The Los Angeles Dodgers are a damn fine baseball team that ultimately has little to show for all of its talent. Did you know they have made the National League Championship Series five out of the last 10 years? Probably not, because they haven’t advanced to the World Series even once during that span. Baseball, my friends, is terrible, but playoff baseball is actually worse. It’s that recurring dream where you’re being chased by snakes with fangs and alligators that can zigzag across interstates but you can’t run from them because you’re paralyzed. Playoff baseball is like that, except your private nightmare is broadcast on national television and mocked by Internet trolls. (I Googled it, and the only thing worse in the history of autumn is the electoral college.)
Despite playing in the second-largest market in the country and possessing a payroll larger than a medium-size country’s GDP, the Dodgers have not advanced to the World Series since 1988. As a fifth-generation Angeleno who has written a book on this team and their quest to win it all, I am here to help. Because I was born into this shit — and the mental and emotional health of the people around me will be greatly impacted by how well a group of 25 grown-ass men play a children’s game these next few days — I consulted the baseball gods and determined the 10 things the Dodgers must do — and not do! — to end this three-decade farce get back to the World Series.
1. Do not leave Clayton Kershaw to die on the mound
The Dodgers have the best pitcher in baseball. He has struggled in the playoffs. People on Twitter call him a choker. I have fought these people online. So here’s the deal: the playoffs are hard. Every pitch is stressful. When Kershaw is his normal, unhittable, magical self, his fastball sits at a comfortable 93 — not 94, not 92. But because the human body is a terrible machine that plays host to a never ending civil war between adrenaline and inertia, and because Kershaw is a mensch who wants to win so bad, he typically comes out in the first inning of playoff games throwing 95. I’ve even seen him hit 97. You’re thinking, this is good, right? The harder he throws, the more difficult it is for batters to hit it? Well, I’ve watched almost every start of his career — yes, I know I need to get a life — and when I see 95 on the gun I get scared for two reasons. First, movement is more important than velocity, and his 95s flatten out and miss the corners pitchers have to ever-so-slightly nick to be effective. Second, starting pitchers are like iPhone batteries. There are only so many applications you can run at once before you’re down to 17% and sitting on the floor at a party with your charging cable plugged into the wall like a nerd.
In the regular season, at least before his back injury last year, it wasn’t that unusual for Kershaw to pitch into the eighth. But in the playoffs, he throws harder than usual, he’s more stressed by every pitch, and he’s basically cooked after six. This would all be fine if the Dodgers didn’t continue to trot him out there for the seventh, over and over again, and watch him shrivel from GOAT to goat. In other words, Kershaw’s playoff woes aren’t mental. If you erase the seventh inning out of his playoff history, the narrative dies. He’s not bad in the seventh inning because he’s scared: he’s bad because he’s tired.
Last October, Kershaw took the ball four times in nine days, logging two road wins, a no-decision, and a series-clinching save on one day’s rest. Starting pitchers usually go once every five days. He went f o u r t i m e s i n n i n e d a y s. And then he fell apart five days later in Game 6 of the NLCS because his body broke down — though he’d never admit it — and the Dodgers were eliminated. The Kershaw Is Actually Bad truthers, who had been silenced for a week, came out of their basements to gloat. I’m not mad about it, I swear.
But remember Madison Bumgarner’s mythic 2014 postseason, by which all other starting pitchers are judged? Well, he never started on short rest. In fact, the only time he pitched without at least four days rest was when he closed out Game 7 of the World Series, which is totally appropriate, because there was literally no tomorrow. If the Dodgers want to win it all, they should (sigh) learn from the Giants and stop riding Kershaw until he’s gassed. It’s not fair to him or the team or their fans or (most importantly) to me. Count on Kersh for six solid innings, then get the bullpen going before the seventh begins and take it batter by batter. This is not a sign of disrespect; it is a symbol of affection.