The Dodgers will go all the way this year. Here's why
THE RECEIVED wisdom that great starting pitching wins in the playoffs doesn't always hold up. For every 1995 Braves or 2001 Diamondbacks, teams that rode Hall of Fame starters at their peaks to world championships, there's a 1996 Braves or 2002 Diamondbacks, teams that missed the mark with those same hurlers. In the modern baseball postseason there is no right answer, so picking the Dodgers to win the World Series has to be about more than just Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Koufax and Drysdale of the iWhiff age. Those two mean that the Dodgers will have the best starter in most of their playoff games, but ask the '11 Phillies how much that helped.
No, Los Angeles's strengths run deeper than the top of its rotation. The lineup, finally healthy with the returns of Howie Kendrick, Yasiel Puig and Enrique Hernandez, is the best among NL playoff teams, with a .326 OBP and a .413 SLG, and Don Mattingly heads into October with the most reliable bullpen he's had all year. Kenley Jansen is still the wipeout closer, with lefty J.P. Howell and righty Chris Hatcher in front of him. That trio led the Dodgers' bullpen to an ERA of 3.72 over the last month, after three months above 4.00. For all the concerns about their pen, Dodgers relievers led the NL in strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. L.A.'s path to a title works in its favor as well. Because of the NL's imbalance, the Dodgers will have to beat just one of the top three teams in the league to reach the World Series. A team that, when healthy, is deep in lefthanded bats could get through the NL playoffs without seeing more than one lefty starter.
And, yes, of course, there are Kershaw and Greinke. The two combined for video-game numbers this season: 65 starts and more than 455 innings in which they had a combined 1.90 ERA. Emphasize Kershaw's handful of bad October innings at your peril; he threw six strong innings in both his playoff starts last year before the Cardinals got to him in the seventh. He's still the best pitcher on the planet. This year he gets a ring to go with all of those trophies.
DARIN WALLENTINE/GETTY IMAGES (GREINKE)
JED JACOBSOHN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (KERSHAW)