LOS ANGELES — No matter which opponent emerged from the seven-game AL Championship Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers could watch from home knowing they’re sitting pretty.
The Dodgers earned a four-day break before the World Series through their quick resolution of the NLCS, which ended Thursday in Chicago with Los Angeles’ seventh win in eight playoff games. The extended breaks between their two brief playoff series have allowed the 104-win Dodgers to keep their starting rotation in order and on full rest, and to give plenty of recovery time to their dominant bullpen.
It might even be enough time for All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to return from the back injury that kept him out of the NLCS.
The benefits of the Dodgers’ major league-best regular season have echoed deep into October, where they’re the first team to get home-field advantage in the World Series due to their superior record since baseball dropped the All-Star Game result as the determining factor.
The Dodgers opened both of their NL playoff series at home, and they’ve made only two round-trip plane flights this month, spending just a handful of nights away from home. They finished off both opponents on the road and hurried back to LA, playing only one game over the minimum necessary to reach the World Series.
Los Angeles also coasted into the postseason, essentially wrapping up its fifth straight NL West title in mid-September and comfortably holding off Cleveland for the majors’ best record, even though the Dodgers weren’t aggressively going for that goal.
Meanwhile, all three of their playoff opponents have entered their series after being stretched to the limit.
Arizona reached the NLDS only after winning a draining wild-card game against Colorado two days earlier, which meant Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke couldn’t face LA until Game 3.
After sweeping weary Arizona, Los Angeles had four days off before the arrival of the Cubs, who narrowly survived an exhausting five-game NLDS with Washington. They made a 10-hour flight to the West Coast — complete with an unplanned layover in Albuquerque — with a depleted pitching staff, and the Dodgers promptly took charge of the series.
The Dodgers outscored the Cubs 28-8 overall, and Chicago couldn’t score a run except on homers — one of the Los Angeles pitching staff’s few weaknesses. The Dodgers’ bullpen has been indomitable, posting an 0.94 playoff ERA and striking out 32 batters in 28 2/3 innings.
They routed Chicago even without Seager, who stayed home to rest his back. If he is able to return for the World Series, he adds yet another dimension to a lineup that has proven extraordinarily resourceful all season.
After winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2016, Seager led the Dodgers with 159 hits during the regular season, batting .295 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs. He went 3 for 11 with four walks and two RBIs in the division series, batting second in the lineup in all three games.
But Seager tweaked his back in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against Arizona, and Los Angeles left him off the NLCS roster in favor of Charlie Culberson, who had only 15 plate appearances for the Dodgers in the regular season. Culberson improbably came through with several big plays against the Cubs, going 5 for 11 and playing strong defense.
Culberson seems likely to make the Dodgers’ World Series roster as insurance against another injury for Seager. If Seager is healthy, the odd position player out could be veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson, who has struggled mightily in the playoffs, going 1 for 15 with eight strikeouts.