sacrificing the present better than any other organization. This year was the best example.
Who do the Dodgers match up better with, the Brewers or the Diamondbacks?
Harris: Both clubs are similar, with talented rotations backed up by hit-or-miss offenses. The Brewers have the bigger names, with former Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes and former NL MVP Christian Yelich. But the Diamondbacks have the likely rookie of the year in Corbin Carroll and a pair of quality starters in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly.
If I’m the Dodgers, I think I’d prefer the Diamondbacks. They backed their way into the postseason, going just 32-39 post-All-Star break. They went just 5-8 against the Dodgers this year (including sweeps by the Dodgers in their past two series). And if L.A. can control their run game (Arizona had the second-most steals in the majors this year), they might struggle to score.
DiGiovanna: Arizona. The Diamondbacks can run you ragged on the basepaths and are superb defensively, but the Dodgers swept a three-game series from them in Los Angeles by a combined score of 23-5 in late August and roughed up their two best pitchers, Gallen and Kelly, for 13 runs and 21 hits, including four homers, in 10⅓ innings. The Dodgers won five of six from Milwaukee but faced their top starters only twice, scoring one run on eight hits in 13 innings against Burnes and Freddy Peralta.
Castillo: The Diamondbacks because — even possibly without Brandon Woodruff for the postseason — the Brewers have the better pitching staff. Milwaukee finished tied for first in the majors in team ERA (3.73). Their bullpen featured four relievers with at least 53 appearances and an ERA under 2.59. The relief corps, whose 3.40 ERA ranked second in baseball, is led by All-Star closer Devin Williams. Behind a wicked changeup, Williams compiled 36 saves and a 1.53 ERA in 61 games.
Woodruff has been an All-Star. He posted a 2.59 ERA in nine starts after returning from a right shoulder injury in early August. Not having him would be a blow — he’s dealing with shoulder trouble again and has been ruled out for the wild-card series — but the Brewers still boast Burnes, Peralta, Wade Miley and Adrian Houser for their playoff rotation.
The Diamondbacks have the edge on Milwaukee on offense and a strong one-two punch atop their starting rotation in Gallen and Kelly, but their pitching staff isn’t nearly as strong from top to bottom.
Can the Dodgers realistically contend for the title with a rotation full of rookies? And what about Kershaw and his diminished velocity? And Lance Lynn’s propensity to give up home runs?
Harris: It seems doubtful. But the Dodgers are hopeful nonetheless, confident their staff possesses enough “big boy stuff” (president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman’s term) to keep opponents off balance and out of rhythm, especially as they could face a different pitcher almost every time through the order.
It will require almost all of the Dodgers staff to perform well (a big ask in October, especially with Kershaw battling his shoulder issue and all of the rookies experiencing the playoffs for the first time). But the team feels it has little other choice. Their staff was rocked by personnel losses this year. They’re banking on their depth to compensate.
DiGiovanna: Yes, but it will take a four-week run of effectiveness if not dominance from their relievers and some deft bullpen management by Dave Roberts, who must keep his high-leverage arms fresh, find the best lanes for middle men such as Shelby Miller, Caleb Ferguson, Joe Kelly, Alex Vesia and Ryan Yarbrough and some good piggyback situations for Sheehan and Pepiot. And they have to hit. For power. In the clutch. And situationally, advancing runners or scoring them from third with productive outs. The more the offense can build early leads and ease pressure on the pitching staff, the deeper they will play in October.
Castillo: It’ll be more difficult navigating games and series, no doubt, but they have the pieces to secure 27 outs each night. The pressure will be on Roberts to push the right buttons without a bona fide ace to absorb innings — Kershaw, based on his final eight starts, can’t be counted on for more than five. Lynn will need to execute better. Miller and Pepiot will be counted on to perform on the biggest stage. A lot needs to go right. But the Dodgers’ bullpen has been the best, by the numbers, in the majors since mid-June.
Further, the Dodgers aren’t the only team in the playoff field with question marks. Every club has a few. Once the playoffs start, anything goes. Remember last year? The Dodgers won 111 games and seemingly had no flaws. They were bounced in four games and the 87-win Phillies reached the World Series. Rarely does October go as predicted.
If the Dodgers do reach the NL Championship Series, they probably will go up against the Atlanta Braves, MLB’s best team during the regular season. How can the Dodgers beat them four out of seven times?
Harris: Offense. The Braves rotation is good, but could be susceptible (especially with Max Fried and Charlie Morton both missing time with injuries late in the year). Atlanta is going to hit. And the Dodgers will have to limit them as best they can. But if L.A. is to pull an NLCS upset, it will have to be on the strength of their offense — facing the tall task of trying to outslug the majors’ best offense.
DiGiovanna: By out-slugging them — a near impossibility considering the firepower of the Braves — and neutralizing their hitters as much as possible with a variety of different looks on the mound. The Dodgers stars — Betts, Freeman, Martinez, Muncy, Will Smith — need to shine, but they’ll need significant contributions from the bottom half of the lineup to keep up with the Braves.
Castillo: With the same formula they used to win 100 games during the regular season: Betts and Freeman fueling the offense, and the bullpen executing the way it has since mid-June.
Last season, the Dodgers and Braves were the top two seeds in the NL and neither won a playoff series. Is there a National League team capable of replicating what the Philadelphia Phillies did in 2022, advancing to the World Series as a wild-card team?
Harris: If there is, it’s probably the Miami Marlins. While the Diamondbacks don’t seem to have the pitching depth to make a deep run, Miami has a Dodgers-esque staff of young arms with promising stuff, one that could pose a challenge even in longer division and league championship series. Miami also finished the season hot, overcoming some final-week scheduling challenges (can we get some more oversight on these MLB grounds crews, please?) to become perhaps the unlikeliest team in the playoffs this year. Their path would be brutal (Philadelphia, then Atlanta), but wilder things have happened.
DiGiovanna: Of course. We’ve seen how wild-card teams build momentum with first-round upsets while top seeds struggle to restart after five-day layoffs, and the 90-win Phillies, with their blend of power and speed, potentially dominant starters Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola and a nice collection of power arms in the bullpen could be poised to make another World Series run.
Castillo: Yes. The Philadelphia Phillies.
Finally, our traditional closing question. Complete this sentence: The Dodgers will finish the postseason …
Harris: With a competitive, but ultimately unsuccessful, elimination in the NLCS. This team should beat Milwaukee or Arizona, especially with their pitching staff set to benefit from an extra off day in the NLDS. They should push either Atlanta or Philadelphia after that, avoiding the intensity woes that doomed last year’s squad. But no team in recent memory has won a pennant without at least one workhorse starter. And unless Kershaw suddenly recaptures top form, or Miller stages an October for the ages, it seems likely the Dodgers will run out of gas on the mound in a best-of-seven series against a high-octane offense.
DiGiovanna: Just like they did in 2021, by losing a six-game NLCS to Atlanta.
Castillo: Losing in the NLCS.