It’s rare when a team is favored to win a series when down 2-1. But then teams that are down 2-1 aren’t usually the Dodgers. Hell, the Dodgers might have still been favored before Game 3. After putting up 15 runs in the span of six outs over two games (four in the 9th of Game 2, 11 in the 1st of Game 3, a 15-3 win), it already feels like a runaway train the Braves are going to have to corral. Maybe they can call Denzel.
While the furor and debate over the Dodgers’ legacy was already raging before whatever happens in these playoffs, the lack of off-days only helps the Dodgers remain the all-conquering Kraken they are during the season. With a normal playoff schedule, one with off-days, teams get to cut off the bottom of their roster. It’s a compression boost. We’ll go into this more in-depth if the Dodgers spit it in the rest of the series, but basically what looks to be a huge advantage due to the difference in regular-season win totals shrinks or even disappears in normal playoff years thanks to how opponents can transform.
This isn’t that. Here, the fact that the Dodgers have seven starters matters. The fact that their bench players wouldn’t just start elsewhere, but probably hit in the middle of the lineup matters. So while Kyle Wright might have had a nice closing stretch to his season, he’s still a neophyte pitcher with less than 70 innings in the majors and just 12 career starts. And while the Dodgers do beat good pitching, they feast on the bottoms of rotations and the backs of bullpens. You can’t dance through the raindrops vs. them if you don’t have the stuff. Wright found that out more violently than just about anyone has in a playoff game.
It’s why the Dodgers can shrug off an injury to Clayton Kershaw, have Julio Urias waiting, and feel fine. Meanwhile, the Braves have to turn to another rookie in Bryse Wilson for Game 4 who’s barely been in the majors longer than a fart in the wind, and then after that, either have to cycle through Max Fried and Ian Anderson again on three days’ rest or juggle chainsaws in Game 5 again. Meanwhile, the Dodgers still can go to Dustin May or turn around to Walker Buehler again in Game 5.
There is no dropoff with Los Angeles. This format only accentuates that.
That said, last night’s blowout actually benefits the Braves, who wouldn’t have felt any need to toss the top of their bullpen out there at any point. Melancon, Martin, Matzek, Smith, O’Day all got a day off, which means they’re probably good to go for at least the next two and probably the next three. They’ll be needed considering who the Braves have to start those games. Knowing how to lose a game with this format is key. Look where it got the Rays.
The noise about Clayton Kershaw’s start in Game 4 tonight is already crescendoing. It’s building off all the ones that came before. Kershaw has of course pitched with the Dodgers up against it before. Some have gone well, like his Game 5 relief performance against the Nats in 2016 or against the Mets in Game 4 2015. Many more have not.
The unfortunate thing for Kershaw is that a dominant start that greases the tracks to another Dodgers pennant will just be seen as a team triumph. He’ll be a gear in the machine. Should he lose, he’ll wear another playoff failure mostly on his own. Suddenly he’ll be the wrench. You’d think a team trailing 2-1 that gets to turn to the best pitcher of the generation would feel like a lock. Strangely it doesn’t. Baseball is going to baseball on ya.