Dodgers host D-backs in NL West rivals’ 1st playoff meeting
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the first of their five consecutive NL West titles in Phoenix four years ago, they infamously celebrated by jumping into the Chase Field pool, angering a few Arizona Diamondbacks and their fans.
According to Paul Goldschmidt, anybody looking for long-simmering hard feelings from that drama in the teams’ upcoming NL division series is all wet.
“I don’t think anyone cared then, and nobody cares now,” the Diamondbacks’ veteran first baseman said Thursday at Dodger Stadium. “When you win, you get to celebrate, and that’s awesome. That was my feeling back then. Those guys beat us. They won the division. Now they’ve done it five years in a row.”
Indeed, that pool party is a puddle in distant memory for the current players in this division rivalry, which finally gets an October chapter in Game 1 on Friday night. Arizona spent most of the season pursuing the Dodgers in the NL West standings, meeting 19 times and forging a mutual respect that outweighs any enmity.
The Diamondbacks did a little celebrating of their own Wednesday after their incredible 11-8 victory over Colorado in the wild-card game. Both teams agree Arizona heads into this best-of-five series with more momentum than the 104-win Dodgers, who finished with the best record in baseball even after meandering through a late 1-16 skid.
Before Clayton Kershaw takes the mound against Taijuan Walker in Game 1, the Dodgers intend to make sure everybody knows these regular-season achievements are meaningless for a team that still hasn’t reached the World Series since 1988.
“I feel like winning the NL West five years in a row leads to complacency, especially for this team, for this organization, even for the fans,” said Andre Ethier, an outfielder on seven previous Dodgers playoff teams since 2006. “You really haven’t achieved anything. It doesn’t matter how many games you win. It’s getting to the playoffs and winning the World Series.
“For the organization, it’s about changing that frame of mind coming in,” Ethier added. “There’s no banners hanging out there saying that we’re the NL West champions five years in a row. The only banners you see out there are World Series championships. So a 104-win season, 90-win seasons, they don’t mean nothing unless you’re winning. No one is going to remember in five years if this team won 104 (games) if we don’t win the World Series.”
Here are more things to know about these clubs’ first postseason meeting:
KERSH AGAIN: Kershaw gets another chance to fashion a signature postseason performance when he takes the mound for the opener. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 18 career postseason games, but the left-hander went 2-1 last year and pitched memorably in relief while the Dodgers reached the NLCS. Manager Dave Roberts has repeatedly said doesn’t intend to use Kershaw in relief during this October, but Kershaw knows nothing is certain in the postseason.
“Every year is unique, but I’m thankful for another opportunity,” Kershaw said. “It doesn’t happen often when your team wins five (division titles) in a row and you get to go to the playoffs.”
ONE LEG UP: The Diamondbacks were one of just two teams to win their season series with mighty Los Angeles, going 11-8 — including wins in the final six meetings during the Dodgers’ late-season slump. Nobody in either clubhouse ascribes much significance to those numbers, but the Diamondbacks aren’t awed by the Dodgers’ resourceful lineup or their occasionally dominant pitching staff.
“There’s familiarity, but I think there’s hopefully a lot of respect,” Goldschmidt said. “I know we respect them.”
BIG BATS: Rookie slugger Cody Bellinger will make his postseason debut for the Dodgers after setting an NL record with 39 homers in a remarkable regular season. Bellinger grew up in the Phoenix area, and he batted a measly 7 for 39 with one homer against the Diamondbacks this season. Los Angeles doesn’t depend on one hitter, but consistency from their precocious cleanup hitter would be huge.
Goldschmidt remains the Diamondbacks’ best bat with a 120-RBI season, but David Peralta and Jake Lamb have made solid contributions to a lineup that scored 42 more runs than the Dodgers during the regular season.
ZACK’S BACK: Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke likely won’t pitch against his former team until Game 3 in Phoenix after starting the wild-card game. Greinke left the Dodgers two years ago for a six-year, $206.5 million deal in Arizona. He won 51 games in three seasons with Los Angeles and pitched in three postseasons, going 2-2 in six starts.
LOCAL GUYS: Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo is a Los Angeles-area native, and Game 1 starter Taijuan Walker grew up in LA’s far-flung suburbs. Walker was a late choice for the start after Robbie Ray was forced to pitch in relief of Greinke against the Rockies. Walker called it the biggest start of his life, and he plans to get tickets for his mother, wife, brothers and sister. “Everyone else is kind of on their own,” Walker said with a laugh.
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