After gut-check win vs. Nats, L.A. isn't fazed as NLCS underdog
By Mike Bauman
CHICAGO -- In this National League Championship Series (starting with Game 1 on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/5 PT on FS1), the Los Angeles Dodgers have nothing to lose.
Well, the one thing they'd like to lose is their reputation as postseason underachievers. But on Thursday night, in their epic Game 5 win over the Nationals in the NL Division Series, the Dodgers probably took a large step in at least modifying that reputation in the right direction.
So we're back to nothing to lose, or at least relatively little to lose, for the Dodgers. Against the Cubs, recognized by record and renown as the best team in the Majors this season, the Dodgers will be prohibitive underdogs.
These Dodgers are postseason regulars. They have won four straight NL West titles. They have won the division six times in the last nine years. But, of course, for the fan base, for a club with the tradition and the resources of the Dodgers, 28 years between World Series appearances, is much, much too long to wait.
But the current Dodgers aren't responsible for that drought. Once again, they are playing the heavily favored Cubs and they are coming off one of the most heartening postseason victories that could be imagined.
They can feel good about themselves and tune out the extraneous chatter from the rest of the hemisphere. The underdog role? Bring it on. Max it out. Nothing to be lost there, either.
"I think it's something that, from Day 1, this has kind of been our mindset," Roberts said before Friday's workout at Wrigley Field. "Whether people felt we were better than we were or not as good as we were, or we were 'done' in May or June or whenever it was, but I think that's the same thing going on. And for us, it's just a lot of noise. I think it comes down to 25 players playing against one another and it's the Dodgers and the Cubs. So it really doesn't matter to us, to be quite honest."
People are making a lot out of how much energy the Dodgers had to expend to come from behind and defeat the Nationals in five games. You saw Game 5. That was a postseason series worth of emotion and intensity right there.
So one general assumption is that the Dodgers may have been drained by that experience. They, conversely, seem to think of that dramatic postseason victory as a really sound reason to feel good about themselves. We'll see what happens next, but they earned the right to feel as good as they want to about the NLDS triumph.
"We're in a great state physically, mentally," Roberts said. "I think we feel we have got some momentum. The day off is good. We're going to go out there and work out, get our legs loose, and get acclimated to Chicago. But we have familiarity with this ballpark, with this ballclub over there."
The Game 1 matchup doesn't favor the Dodgers, either. Lefty Jon Lester for the Cubs against Kenta Maeda. Their 2016 resumes don't exactly match. Left-handers have the Dodgers for lunch, as they hit .214 against them this year with an OPS of .623. Both marks ranked last in the Majors. But let's see what happens when the NLCS gets under way.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon always has something very positive to say about the opposition. This is functional intelligence at work. In this case, Maddon had particularly positive things to say about the Dodgers in general and Roberts in particular. Based on Roberts' innovative, courageous managing in the NLDS, this is not smoke being blown in Roberts' direction.
"Very bright, engaging, gregarious, he's got all those different qualities, and he's obviously a quick study, too, the way he's picked up this managerial thing," Maddon said. "So I'm a big fan. He and I have great conversation, when we have the opportunity, and I'm very happy for his success."
And Maddon spoke positively of the Dodgers as "grinders," which is right up there with calling a writer Shakespearean.
"They're tough, the word 'grind' is used excessively this time of the year, actually during the season, but right now you're grinding all the time, but I think that they have that within their fabric, they are grinders," Maddon said. "Their pitching, bullpen could really match up. Significant lefties and righties. They're good. They're very good, and they provide -- with all the left-handed hitters in their lineup, their ability to move it back and forth, which is expected. That's very good. It's been planned out that way."
There it is. The Dodgers may be big-time underdogs, but they are coming off a magnificent victory and they are grinders. They don't have to be favorites to compete with heart and soul.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.