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Dodgers sitting pretty as they await NLCS foe

Beating Atlanta in four games gives LA chance to rest, get healthier, align rotation

LOS ANGELES -- And so the Dodgers' march toward their World Series goal continues with a National League Championship Series berth against the …

Well, we'll have to get back to you on that one.

The Dodgers won't know their NLCS opponent until the conclusion of Game 5 between the Pirates and Cardinals, to be played Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT on TBS, and therein lies the advantage the Dodgers' quick ouster of the Braves has created.

"This time of year, it's good for everybody to have a chance to heal," general manager Ned Colletti said. "We're just glad we won. We're glad we're not getting on a flight to Georgia. I love Georgia; I just don't love Georgia in October."

Colletti has a lot to love about this October and, specifically, how the Dodgers set up for the next round.

Because Clayton Kershaw took care of business on short rest in Game 4 against Atlanta, he'll have the benefit of full rest for Game 2 of the NLCS on Saturday. And in Zack Greinke, who last pitched Friday, the Dodgers will have a rested and ready co-ace at their disposal for Game 1 this Friday.

But where will Game 1 be? If the opponent is the Cards, it'll be in St. Louis. If it's the Bucs, the Dodgers aren't going anywhere. They'd open up at home.

"We'll sit here and wait," second baseman Mark Ellis said. "Obviously you want to open at home, but we don't care. We want to rest up for a couple days and then come back fighting."

The Dodgers weren't an appreciably better team at home (47-34) than they were on the road (45-36) this season, so that aspect of the matchup might not matter. And as far as head-to-heads are concerned, they were 4-3 against the Cardinals and 4-2 against the Pirates, so that little bit of recent history is basically a wash, to the extent that it matters at all.

What matters is that the Dodgers are closely resembling the club that rattled off 42 wins in a 50-game stretch this summer, and they're doing it without Matt Kemp and with Andre Ethier in a limited role. Ethier, in fact, might be ready for a more pronounced role with a little more rest. His left ankle continues to make progress, and he would lengthen an already lethal lineup.

And if the NL Division Series performances of leadoff man Carl Crawford (.353/.421/.882) and their middle-of-the-order hitters -- Hanley Ramirez (.500/.556/1.063), Adrian Gonzalez (.333/.333/.500) and Yasiel Puig (.471/.500/.529) -- is to be believed, it might not matter much who the actual opponent is. The Cards or Bucs will have their hands full.

Of course, the Dodgers will be tested, too. There is a fundamental difference between the Braves team they just dispatched back to Georgia and their potential foes from the NL Central: the availability of an actual ace.

For the Cardinals, it's Adam Wainwright, though because of his use in Game 5, he wouldn't be available to St. Louis until Game 3, which would be a big break for L.A. The Dodgers faced Wainwright on Aug. 5 and beat him, scoring three runs on seven hits in seven innings, but that doesn't mean they're lining up to face him twice in a short series.

The Cards would have to go young with their starting selections early in the NLCS. Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha would all be options. Wacha was perfect through five and dominant overall in his Game 4 start against the Pirates on Monday, so he'd be an intriguing choice. Or the Redbirds could put Shelby Miller back in the rotation, though the rookie sensation showed signs of wearing down in September.

Of all the Cardinals starters who faced the Dodgers this season, Lynn fared the best, holding them scoreless on two hits over six innings on May 24, but that was, of course, before the Dodgers hit their summer stride.

As for the Buccos, Francisco Liriano is the ace in question, and he'd be available to go in Game 1. The Dodgers haven't faced him this season, and they've been fortunate in that regard. But it is worth noting that Liriano hasn't been nearly as good on the road (4.33 ERA in 15 starts) as he has been at home (1.47 ERA in 11 starts) this season.

The Dodgers managed just one run on four hits and four walks but nonetheless beat A.J. Burnett way back on April 6. They faced rookie sensation Gerrit Cole on June 16 and tagged him for three runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings but lost the game.

When it comes to the bats, the Cards have the more productive lineup, with an uncanny ability to consistently come through in the clutch and an all-time great October hero in Carlos Beltran. But they do struggle against lefties (.672 OPS vs. a .755 OPS against right-handers). The Dodgers, therefore, would be in good shape strategically with Kershaw in Game 2 and most likely Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 3, though Ryu's NLDS start obviously created concern about his tender elbow and his ability to handle the postseason stage.

The Pirates had the least effective offense of any of the postseason teams, averaging just 3.91 runs per game in the regular season. But as they demonstrated in Games 2 and 3 of their series with the Cardinals, regular-season stats don't matter much.

What matters is heat and health. The Dodgers have several hot bats, and the extra rest will be beneficial to the hottest of them all -- that of Ramirez, who has battled a bad back that is clearly affecting him in the field but not the plate.

Buying themselves a three-day break will be beneficial to the Dodgers. They have some sorting out to do in their bullpen, where Paco Rodriguez's struggles have come to a head, they continue to hold out hope that Ethier can rejoin them in the field, and they have to realign their rotation. It definitely beats a flight to Atlanta for a Game 5.

Instead, the only Game 5 the Dodgers have to be concerned with is the one in St. Louis on Wednesday. They'll be watching from the comforts of home, soon to discover whether or not they'll be staying in the comforts of home.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.
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