The Los Angeles Dodgers are National League West champions for the sixth straight season.
Los Angeles defeated the Colorado Rockies 5-2 in Monday's divisional tiebreaker game at Dodger Stadium behind a brilliant performance from starter Walker Buehler. He allowed just one hit and three walks in 6.2 scoreless innings while striking out three to ensure the Rockies didn't win their first NL West crown.
Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy provided much of the offense with two-run homers, and Buehler even helped himself with an RBI single.
One-Two Punch of Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw Makes Dodgers NL Favorites
The emergence of Buehler in the Dodgers' rotation means the team that represented the National League in last year's World Series is primed to do so again this year.
Buehler came out firing heat while mixing in filthy breaking balls to keep hitters off balance. It may have been the biggest start of his young career, but he has done nothing but thrive in the pressure-packed division race as evidenced by the two combined earned runs he allowed in his final three September starts.
Rockies manager Bud Black knew what he was up against.
"This kid is a really good pitcher—a big fastball at 97, 98 miles per hour with a good curveball, and he's athletic with a good feel for the slider while also mixing in the change," Black said, per Kyle Newman of the Denver Post. "He's a [first-round] pick, a college pitcher who's been built the right way."
The right-hander entered Monday's game with a 2.76 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 148 strikeouts in 130.2 innings and gives the Dodgers another ace alongside Clayton Kershaw.
The one-two punch of Kershaw and Buehler can control a series by starting up to four games. They need little run support as it is, and a powerful Dodgers lineup featuring the likes of Justin Turner, Muncy and Manny Machado, among others, is capable of providing it in spades.
There is plenty of talent on the Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, but any of them face an uphill battle dealing with Buehler and Kershaw multiple times throughout a series while attempting to trade punches with the Los Angeles lineup.
Rockies' Offensive Road Woes Will Cost Them Shot at World Series
Sometimes sports narratives are based on truth, and the idea the Rockies can't hit away from Coors Field was on full display Monday with the division title hanging in the balance.
Colorado was second in the National League in runs scored this season, but playing in the thin Denver air bolstered that production. Buehler silenced the visitors' bats throughout the game, and the Rockies couldn't get to Pedro Baez or Kenta Maeda from the bullpen either before Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story homered off Kenley Jansen.
The Rockies won't have home-field advantage against the Cubs in the Wild Card Game or the Brewers in a potential Division Series, meaning their offensive woes on the road will linger over them as they pursue their first World Series championship in franchise history.
DJ LeMahieu, David Dahl, Carlos Gonzalez and Ian Desmond combined for zero hits in Monday's loss, which is a formula that cannot happen if Colorado hopes to play deep into October.
Unfortunately for Rockies fans, that decreased offensive production away from home is a familiar formula.
Jon Lester, Schedule Leave Rockies in Even Bigger Hole
Colorado's offensive road woes will be under the spotlight again with its back against the wall heading into Tuesday's elimination contest.
Not only do the Rockies have to fly to Chicago from Los Angeles in an immediate turnaround following a disappointing showing, but they also have to face Cubs ace Jon Lester in a must-win scenario. They won't be able to counter with German Marquez after he started Monday's contest and allowed four runs (two earned) and struck out nine in 4.2 innings.
Colorado would love to have him at its disposal after he was named National League Pitcher of the Month in September for posting a 2.14 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 33.2 innings during the month.
Lester has cemented his legacy with his postseason performances. He sports a World Series crown and National League Championship Series MVP on his resume and has a 2.55 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 25 playoff appearances.
He has been an anchor for Chicago's recent success, tallying a 1.88 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in three postseason appearances last year and a 2.02 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in six postseason appearances in 2016 as the Cubs won the World Series.
There is nobody Chicago would rather be pitching in Tuesday's single-elimination clash, which spells trouble for the Colorado lineup.
The Rockies' season will be on the line Tuesday in the National League Wild Card Game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, while the Dodgers turn their attention to a Division Series showdown with the Atlanta Braves.