You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Resilient Dodgers in odd spot: Underdogs, to 108-win Red Sox for World Series

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 10/22/2018 Gabe Lacques
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

MILWAUKEE — The All-Star closer who needs heart surgery after the season sat poised on the dugout's edge, ready to rush the field. A World Series berth was in the offing, once the starting pitcher — part of an entire rotation that succumbed to injury this season — could secure the final outs. 

So when Clayton Kershaw struck out Mike Moustakas for the final out of the National League Championship Series, Kenley Jansen beat the mob to the middle of the field, enjoying the role reversal of setting up the final outs rather than recording them. 

"It was an unbelievable feeling," Jansen said in a jubilant Dodgers clubhouse after they survived a Game 7 and vanquished the Milwaukee Brewers with a 5-1 victory. "I don’t want to be emotional, but it’s a great feeling — all the stuff he went through, I went through, the health issues — it was awesome." 

Unless you're the Golden State Warriors, defending a championship is perhaps the hardest task in sports. And baseball, with 162 games and three rounds of playoffs, provides unprecedented opportunity for disaster. 

More: Dodgers won't apologize for spoiling Brewers party

More: World Series preview: Red Sox vs. Dodgers

These Dodgers are not defending the title they'd prefer; they lost the 2017 World Series in seven games to the Houston Astros. 

But after rolling through the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series and fighting off a worthy Brewers squad in the NLCS, they are the first squad to win consecutive NL pennants since the 2008-09 Phillies.

Sure, this team won just 92 games after winning 104 in 2017, did not clinch the division title until a 163rd game and needed two chances to put away these Brewers.

Whatever. These Dodgers have seen some things. 

"It’s nothing short of amazing," says starter Rich Hill. "And it speaks to the resiliency of this team. 

"We’re expected to win, because we’re in a big market. But we're extremely tough." 

Tough enough to withstand the loss of Jansen during a crucial stretch in August, when the bullpen melted down while he dealt with atrial fibrillation, a condition that kept him from pitching in Colorado. 

Tough enough to see a quintet of starting pitchers hit the disabled list and the greatest of them all, Kershaw, undergo a reinvention of sorts as his fastball ticked down closer to 90 mph than his old 93 mph.

And tough enough to overcome the loss of shortstop Corey Seager in April, part of a franchise-worst 40-game start (16-24) as the club fell nine games off the pace by May. 

Sure, the franchise's deep resources eventually netted All-Star shortstop Manny Machado at the trade deadline. But the difference between 2017 and 2018 is as vast as a tune-up vs. an engine rebuild.

"Last year, even going into the trade deadline, we were thinking about what our 25-man playoff roster would look like," says general manager Farhan Zaidi. "This year, we were just fighting and clawing to get in the playoffs. The grind of the season felt different, September felt different, the (NLCS) felt different.

"Last year that was kind of an easier road for us. This year, we got pushed to Game 7. It’s been more of a grind to get here." 

The grind is about to get turned up even more. The Red Sox won 108 games and, with a $240 million opening-day payroll as one of the few clubs willing to vault the luxury-tax ceiling, are the rare franchise that can look down on the Dodgers when it comes to expenditures.

Sure, the Dodgers want for very little. But club president Andrew Friedman's disciplined commitment to building from within also meant J.D. Martinez wasn't walking through their clubhouse this year. 

While the Dodgers used platooning to great success, they also played in fits and starts, both through the regular season and in the microscope of the playoffs, at one point scoring just two runs in a 26-inning stretch of the NLCS. 

The lack of continuity frustrated fans over the course of the season and put the Dodgers in a 2-1 NLCS hole against the Brewers.

"The hardest part is getting there," said invaluable utilityman Chris Taylor, whose fifth-inning catch kept Game 7 in the Dodgers' favor. "Especially in the fashion we did it. We had a lot of doubters along the way. But nobody in here."

The skeptics will rev their engines until Game 1 on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, with the dominant Red Sox rested and, top to bottom, the best team the Dodgers have faced all season.

The Dodgers will make do with what they have: A playoff-tested troupe of players who remember the sting of last October all too well, and are determined to snap the franchise's 30-year championship drought.

"You want it so bad. You want to get back there," says Jansen. "Not a lot of teams go (to the World Series) back-to-back, or even 10 years after they went.

"We understand it’s so hard. It’s hard just to make the playoffs. You can’t take this for granted. This is an awesome feeling."

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from USA Today Sports

USA TODAY SPORTS
USA TODAY SPORTS
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon