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Dodgers face pressure and strong opponent

Rockies, D-backs both had winning records against NL West champs @TracyRingolsby

DENVER -- The grind is over for the Dodgers. Now comes the challenge.

DENVER -- The grind is over for the Dodgers. Now comes the challenge.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

They ran away with the National League West, claiming their fifth consecutive division title and winning a best-in-baseball 104 games, one shy of the franchise record set back in 1953 when the Dodgers still called Brooklyn home. They have assured themselves of home-field advantage as long as they are alive in the postseason.

And that's the challenges. No longer is it a matter of long-term survival. It's now the world of a short series, which can be unforgiving, as the Dodgers know.

Consider the Dodgers are making their fifth consecutive postseason appearance, the 11th appearance since they stunned the A's and claimed the World Series in 1988. They haven't even played in a World Series since. They have been eliminated in the NL Championship Series six times and the NL Division Series four times.

If that isn't enough of a cloud hanging over Dodger Stadium, they ran away with the division with such ease that they won the 104 games despite an 11-game losing streak, the longest losing streak in Major League history for a team with 100 or more wins.

And don't overlook the fact that since the advent of the Wild Card in 1995, and the expansion of the postseason by a best-of-five series, the team with the best record in baseball has won only five World Series. Over that same 22-year stretch a Wild Card entry has claimed a world championship six times.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts isn't dwelling on the negatives.

He is looking for reasons to succeed. He wants to make history, not relive it.

Video: Tracy Ringolsby on Rockies and NL Wild Card Game

"You look back at our season, and we did what we wanted to do," he said of winning the NL West. "Now we are ready to look ahead to the postseason. It's what we have been looking forward to from the start of Spring Training."

What Roberts sees is a team that is relatively healthy and because of the way they dominated the NL West they are fairly well-rested. He sees a team that may have stumbled through that 11-game losing streak as part of a stretch that ended on Sept. 11 with the Dodgers having lost 16 out of 17 games, but still comfortably atop the NL West with a nine-game lead.

"We have won 12 of our last 18," he said after a Sunday victory in Colorado brought the regular season to an end. "I think our troubles are over. We have been playing quality baseball lately."

They do have that home-field edge, and they were 57-24 at Dodger Stadium during the regular season, five more wins than any other team had at home.

NLDS Game 1: Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT on TBS

But here is the rub.

There are only two teams that had a winning record against the Dodgers this year -- the D-backs (11-8) and the Rockies (10-9). Those are the two teams that are playing on Wednesday night in Phoenix in the NL Wild Card Game. The Dodgers, by virtue of the best regular-season record in baseball, are matched up with the Wild Card in the NLDS.

There is that added pressure from within that can come from having failed to advance to the World Series in four consecutive postseasons. Since the initial expansion of the postseason with the addition of what was then a best-of-five NLCS there are only two other franchises who have advanced to the postseason and failed to make it to the World Series in four consecutive years, and both of those teams were at the end of long runs of postseason play.

The Yankees came up short from 2004-07, but that was at the end of a run of 13 consecutive postseason appearances, which included six World Series appearances and four world championships. And the Braves failed in a six-year stretch from 2000-05, the final six years of an MLB-record 14 consecutive postseason appearances, which included five World Series in the first eight years, and a world championship in 1995.

None of that, however, concerns Roberts. Those are struggles of teams of the past.

"We aren't looking back," said Roberts. "It is what is in front of us that we are focused on."

Roberts wants to see the Dodgers make history, not repeat it.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for


Los Angeles Dodgers