NLDS questions: What will happen in hardest series to predict?

12:10 AM ET

This is the hardest series to read because the Dodgers are so hard to read. Their season made no sense; it was the oddest 100-win season in major league history. They became the only team ever to win 16 out of 17 and lose 16 out of 17 in the same season. They became only the second team in history to finish over .500 despite losing 16 out of 17 in a season. But they didn’t just finish over .500; they won 104 games. And after they got to 55 games over .500, they still found a way to do what no other team did this year — lose 11 games in a row.

Now the Dodgers face the Diamondbacks, who went 11-8 against them this year, sweeping them twice in the final six weeks of the season, adding another dimension to what should be a great series.

Here are five questions.

What do we make of the Dodgers’ rotation?

Los Angeles’ rotation was the best in the game during the regular season, posting a 72-39 with a .3.39 ERA and a .232 batting average against. The acquisition of Yu Darvish, the expected Game 2 starter, gives the Dodgers a right-hander to go between left-handers Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. There are several options for Game 4, including Alex Wood, who went 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA, but he might be used out of the bullpen in this series.

Kershaw is the key, as always. He has not been vintage Kershaw in the postseason — 67 pitchers in history have made at least 10 postseason starts and Kershaw’s 4.55 ERA ranks 61st. But the numbers are somewhat misleading: 89 innings, 76 hits, 27 walks and 109 strikeouts is pretty good. He was very good in the 2016 postseason. He will be even better in this one.

What did the wild-card game do to the Arizona rotation?

It messed with it, for sure. The 1-2 starters for the Diamondbacks, Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, each pitched in the wild-card game. Without either for the first two games in Los Angeles, the D-backs likely will turn to left-handed Patrick Corbin in Game 1 and either Taijuan Walker (3.49 ERA) or Zack Godley (3.37 ERA) in Game 2.

The Dodgers are better against left-handed pitching than they were last year, but they remain susceptible, given that their two best hitters, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, hit left-handed. The left-handed Ray had four starts with at least 10 strikeouts against the Dodgers this year, which is stunning. If Arizona can win a game in LA, then turn to Greinke and Ray in Games 3 and 4 at home, they have a real chance to win this series.

Is the Dodgers’ offense better built for the regular season?

The Dodgers mix and match with their lineup as much as any team in the league and it worked beautifully during the regular season. At second base, center field, left field and, to a lesser degree, right field and first base, the Dodgers used the numbers to determine who would play. But can you win that way in the postseason?

The Dodgers did not have a 100-RBI man or anyone who scored 100 runs. The last team to win 100 games without any player with 100 RBIs or 100 runs was the 2008 Angels, and the last team to win the World Series without either was the 1995 Braves. Mixing and matching can work in October, but a team that has a set lineup, a la the 2009 Yankees and the 2015 Royals, might, in theory, have a better chance to win in October because there is a familiarity every night, something that many of today’s players like and need.

What is the status of the Diamondbacks’ offense, notably Paul Goldschmidt?

The D-backs finished fourth in the NL in runs, just 12 behind the league-leading Rockies. They scored 11 runs in the wild-card game against Colorado, and they averaged 5.2 runs per game in 19 games against the Dodgers this year. Goldschmidt is an MVP candidate, but an elbow injury affected him down the stretch. He hit .175 and slugged .313 in September, and finished the season hitless in his last 17 at-bats. But he hit a three-run homer in the first inning against the Rockies.

But Goldschmidt has help in the lineup, led by J.D. Martinez, who hit 29 homers in 62 games with the D-backs and is the only player to hit 45 homers in a season of fewer than 120 games.

What are we to make of the Dodgers’ postseason struggles?

This is their 11th trip to the playoffs since they last won the World Series in 1988. The 10 previous trips set a major league record for the longest streak of playoff appearances without winning the World Series. That record could weigh on the Dodgers or it could inspire them to end it. As for this crazy season, no team in the modern era (1900-on) has ever won the World Series in a season in which it lost 16 out of 17. And the longest losing streak by a team that went on to win the World Series is nine by the 1953 Yankees. But none of that means anything, especially now. The Dodgers have to get through the Diamondbacks first.

Prediction: Dodgers in five.


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