After Rockies-D-backs, network to air Friday's Division Series games
By Mark Newman
TBS returns for its 11th consecutive year of postseason coverage as the exclusive TV home of the National League postseason, starting at 8 ET tonight with Rockies at D-backs in the Wild Card Game. Maybe the Cubs will repeat, maybe the Nationals reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history, maybe a Wild Card will go on a long run.
For at least most of the legends in the TBS postseason broadcast studio, though, there is one team this postseason that has the most pressure to succeed. Can the Dodgers win it all for the first time since Kirk Gibson's Miracle Homer in 1988? Will it be the Dodgers team that went on a historic summertime run, or the one that had a double-digit losing streak toward the end? Will Clayton Kershaw pitch at full strength, and will he get his ring?
Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield and Jimmy Rollins -- who combined for 57 seasons in the Majors, 20 All-Star selections and three rings -- joined host Casey Stern for a live press conference streamed Wednesday on MLB.com. They'll be together for each NL postseason gameday and pregame show from now through the NL pennant clincher. Let's start with who they think has the most pressure heading into these playoffs:
"I'd have to go with the Dodgers, just by the way they went about their business this year," said Rollins, whose longtime double-play partner Chase Utley is seeking a second ring with the Dodgers. "They were on a run where no one could beat them, and they put that team together to win the World Series or bust. ... Everybody knows they're gonna get there. That team, October is automatic. It's what they do in October. So that being the case, I'd have to say the Dodgers."
"I want to say Cleveland," Sheffield said, "because getting that close last year and getting as close to the Cubs as they did, everybody assumed, and with Edwin Encarnacion being on the team, this is the favorite. But what the Dodgers have done, and how many games they won so early, and how they did it, it was like you never seen it before. So the pressure's on them because they're a win-now team."
Martinez, meanwhile, says most of the pressure is on the club he led to the fabled 2004 championship.
"The Red Sox pretty much gave away their entire Minor League system to actually get where they are," the Hall of Famer said. "If they don't win it this year after giving away their Minor League system, they're looking to struggle for the next few years, because every team seems to be getting better, and getting younger.
"The Red Sox, even though they're young, they just don't have the Minor League system right now that they used to have to keep pushing players up. They really struck lightning in a bottle by bringing up Rafael Devers and performing the way he has, at such a young age. Once you don't have those resources in the Minor Leagues, you have to go pay cash to bring over some of those guys that you're going to bring over. The acquisition of Chris Sale cost the Red Sox a lot of players."
The Nationals open at home against the defending champion Cubs at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday in the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile, with Stephen Strasburg considered likely to get the Game 1 start. Following that game is the Wild Card winner at the Dodgers.
Sports Emmy Award-winning commentator Ernie Johnson (play-by-play) will be joined by veteran MLB on TBS analyst Ron Darling and reporter Sam Ryan to call the NL Wild Card Game.
"Chicago repeating? The pressure's off them, they won," Rollins said. "Getting back to the playoffs, if they want to win again, that's just a bonus. Cleveland will be the feel-good story, but the pressure will be on the team out West."
Meaning the Dodgers. Sheffield, a Dodger from 1998-2001, said he won't be surprised to see the team end its own drought if its ace is pitching at full strength. Kershaw is the Dodgers' probable starter for Game 1 of the NLDS against either Arizona or Colorado, at 10:30 p.m. ET Friday.
"If Kershaw is healthy -- it's going to come down to that," Sheffield said. "We know he has back problems and got shelled his last start (four innings, three earned runs on Saturday). When you look at all these things, they've done something that I've never seen. The way they won these games, it was like easy. But they were also winning when Kershaw was hurt, and he wasn't pitching well. That tells you it was a complete team. But if they can get him back healthy, they can easily win the World Series."
"It's not just Kershaw," interjected Martinez. "They're going to need exactly what they did during the regular season, someone to chip in every day. ... I think they're going to need that energy they have in Cody Bellinger and all those young players, and also perform, because those kids went the extra mile in performing. I didn't expect the Dodgers to be that good, that energetic, that athletic. The Dodgers can do it all. Now what they need is for Kershaw to give them a little push, but the other guys need to remain consistent and do what they have been doing."
All three legends agreed that the D-backs have the better chance to make a long run out of the two NL Wild Card entries. But Martinez said to beware of the Rockies, who have been given little chance by many observers all season.
"I agree that Arizona is best-suited to go on a long run, but we have been saying the same thing about Colorado all year," he said. "They're gonna go away, they're gonna go away. Colorado, they're pesky, they're right there, they play defense."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.