Hoornstra: The week that changed everything in the National League playoffs

first_imgThe one week that changed everything in the National League began with a relaxed vibe in Los Angeles. The home clubhouse at Dodger Stadium had already opened to reporters when Manny Machado entered wearing a loud crimson suit and matching dress pants. The tartan pattern screamed Scotland, his white Dolce & Gabbana undershirt was essentially Italian, while Machado’s vintage white canvas shoes channeled Postwar Wimbledon Casual.A few lockers down, starting pitcher Walker Buehler had no fewer than 10 pairs of shoes crammed into his locker. The crown jewel sat in a top-shelf cubby: a pair of golden baseball cleats bearing the logo of Vanderbilt University.The Dodgers, it seemed, were ready for vacation.In the snug visitors’ clubhouse, the Colorado Rockies’ players mingled casually with reporters and equipment men and each other. An up-tempo playlist drowned the din. Game 162 was in the books and Game 163 to decide first place in the National League West was a few hours away. To a casual observer, it felt as if every student in class had been handed a pop quiz after the last day of school. The alternate timeline isn’t hard to conjure. The Cubs won the regular-season series against the Brewers, which earned them the right to host Game 163. Had they simply won that game, or the wild card game the following day, the Cubs would not have left home for almost two weeks, from Sept. 24 to Oct. 7. It was the easiest schedule of any Game 163 participant, and the Cubs completely wasted their advantage.The Rockies went 19-9 in September. They had momentum, and they had their best road starter (German Marquez) on the mound for Game 163. Had they beaten the Dodgers they would have earned a full two days off at home, followed by Games 1 and 2 against the Braves in Denver, followed by a flight to Atlanta on Saturday. Freeland, a Colorado native and the most dominant pitcher in the history of Coors Field, could have pitched a playoff game at Coors Field. Losing three consecutive games would have been stunning.In hindsight, Game 163 meant more than we could have imagined.Several outlets recently wrote 25th-anniversary odes to the “last great pennant race,” between the Braves and the Giants in 1993. Placing such a mantle on one race is pure nostalgia. That race played out 25 years after the leagues split into divisions in the first place, so it means more to those who began following baseball between 1969 and 1993. A younger fan can’t remember the pre-wild card format, while older fans might pine for the days when the champion of each league advanced directly to the World Series.Besides, the idea that adding a wild card team or two cheapens the meaning of winning your division seems foolish now. The difference between winning a division and finishing second looked as meaningful as ever last week. How Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling topped the baseball podcast empire It’s been a week since they put their pencils down. As of Monday, the Dodgers (10:13) were slightly favored to beat the Milwaukee Brewers (1:1) in the National League Championship Series, according to Bovada.Those odds have shifted since the postseason began. Bovada gave the Dodgers (8:5) the best chance of winning the pennant prior to the division series, followed by the Brewers (11:5), Rockies (13:4) and Braves (5:1). By advancing to the NLCS so quickly, the Dodgers and Brewers validated the oddsmakers’ predetermined storyline that the series features the two best teams in the field. Bovada did not release odds after Game 162 of the regular season, but I think they would have been different then.After 162 games, it wasn’t clear that we would ever get to this point.The Brewers (20-7) had the best record of any NL team in September. The Dodgers were right behind at 19-9. It was in the midst of this race that Bud Black, the Rockies’ manager, said momentum is only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher. He might be questioning the wisdom of that statement right now. The Dodgers and Brewers have been hitting and pitching better than any NL playoff team for a while now, and even that might not fully explain why they’re still standing and the Rockies aren’t. Dodgers’ Max Muncy trying to work his way out of slow start Fire danger is on Dave Roberts’ mind as Dodgers head to San Francisco center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Oct. 1 gave us two division-deciding tiebreakers on the same day for the first time ever. It’s no wonder Bovada didn’t provide pennant odds on that day. If the wild card games were “one-and-done,” the 163rd games were “one-and-gulp.” Buehler compared them to a college regional: win, and your path to the World Series becomes much easier. By winning those games, the Dodgers and Brewers not only clinched their divisions, they altered the course of the entire postseason.The Dodgers had no starting pitcher on regular rest to throw at the Cubs or the Brewers if they had lost to the Rockies on Oct. 1. Manager Dave Roberts likely would have relied on a bullpen full of converted starters to patch together nine innings. Milwaukee or Chicago would have hosted the wild card game – the reward for the loser of their Game 163 to determine first place in the NL Central – so the Dodgers would have lost two hours of sleep flying to the Midwest. It would have been their third game in three days in three cities.Instead, it was the Rockies who were dealt that fate. On Oct. 2 they outlasted the Cubs in a 13-inning wild card game. Starting pitcher Kyle Freeland was forced to pitch, and win, on short rest. By the time they got to Milwaukee for the division series, the Rockies were running on adrenaline. The Brewers’ three-game sweep was utterly predictable.Related Articles Cody Bellinger homer gives Dodgers their first walkoff win of season Dodgers hit seven home runs, sweep Colorado Rockies last_img

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