The Dodgers have consistently held a steady division lead by at least 12 games for most of the second half. Despite such a big lead and them potentially clinching with several weeks left in the season, their surge won’t be slowed.
On various social media outlets, I have read some fans worry that the Dodgers could lose some momentum if they clinch early and have nothing to play for these last several weeks of the season.
Even once Los Angeles does clinch the National League West, they will still have much to play for. They are chasing the best overall record in the National League which would give them home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs.
Finishing with the best record would also force the Nationals and Cubs to meet in the NLDS. Many experts believe the Dodgers, Nationals and Cubs are the best teams in the National League.
Forcing the Nationals and Cubs to play in the NLDS would mean the Dodgers would only have to go through one of them. Not only that, but the best overall record in baseball would give them home-field advantage in a possible World Series appearance, which would be huge.
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In addition to playing for home-field and the best playoff matchups possible, Los Angeles has some internal competitions going on at various positions.
Adrian Gonzalez has started his rehab assignment, and Andre Ethier will begin his rehab assignment on Saturday. Both veterans are fighting to earn their way back onto the Dodgers’ postseason roster, and Gonzalez could win the first base job back if he hits better than he did before his DL stint. Ethier is working his way back with hopes of being a clutch pinch-hitter off the bench in October.
Players like Kyle Farmer and a September callup like Alex Verdugo are all trying to show they belong on the postseason roster. Even Logan Forsythe could be fighting for his spot if Adrian Gonzalez returns to form.
Depending on how many pitchers the Dodgers stick on their playoff roster, there could be a roster spot or two open regardless of whether Gonzalez and Ethier come back or not.
In the bullpen, there is still much to be determined with the exception of Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez and Brandon Morrow because they are the only relievers that seem to be locks for the playoff roster.
One of the main competitions in the pen is for the two or three left-handed reliever spots. The Dodgers traded for Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani at the deadline which adds two more lefties to the pen.
They will be competing with Luis Avilan and Grant Dayton for October roles. LA will possibly face elite left-handed hitters like Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rizzo and Jake Lamb in the playoffs, so they will need a few proven left-handed relievers.
The Dodger starting rotation even has some competition brewing. Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood and Rich Hill will presumably make the four-man playoff rotation. But in the event a starter goes down, there could be a playoff rotation spot up for grabs.
Even if everyone is healthy, the Dodgers will likely place a starting pitcher or two in the bullpen for long relief. As my colleague Hector wrote about, the Dodger pitching depth has shined with Kershaw out in large part due to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda elevating their game.
They are both pitching for a playoff roster spot which is causing everyone to perform their best and will continue to drive the entire rotation until the regular season ends.
Despite the everyday starting lineup being all but locked up, there is still much to be decided for the bench and bullpen.
This will only add focus and preparation for Los Angeles even if they close out the division with weeks to spare. They will still be chasing home-field and try to go into October red hot. After all, history has shown that the teams which go into October on a hot streak tend to keep it going in the playoffs.