Dodgers' Ghosts of Playoff Past Swirling After Brutal NLCS Game 2 Loss to Braves

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2020

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw watches during the fourth inning in Game 2 of a baseball National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Dodgers have won eight consecutive National League West titles. In that span, they've claimed a pair of pennants and appeared in five National League Championship Series, including their current tussle with Atlanta.

But one number continues to haunt the Dodgers: zero.

That's how many World Series they've won since 1988.

After suffering a dispiriting 8-7 defeat against Atlanta on Tuesday, Los Angeles trails 2-0 in the best-of-seven NLCS. The team isn't buried, but the ghosts of playoffs past are swirling.

The Dodgers finished the truncated 2020 season with the best record (43-17) and run differential (plus-136) in baseball. They swept the Milwaukee Brewers in two games in the Wild Card Round and took three straight from the upstart San Diego Padres in their division series showdown.

In the NLCS, L.A. met an Atlanta club that also won its division and was 5-0 in the postseason after sweeping aside the Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins.

On paper and based on recent performance, these were the two best squads in the Senior Circuitand they were on a collision course.

Thus far, Atlanta has done the most impactful damage.

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The NL East champs' arms have continued their superlative playoff performance. After shutting out Cincinnati for 22 innings, Atlanta gave up just five runs in 27 frames to Miami.

Rookie Ian Anderson put four one-hit zeroes on the scoreboard in Game 2 against Los Angeles and now boasts 15.2 shutout innings this postseason with 22 strikeouts. Right-hander Max Fried has fanned 18 in 17 innings across three stout starts. 

Atlanta's deep, experienced pen has also largely done its part despite making things tense with six earned runs allowed in five innings Tuesday.

Then there are the bats. Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Travis d'Arnaud have each swatted a pair of homers in the playoffs, while other key contributors such as Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna have had their moments.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Atlanta is a confident club on a roll that's two wins away from its first Fall Classic appearance since 1999.

As for the Dodgers, the air of invincibility is leaking rapidly from their balloon. 

That became especially true when Clayton Kershaw was scratched prior to Game 2 with back spasms. The three-time Cy Young Award winner was 2-0 in the 2020 playoffs with 19 Ks in 14 innings and appeared determined to slay his October demons.

Manager Dave Roberts sounded confident Kershaw would return at some point in the NLCS, but no one knows how healthy or effective the Dodgers ace will be.

Right-hander Walker Buehler, meanwhile, lasted five innings in Game 1 and reached the 100-pitch mark but is battling finger blisters. Suddenly, the depth and durability of L.A.'s rotation is a glaring question mark.

The Mookie Betts-led offense that scored 30 runs in five games against Milwaukee and San Diego showed signs of life Tuesday. It got the winning run to the plate in the ninth inning in the form of left fielder A.J. Pollock, who grounded out sharply to end it.

The Dodgers forced Atlanta closer Mark Melancon into the game for a second straight day by pushing across four runs in the final frame, which could have implications for Game 3 and beyond. But it was too little, too late for the Dodgers on Tuesday. And if they don't reverse course soon, that will be the epitaph on the tombstone of their 2020 campaign.

It's not merely that L.A. hasn't hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy since the waning days of the Ronald Reagan administration. This is a club that is perennially among the biggest spenders in baseball, and it's had enough close calls in recent years to feel like it has to happen soon.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

As Roberts told reporters, "It's kind of World Series or bust every year."

Blame the Houston Astros and their sign-stealing shenanigans in 2017, which may have robbed L.A. of a title in a hard-fought and now-tainted seven-game series. Blame Kershaw's periodic postseason hiccups. Blame the cruel twists of fate that can doom even the most seemingly unbeatable teams in MLB's small-sample autumn crucible.

But rest assured: Atlanta doesn't feel sorry for the Dodgers. And the squad from Georgia isn't scared of them, either.

Los Angeles is facing a worthy opponent with a head of steam. The ghosts are swirling. And time is running out.


All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of