Last week, they swept the Brewers. This week, they swept the Padres. The Dodgers, on what they believe is a methodical march to a past-due world championship, took another necessary step Thursday night by overwhelming the undermanned Padres, 12-3, clinching the National League Division Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
Back-to-back postseason sweeps are impressive -- but not to the Dodgers.
“We did what we wanted to do, we did what we were supposed to do,” said outfielder AJ Pollock. “We’re going to celebrate that, but we expected it.”
Their fourth best-of-seven NL Championship Series in the last five years begins Monday against Atlanta in Arlington, the first meeting of the clubs this year. It will be Los Angeles’ 14th NLCS appearance since its inception in 1969, tying St. Louis for the most.
“We still know what’s in front of us,” said Justin Turner, who has been on those four clubs that got this far but couldn’t end the championship drought.
The Dodgers reminded the Padres in three victories that they can play long ball and small ball and pass the baton while exploiting matchups. With the Padres forced into a bullpen game by injuries to their rotation, the Dodgers pounded out 14 hits -- a franchise-record five by Will Smith, who came in 0-for-11 -- without needing even one home run in the pitcher-friendly ballpark, after leading MLB in the category over the season. Eight players reached base, seven scored runs, six drove in runs.
“In the first two series, you saw what we’re capable of,” said manager Dave Roberts. “Everyone’s gone above and beyond. It’s a unique year, and it’s really sort of, in a weird way, galvanized us. We have a lot of work to do, but really proud of them.”
They defend reliably and, at crucial points, dazzlingly. They run the bases fearlessly to force fielding errors. They are clever and versatile and uniquely deep, balanced with both youth and experience. The pitching staff is stocked with seemingly endless power arms, an immeasurable advantage with no days off. And when they win by nine runs, the bullpen angst with the game on the line is deferred to another day.
Roberts said this Dodgers team is the best equipped to end the drought.
“It is,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of talent here over the years I’ve been here. But we’re controlling the strike zone, and in the past few years, we haven’t done that very well. It’s a credit to the hitting guys and players for understanding that. It’s a buy-in about team baseball. Everybody wants to be the hero, but taking what the pitcher gives you, when we’re at our best, we do that.”
Although their strategy to use Dustin May and his Internet-breaking sinker as an opener of a bullpen game -- to exploit his dominance over Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado -- went a little sideways after his scoreless one-inning cameo, just about everything else the Dodgers did worked efficiently in the wake of their epic Game 2 thriller.
On the mound, starter-turned-bulk-reliever Julio Urías was the winner again, as he was in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series. That time, he followed Walker Buehler with three scoreless innings. This time, he pitched five innings, retiring the first 10 batters he faced while allowing one hit, finishing with six strikeouts and balking in the only run he allowed.
What other team can piggyback an opener like May with a multi-innings reliever like Urías and not even need to use Tony Gonsolin in either series?
Urías’ first batter was the toughest, as he came in to strike out Tatis with the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning.
“You can talk about the play of the game as the first hitter he faced,” said Roberts. “He punches Tatis and that could have been a different game. Right there that just flipped the game.”
None of the foul-mouthed nastiness and equipment throwing and kiss blowing from Wednesday night’s game carried over to Game 3, and all drama vanished with the Dodgers’ five-run, 25-minute third inning.
It was sparked by an error on an otherwise spectacular try by shortstop Tatis, an RBI single that gave Turner the franchise record for postseason hits (64), and even a two-run hit by designated hitter Joc Pederson, whose final season before free agency has been a bust and the past month included time missed due to a family medical emergency.
“Records are cool,” said Turner. “Championships are better.”