Sarah's Take: Dodgers' bench depth comes through

Sarah's Take: Dodgers' bench depth comes through

Fittingly, Clayton Kershaw pitched a one-hit victory on Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants, enabling the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch their third straight National League West Division title. For the first time in franchise history, the Dodgers will go to their third consecutive postseason. They will begin their quest for their first world title since 1988 by facing the New York Mets.

Since last Friday, the Dodgers' magic number was stuck on 2. Many assumed the Dodgers would clinch in Colorado. After all, the Rockies are in last place in the NL West, but the Dodgers played with no spirit or sense of urgency.

Monday night, with Zack Greinke on the mound, the Dodgers looked like they took the game seriously for the first time in a week, but the Giants outplayed them in extra innings.

On Tuesday, the game featured two of the best left-handed starters in this era. After last postseason, everyone knows that Madison Bumgarner, who was going for his 19th win this year, thrives on high-pressure games. Many people have questioned if Kershaw can win a high-pressure game after he had struggled against the St. Louis Cardinals during the past two postseasons.

From the start, Bumgarner wasn't having one of his brilliant performances. Although an error on a routine double-play ball undermined Bumgarner's effort and gave the Dodgers a run in the first inning, Bumgarner lacked his customary fantastic control and his ability to put a hitter away. He had thrown over 100 pitches by the time the fifth inning concluded.

Injuries have decimated the defending World Series champion Giants. No matter how bleak it looked, the Giants always played hard. This year, the Dodgers hadn't won a game at AT&T Park until Tuesday. For some reason, the Giants looked flat throughout the game.

To bring life to the team after a lackluster series in Colorado, the Dodgers activated Enrique Hernandez. Being disabled with a pulled hamstring since Aug. 31, Hernandez wasn't expected to have his batting stroke back immediately, but manager Don Mattingly hoped he could infuse some enthusiasm.

Hernandez came into Monday's game and had two hits. Not wanting to start the struggling Joc Pederson against Bumgarner, Mattingly elected to play Hernandez in center field and have him lead off. He had a single in the first that enabled the Dodgers to take an important early lead, and in the third he hit a solo home run, which seemed to take the air out of the Giants and their sellout crowd.

Throughout September, after the Dodgers swept the Giants at Dodger Stadium, Mattingly has used many reserves to rest the regulars and allow them to heal before the playoffs. These players have performed outstandingly and have brought much-needed enthusiasm. Before Tuesday's game, Mattingly met with Jimmy Rollins and explained he felt Corey Seager gave the team a better chance to win when he played at shortstop. Although Rollins disliked the decision, he seemed to take it like a pro. Seager reached base again and made several important defensive plays on Tuesday night.

Since the Dodgers learned Yasmani Grandal's shoulder had been bothering him and sapping his offensive production, A.J. Ellis has made the most out of his playing time. He has always been known as an excellent defensive catcher who works well with a pitching staff, but his offense has been considered weak. Since he has gotten the opportunity to play regularly, he has contributed to the offense often. On Tuesday he homered.

The game belonged to Kershaw, though. The fierce competitor was never in trouble. He wasn't going to allow the bullpen into the game if he had a choice, so he conserved his pitches well while still striking out 13. He retired the last 19 batters in order.

The Dodgers' incredible depth enabled them to go to their third postseason. It can be argued that the Dodgers have suffered as many injuries as the Giants, but their seemingly endless financial resources enabled them to get new players to replace the injured ones. Mattingly has done his best managing job this year.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.