Dodgers NLCS observations and a quick look ahead

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 19: Manager Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates after beating the Chicago Cubs 11-1 in game five of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 19, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Dodgers advance to the 2017 World Series. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 19: Manager Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates after beating the Chicago Cubs 11-1 in game five of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 19, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Dodgers advance to the 2017 World Series. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

For the first time since 1988, the Dodgers are officially going to the World Series. They will face either the New York Yankees or Houston Astros. Which club presents a better matchup? The answer is predicated on some keen observations from the NLCS.

*Dave Roberts is incredible. He frittered away Game Four with his old guy lineup, but I didn’t mind it at the time – he just should have pinch hit for Granderson/Utley when it was obvious neither of them was having a special night; and to let Granderson bat four times was awful, though understandable with Granderson’s history of clutch postseason heroics. But it needs to be said: Granderson possibly doesn’t make the Dodgers‘ World Series roster.

*I can’t say enough about this bullpen. Each stat is more impressive than the last; 17 innings vs Cubs, four hits allowed; 23 straight scoreless innings in the postseason; 32 strikeouts and TWO walks. Incredible. Literally masterful. Wow. Josh Fields and Ross Stripling are the only two relievers within whom Roberts does not have complete confidence.

Everybody else, the consistency of “the Tonys,” (Cingrani and Watson), the greatness of Kenley Jansen, the viscousness of Brandon Morrow, and the revelation that is Kenta Maeda. The concept of “five and dive” from an effective starting pitcher is a fact of life in 2017 but this counting outs approach has really worked for the construction of this bullpen.

*Chris Taylor. The entire year I was not a believer; the story is just too much, the changed swing from a punch n’ judy hitter that’s now an all-fields bomber (444′ off the scoreboard in Wrigley?!!?), but regardless it’s the way he plays. He hustles, he takes great at-bats, he is a smart baserunner, absolutely versatile and solid-gloved at four positions, and he swings with mammoth commitment.

Maybe he really did just figure it out; he was a legitimate hitter while in college at Virginia, so there ya go. But yeah, it starts with him and leading off Game Five with a nine-pitch walk and, well, the stage was literally set. Great approach.

*Plate Discipline. In the postseason, the Dodgers accrued 68 strikeouts and 44 walks. In 2017 that’s a phenomenal team ratio. To put this another way: 44 walks earned in 8 games? That’s nearly six/game against playoff teams. That is discipline. The team averages 4.31 pitches per plate appearance.

That, as an individual, would rank eighth in MLB during the regular season. Staggering. It really does wear down pitchers and lead to these inferior, tired bullpens – and that’s where the Dodgers are almost guaranteed to do damage.

*Defense. The Dodgers did not make an error in the Cubs series. They have two in eight games in the postseason. The underrated aspect of this ballclub is simply not making mistakes.

So between the ALCS competing New York Yankees and Houston Astros, which is this club better suited to face? I truly believe the Dodgers win in six games – at home – versus either team.

That said, the Astros have a fearsome lineup, especially if they move Josh Reddick out of the two slot and start with George Springer/Jose Altuve/ Carlos Correa or some variant thereof at the top;. Alex Bregman is good, and has ice in his veins. Yulieski Gurriel is a professional hitter in the mold of a Kendrys Morales that will damage you heavily and procure clutch hits.

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Marwin Gonzalez came out of nowhere to thrive and Brian McCann AND Evan Gattis are dangerous. They’re stacked. Cameron Maybin and Derek Fisher are capable but not spectacular off the bench. Justin Verlander is awesome, Dallas Keuchel is good – but after that, their rotation is subpar. Lance McCullers can be incredible but he is fragile; he has only made four starts since July and he’s never at 100%.

Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton are also-rans. Their bullpen has some decent names; Francisco Liriano, Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove, Ken Giles; but Liriano will never get right; Devenski was a monster in the first half but was overused and hasn’t looked dominant in the playoffs;  Musgrove is a good pitcher but he’s young and taxed and well; “100 mile” Giles just isn’t the force everybody wants him to be, and you can ask the Yankees about that.

In short, the Dodgers feast on this pitching staff in a relatively high-scoring series with some 6-5, 5-4 type contests littering the line scores.

The Yankees are fun. Aaron Judge / Greg Bird / Gary Sanchez from an incredible, young triumvirate. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro are cast-offs that were cast off prematurely, and they are loving being Yankees and Yankees fans are loving them. Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardener are not superstar outfielders, but both can provide some power, and neither is anything close to an automatic out.

Todd Frazier has great power and seems like a wonderful human, but he can be pitched to; you stick to the plan, you strike him out. Just don’t make a mistake (or, apparently, let him flick one to right center while his helmet is falling off). Chase Headley is underrated as a good bat off the bench. Ronald Torreyes and Andrew Romine are fine backups. Now, importantly, the  Yankee starting rotation is more like than love.

Sonny Gray has been good, but is not the Cy Young Gray they wanted to acquire at the deadline; CC Sabathia is a bit smoke and mirrors, Masahiro Tanaka is awesome but can blow up in an instant.

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Luis Severino will one day be an Ace, but you can not anticipate what you will get on a start to start basis – and the deal that he might have had a sore shoulder in his Game Two ALCS start is a major flag. He will be pitching tonight in Game Six and if he looks fine, so be it.

All of their starters are vulnerable, however, and the Dodgers will be sure to take note. The strength of the Yankees lies in their mighty pen. But if stalwart bat-misser Dellin Betances has the yips, that is a major blow.

And that’s what it’s looked like in the ALCS so far. Dave Robertson and Tommy Kahnle have been incredible, and Chad Green was the most overlooked reliever in baseball all year.

Aroldis Chapman runs hot and cold – big leaguers can hit 105mph if they know its coming – so all of this is to say, yes, this bullpen is stout. This is a tough matchup and would be a really fun cultural showdown, but probably the most winnable for the Dodgers.

Next: How the NL Champion Dodgers were built

The main takeaway from the National League side of the ledger is that this Dodgers team is really, really good. The team that registered 104 wins in 2017 is playing their best baseball right now, and either potential World Series matchup, Astros or Yankees, is winnable.