OK fine, if you want to nitpick, this is Cincinnati in the front windshield, not the rearview mirror. Just file this one under, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good headline.” My point is that the Dodgers, fresh from suffering a rare, ego-bruising and possibly much-needed three-game sweep at the hands of the Reds, left town late last night, and this morning, I am doing so as well.
And assuming everything goes smoothly, we’ll all be at Dodger Stadium tonight for the closest thing the Dodgers will face to a divisional showdown the rest of the way. The Arizona Diamondbacks come in to begin not only a three-game series, but a stretch of seven head-to-head matchups in the next 11 days. If this thing is ever going to become a real race, it’s going to have to happen now, and really, the only way it can happen is if the D-backs run the table and win all seven, which would move them from 11 games back to four back — not factoring in what happens in the four days between the two head-to-head series.
Yeah, this thing isn’t officially over, but it’s all but. The Dodgers’ magic number is now 10, with 20 games to go for each team. And that might be the biggest problem of all for the Dodgers, who simply haven’t faced anything close to the pressure of the postseason at any time in recent memory, and who don’t figure to do so in the three weeks that remain of this foregone conclusion of a regular season.
They did encounter a postseason-type atmosphere in Cincinnati — and quite frankly, it took them a couple of games to rise to the occasion. I put forth the proposition to manager Don Mattingly in his office after last night’s game — it’s on the video I posted if you want to hear it for yourself — that the Dodgers simply haven’t faced enough pressure-packed games to prepare themselves for pressure-packed games. He poured water all over that, saying they have been playing pressure-packed games all year to get back into contention after getting off to such a bad start.
OK, fair enough. But they haven’t played pressure-packed games of the sort the Reds are playing every night, and while the Reds may have spent much of the season not really rising to the occasion, they have definitely risen to it in the past week, winning six of seven from the N.L. Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals and the Dodgers.
Mattingly himself even offered up last night, without prompting from any of us media types, that the Dodgers didn’t seem focused during the first two games of this series — then said he was much happier with their focus in last night’s finale, even though the result was more of the same.
And then Clayton Kershaw had this to say, which I thought was right on the money:
“(The Reds are a) good team. Obviously, we would’ve liked for things to go differently here. I think we had some missed opportunities, really. But overall, it was probably a good time for us to lose some games if we were going to end up losing, so we can remember what that feels like and have to bounce back and hopefully gain some momentum here a little bit and carry it through to the playoffs.”
Honestly, I don’t think the Dodgers will have any trouble getting the momentum they need to take into the playoffs — their remaining 20 games are ALL against the N.L. West, which probably isn’t good enough to really challenge them at this point. But on the flip side, I also have my doubts that the Dodgers can be tested as much as you would like to see a team tested before the playoffs, for the same reason — the N.L. West simply isn’t good enough to provide that test.
Getting swept by the Reds was a bad thing, but it undoubtedly will get the Dodgers’ attention, and that can only be a good thing. But the Dodgers need to find some way to raise their level of intensity and keep it there in advance of the postseason, because those pressure games the Dodgers have managed to avoid by building themselves such a cushy lead in the division are coming. They are coming fast. And the Dodgers had better be ready for them when they get here.
That process of getting ready begins tonight. Because the Diamondbacks, who at this point have nothing to lose and everything to gain, are coming fast too. In fact, by the time the Dodgers got back to town in the wee hours of the morning, the Diamondbacks were already there, getting a good night’s rest in advance of what for them is their biggest series of the year.
It’s a big series for the Dodgers, too. Whether they realize it or not.