Dodgers finally secure third straight NL West crown
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Andrew Friedman arrived at Chavez Ravine last October and built the big-spending Dodgers' $285 million roster to win championships, not merely division titles.
And, lately at least, that means trying to get through the pesky St. Louis Cardinals - the team that sent Los Angeles home from the postseason the past two years.
While the corks flew and beer flowed to celebrate a third straight NL West title Tuesday night, outfielder Carl Crawford hollered out a gentle reminder: ''Just the first step!''
The Dodgers haven't reached the World Series since winning it all against the Oakland Athletics in 1988.
''It just feels great to do it again,'' manager Don Mattingly said. ''It takes a lot. There's a lot of perseverance in there from guys that have been here for the other two and getting knocked out. Hopefully we're able to have a little bit of luck but play great baseball and see where it goes.''
Clayton Kershaw went down the list of proven veterans like Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley added by Frideman, the club's new president of baseball operations, to boost the Dodgers' depth this year, then the left-hander mentioned the reliable rookies Joc Pederson and Corey Seager.
A pair of aces among baseball's best never hurts either. Kershaw and Zack Greinke form quite the 1-2 punch for the Dodgers, who are still fighting for home-field advantage the rest of the way ahead of their best-of-five division series against the New York Mets.
''It's a fun mix, it's a talented mix and hopefully it's the right mix,'' Kershaw said after pitching the Dodgers to a third straight division title in an 8-0 thumping of the defending champion Giants on Tuesday night. ''We've still got something to play for. We're still trying to fight the Mets for home-field advantage.''
The first-timers such as Seager were giddy running around AT&T Park's beer-soaked visiting clubhouse.
''It's awesome. It's on a different level,'' Seager said. ''It's fun and I'm going to go enjoy it.''
That's exactly the kind of maturity and professionalism Mattingly insists is the biggest change with this group. Not to mention the desire to prove something on the October stage at last after all of the recent postseason failures that remain so fresh.
''A lot more professional I feel like this year, our guys get ready to play. I've never really worried about them about being ready,'' Mattingly said. ''I could trust them. They got down to business on the field and that was a good feeling for me.''
Now, the Dodgers are on to a third straight year in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history - poised to take the next step at last and get back to the World Series at last. They got to celebrate a third straight NL West title on the home field of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, and while that might have been a little bit sweeter everybody involved just wanted to clinch and get it out of the way given a four-game losing streak had brought on some minor anxiety for the men in blue.
Even Kershaw acknowledged the pressure of taking the ball and getting it done for his team a day after Los Angeles lost 3-2 in 12 innings on a night Greinke pitched. If it had dragged on much longer, ''you start getting a little nervous, you start panicking a little bit,'' Kershaw said.
''We've got a veteran group with a lot of young talent, which is a great combo,'' Kershaw said. ''We've got guys that have been there before, from Chase to Jimmy, we've got guys that don't know any better.''
Reigning NL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Kershaw has been on the mound for the last two playoff defeats to the Cardinals, including in a four-game division series a year ago in which he lost Games 1 and 4. He lost in the 2013 elimination game of the NL Championship Series, too.
Mattingly has yet to announce his pitching rotation against the Mets. He said Kershaw likely will have a short start against San Diego on Sunday.
''We'll definitely back off him, for sure,'' Mattingly said.
Kershaw is eager to get the playoffs started.
''I've been through it now a bunch, I think this is my fifth postseason now,'' Kershaw said. ''I don't know if you can get wiser from failing all the time. I know what that feels like. Small successes obviously. I don't know, I'll let you know when I get there.''
AP freelance writer Michael Wagaman contributed to this report.