NL West Champion LA Dodgers Hope Resilience, Momentum Carry over to October

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Charlie Culberson #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his solo homerun for a 4-3 win over the Colorado Rockies during the tenth inning at Dodger Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the division with the win.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The 2016 season has not gone according to script for the Los Angeles Dodgers. On Sunday afternoon, though, all the punch-up artists in Hollywood couldn't have written it any better.

With their magic number whittled to one, the Dodgers defeated the Colorado Rockies 4-3 in 10 innings. It was legendary broadcaster Vin Scully's final home game, and he got to call a walk-off home run by utilityman Charlie Culberson—in extras, no less. Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register offered:

Even with the MLB mood darkened by the tragic death of Miami Marlins' ace Jose Fernandez, it was a special scene.

At nearly the same moment, the San Francisco Giants lost 4-3 to the San Diego Padres just down California's I-5 freeway. Call it a double clinch.

The Dodgers have now won four straight NL West titles. During that span, they've never advanced past the National League Championship Series, and have been dropped twice in the division series.

Now, they're gunning for redemption and angling to bust the franchise's 27-years-and-counting championship drought.

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There are no guarantees, not with formidable foes such as the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals lurking.

The Nats are cemented as LA's first-round opponent. The good news for the Dodgers is that they've gone 5-1 against Washington this season, sweeping a three-game set in L.A. June 20-22 and taking two of three in the nation's capital July 29-31.

They've also fared well against Nationals ace Max Scherzer. Current Dodgers hitters with a history against Scherzer own a collective .282 average, per ESPN.com.

Ace Clayton Kershaw, meanwhile, has kept Nationals bats under wraps to the tune of a .217 average and .557 OPS.

Stats and matchups aside, this Dodgers squad has weathered injuries and controversy and emerged—resilient and triumphant—on the other side.

Sure, it's helped that the Giants have imploded. After posting the best record in the first half, San Francisco has gone 25-41 since the All-Star break.

Give Los Angeles credit, though. They've secured a 90-win season and another October foray. And they're coming together at the right time, with momentum in the dugout next to the sunflower seeds.

Let's begin with the starting rotation, which has been a veritable MASH unit for much of the season. We won't recount every ding and disabled-list stint; the fact that Los Angeles has used 15 starting pitchers should tell you all you need to know.

The biggest ailment, obviously, was the herniated disc that cost Kershaw the entire months of July and August. For a while, it was uncertain whether Kershaw would return at all. On July 21, manager Dave Roberts suggested surgery was on the table, per ESPN.com's Doug Padilla

Clayton Kershaw missed more than two months of action with a back injury.
Clayton Kershaw missed more than two months of action with a back injury.Norm Hall/Getty Images

Thankfully for the Chavez Ravine faithful, Kershaw never went under the knife. He returned to action Sept. 9, and has appeared to get progressively stronger. He threw seven shutout innings in his most recent start against the Rockies, scattering three hits and striking out six.

The Dodgers trailed the Giants by eight games on June 26, the date of Kershaw's final pre-DL start. On Sunday, they moved eight games up on San Francisco.

Kershaw is joined atop the rotation by Japanese import Kenta Maeda, who has been the constant in an otherwise revolving cast of hurlers. Through 30 starts, Maeda owns a 3.20 ERA with 171 strikeouts in 169 innings.

Add trade-deadline acquisition Rich Hill—who battled frustrating blister issues early in his Dodgers' tenure but owns a 1.53 ERA in five starts with LA—and you've got a formidable top three.

Offensively, Los Angeles has benefited from the rise of shortstop Corey Seager, the odds-on favorite to claim NL Rookie of the Year honors with his .313 average and 26 home runs. 

Others—including third baseman Justin Turner, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and center fielder Joc Pederson—have helped the Dodgers score the second-most runs in the NL since the All-Star break.

But the team also wrestled with the Yasiel Puig controversy. The mercurial outfielder was beset by injuries, inconsistency and behind-the-scenes grumbling and was ultimately demoted to Triple-A in early August, prompting yours truly to wonder if he'd ever again don Dodger blue.  

Yasiel Puig made headlines with his Triple-A demotion, but has played well since an early September call-up.
Yasiel Puig made headlines with his Triple-A demotion, but has played well since an early September call-up.Harry How/Getty Images

Sure enough, Puig returned Sept. 2 and has been a boon, notching four home runs and 10 RBI. 

It's been that kind of stretch run for the Dodgers, with hardships turning to blessings like sand getting polished into a pearl.

The postseason push won't be easy. Los Angeles will face the  Nationals in the NLDS, as mentioned. 

If LA survives that test, the young, loaded Chicago Cubs will be waiting, assuming Chicago wins its series against the NL Wild Card Game winner. And let's not forget Kershaw's past October struggles.

We're getting ahead of ourselves, though. For now, the Dodgers should celebrate. They are, per the team's official Twitter feed:

I threw out a word a while back: "resilient." Left-hander Brett Anderson invoked it recently, too.

"It's probably the most resilient team I've been on," Anderson said, per the Associated Press (h/t New York Times.). "We're never out of it."

It describes this Dodgers club. But it also harkens back to one of the franchise's defining moments, in 1988, when Kirk Gibson stepped to the plate on two bad legs and launched a two-run, walkoff homer in Game 1 of the World Series.

Los Angeles beat the Oakland A's in five games and hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy. More than a quarter-century later, they're hoping for a similar sparkand similar glory.

The Dodgers have already written one Hollywood ending. Now, we wait to see what the sequel has in store.

All statistics current as of Sunday and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.