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    Alexander: Can these Dodgers subdue the ghosts of Octobers past?
    • October 7, 2023

    See if this sounds familiar.

    The Dodgers win the National League West title easily, again reaching triple-digits in victories. It earns them five days off, and then a series against the second-place NL West team, which they pretty much had their way with during the season.

    Nervous yet, Dodger fans?

    There are reasons to believe this will not be like 2022, when the Dodgers finished 22 games ahead of the Padres during the regular season and lost to San Diego in four games in an NL Division Series. (Keeping geese out of the stadium, or at least off the field, would be a good start.)

    But there are also reasons to worry, and that seldom requires much effort on the part of Dodger fans, even in what has been a tremendously successful 11-season span. Octobers, the decisions made during them and the ultimate results provide fodder for plenty of anxiety, or flat-out fatalism, among the fan base.

    We won’t go into all of the gory details through the years. Suffice it to say a good number of them have involved massive overthinking on the part of those in charge, and that means those well above Manager Dave Roberts on the organizational chart.

    In this particular case, the makeup of a starting rotation seemingly held together with chewing gum and baling wire over the last few months might lend itself even more to the Dodgers’ traditionally unorthodox strategies in the season’s most important moments.

    So before anyone proclaims that they’re a lock to win the franchise’s eighth World Series – and yeah, those thoughts are out there – some caution is in order. This could end spectacularly or it could go down in flames, again.

    Consider the opponent. The Arizona Diamondbacks basically got back to the postseason a year ahead of schedule. They were 16 games above .500 on July 1 and three games ahead of the Dodgers in the division, went 7-25 to tumble to third place and lose 15½ games in the standings by Aug. 11, and then won 10 of 13 to get back into the wild card hunt.

    Then they swept the 92-win Milwaukee Brewers this week to get to the next round, a testament to either the Diamondbacks’ resilience or the weakness of the NL Central. Or both.

    If you really want to dig into historical precedent, consider the 2019 Washington Nationals. They were 19-21 on May 13 of that season and the job of Manager Dave Martinez was in jeopardy. They finished 93-69 and second in the East, rallied in the ninth to beat Milwaukee in the wild card game, took out the Dodgers in Game 5 of an NLDS in The Ravine – we won’t relive those crushing home runs, thank you – and went on to win the World Series.

    None of that will be pertinent once Clayton Kershaw throws his first pitch at around 6:20 on Saturday evening in Dodger Stadium, but it’s eerie enough to scare the heck out of the faithful.

    The original thought was that the series schedule – with the TV schedule dictating a day off Sunday between Games 1 and 2 and travel days Tuesday and, if necessary, Friday – should be a break for the Dodgers. They’re still sorting through how to deploy a collection of starters that includes a physically compromised Kershaw, rookies Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Emmet Sheehan and home run machine Lance Lynn, in order to get the games into the hands of what has become an exceptional bullpen over the last three months.

    But those days off work for the D-Backs as well, because they can run aces Merrill Kelly (12-8) and Zac Gallen (17-9) out there in four of the five games if needed, none on short rest.

    Then again, each is 0-2 against the Dodgers this season, Gallen with a 9.90 ERA and an opponents’ OPS of 1.079 in three starts and Kelly with a 3.98 ERA and a .873 opponents’ OPS in four. When Gallen faced the Dodgers on Aug. 28 at Dodger Stadium, he gave up four homers in 5⅓ innings, all to lefties: Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy, Jason Heyward and James Outman.

    (And for those who haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the D-Backs, no, there will be no Madison Bumgarner sightings this week. He was released by Arizona on April 26, was not signed by anyone else and could be at the end of the line at age 34, with 134 career victories in 15 seasons, 2,070 career strikeouts and three World Series rings, all with San Francisco.)

    The overriding point: Little of what happened earlier this season matters now, beyond the idea that a deciding fifth game would be played in Dodger Stadium a week from Saturday if it came to that.

    Is this Dodgers team capable of exorcising those ghosts of Octobers past and winning its second championship in four seasons, and its first in a non-COVID season since 1988? Certainly.

    This club scored 906 runs in the regular season, second in the majors only to Atlanta’s 947. It’s capable of maintaining that pace even against postseason pitching and has cashed in two-out opportunities at a pace resembling October of 2020. If the pitchers – be it with piggyback usage, an opener-bulk format or even a traditional starter on a good night – can get a lead to the seventh, they’ll hand it to what seems to be as close to a lockdown bullpen as this club has had in a long time. The relievers will benefit from the extra off days, too.

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    The players who suffered through that mad celebration last October in San Diego – not only inside Petco Park but throughout the Gaslamp Quarter – remember the feeling. Roberts acknowledged earlier this season that there was a lack of urgency in that series with the Padres, maybe because of the five days off before Game 1 but more likely because they’d won 14 of 19 from the Padres in the regular season.

    Significantly, newcomers Heyward, Miguel Rojas and David Peralta have helped create a team chemistry that Roberts said made this his “most joyful” season of managing.

    “This is a closer team,” Roberts told reporters Friday at Dodger Stadium, adding: “With what happened last year and how quick the exit was, I still think that looms with a lot of guys.”

    We’ll find out in this series if last year’s lessons took hold. Then again, for the Dodgers to get to where they and their fans really want to go, the road gets a lot tougher after this.

    Way too soon, in other words, to plan a parade.

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    ​ Orange County Register