The pool awaits.
Ten years after the Dodgers’ memorable division-clinching celebration in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field pool, and six years after the Diamondbacks enlisted horse-mounted police to prevent an encore in the 2017 playoffs, the two division foes are set for another October meeting in the National League Division Series starting Saturday at Dodger Stadium.
The matchup was confirmed Wednesday night, courtesy of the Diamondbacks’ sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card round.
When the Diamondbacks recorded their final out, a crowd of several hundred Dodgers season-ticket holders at Chavez Ravine — in attendance for the team’s open workout, where the Diamondbacks game was shown on the scoreboards — broke into a “Let’s go, Dodgers” chant, seemingly emboldened by their recent dominance in a one-sided division rivalry.
In each of the last five seasons, the Dodgers have won their season series against Arizona. Despite the Diamondbacks’ run to a wild card this year, their results against the Dodgers weren’t much different, with L.A. winning eight of 13 matchups and sweeping both of the teams’ most recent series in August.
It doesn’t mean the Diamondbacks will be an easy out.
While they won’t benefit from the week of rest and home-field advantage afforded to the Dodgers — who as the NL’s No. 2 seed got a bye in the wild-card round — the Diamondbacks might have a starting pitching edge in the best-of-five series.
Then, thanks to an extra day off before Game 2 on Monday, the Diamondbacks will be able to not only start their ace, Zac Gallen, on normal rest against Dodgers rookie Bobby Miller, but also turn back to Kelly and Gallen on normal rest in Games 4 and 5, respectively, if necessary.
“We’re really familiar with them,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations. “They’re a really good team. We have a lot of history with them. We know them well. They know us well, and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Dodgers could make it a quick series. They had success against both Gallen and Kelly this season, scoring 20 runs against the duo in 30⅓ combined innings (a 5.93 ERA).
After struggling against Arizona’s dynamic running game early in the year — the Diamondbacks opened the season with five wins (and 12 steals) in eight games against the Dodgers over the first two weeks — the Dodgers rebounded, overtaking the Diamondbacks for first place in late July before winning five straight in the rivalry during August to run away with the division crown.
And while the Dodgers clinched the NL West on Sept. 16 — their 10th division title in 11 years — the Diamondbacks scrapped for their postseason berth up until the season’s penultimate day, snapping a six-year playoff drought despite going 32-39 after the All-Star break.
The last time the Diamondbacks were in the postseason in 2017, their run ended quickly against a juggernaut Dodgers squad. The Dodgers won each of the first two games in L.A. Then, they completed an NLDS sweep in Game 3 in Phoenix, where any plans for another celebratory pool party, like the one the 2013 Dodgers threw to their hosts’ chagrin, were halted by horse-mounted police stationed on the warning track.
Those Dodgers went on to their first of three recent NL pennants. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, slipped into a lengthy rebuild from which they emerged only this season, when rookie sensation Corbin Carroll spearheaded a surprise from one of MLB’s youngest rosters.
“They’re a good team,” Friedman said. “I think you could’ve seen us at a period in May and questioned how good we were. I think that’s baseball. The point is, over a season, talent rises to the top and they’re in this position. They put themselves there because they’re a good team. So are we.”
Given the short-handed nature of their pitching staff, advancing will require a team effort.
Dustin May, Tony Gonoslin and Walker Buehler all are sidelined by injuries or rehab, while Julio Urías remains on administrative leave following his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence last month.
The Dodgers might not have any traditional starting pitchers beyond Miller and Kershaw, who has been battling shoulder troubles and diminished velocity the last couple of months. Friedman acknowledged the obvious when he said the Dodgers could opt for a “more unconventional” approach on the mound — one likely utilizing openers, bulk relievers and piggyback starts, and almost certain to rely heavily upon rookies Miller, Emmet Sheehan and Ryan Pepiot.
“What is lacking potentially in some experience, you have in talent,” general manager Brandon Gomes said. “But overall this group has performed really well, especially down the stretch. So excited to see these guys get out there and perform.”
Beyond the rotation, the Dodgers’ advantages over the Diamondbacks are much more stark.
The Dodgers ranked second in the majors in scoring at 5.6 runs per game, 12 spots and a full run better than the Diamondbacks.
Even after early struggles by their relievers, the Dodgers’ bullpen also was more stout, finishing with a third-ranked ERA of 3.42 compared to Arizona’s 18th-ranked 4.22.
All of it should make the Dodgers favorites to advance to the NLCS. They should have every opportunity to continue their Diamondbacks dominance.
Whether it will culminate with another dip in the pool remains to be seen.