Despite their recent tailspin, the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled out the final two games of their series in San Francisco to maintain a small edge in the race for home-field advantage in the National League. Until two weeks ago, the top seed was all but assured for the Dodgers, but now the Nationals are right on their heels. After wins Friday night and Saturday afternoon in Washington, the Dodgers’ lead for top record in the NL is back to seven games.
If the Dodgers hang on to their position and keep home games at Dodger Stadium for the majority of the postseason, their NLDS opponent will likely be the winner of the Rockies-Diamondbacks wild card game. One one hand, that technically means the Dodgers get the weakest team in the playoffs. On the other, it means they play a team that has seen them 19 times already with good success against them in either case.
Is there an argument to be made that the Dodgers don’t actually want the No. 1 seed in the National League, so they can avoid playing a strong division opponent who has a book on them? Put another way: If they get the top seed, would it actually be a detriment to them?
Not really. Because if they slide to the No. 2 seed, their most likely NLDS opponent is the reigning champion Chicago Cubs, who are in first in the NL Central (though the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals are both making September pushes for the division).
If it is the Cubs, the Dodgers are facing arguably the most stacked team in either league. It hasn’t been a great season for the Cubs, but they’re still a tough matchup for anyone thanks to strong starting pitching and a deep, powerful lineup. If it’s the Brewers, they’ll be riding a wave of momentum that includes a sweep at Dodger Stadium just a couple of weeks ago. If it’s the Cardinals? Well, any Dodgers fan with a pulse can tell you why that sounds horrible.
There are no easy outs in the playoffs. The Dodgers might be the best team, statistically speaking. They might also boast the best roster on paper. But the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cubs and Nationals are all serious World Series contenders, and the Brewers and Cardinals each have the type of team that could make a surprise October run.
Yet the Dodgers have been unstoppable at home for most of this season and feel very comfortable playing in front of the home fans at Chavez Ravine. They’ve been dominant at the best-attended home stadium in baseball, and key players like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner have expressed the importance of getting that top seed.
Even if just for the sheer fact that the home team gets last dibs in any given game, the Dodgers should be playing for the top seed. They’ve been walk-off magicians this season, and they have the best closer in the game in Kenley Jansen. It’s a much better position to have him on the mound for the ninth inning with one more at-bat if necessary than to face an opponent’s best reliever with their backs against the wall.
The Diamondbacks or Rockies could be tough opponents for the Dodgers in the NLDS, but so would any other team. They are in the playoffs for a reason, so it doesn’t really matter who the opponent is — they’ll be a good squad regardless. But the counterargument with those NL West teams is that the Dodgers have seen them just as much as they’ve seen the Dodgers.
The Rockies and Diamondbacks know the Dodgers, but the Dodgers know them too. And one advantage the Dodgers have is they’ve been a playoff team for the past half a decade, unlike Arizona and Colorado. As far as matchups, would the Dodgers rather see Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant at home and then Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy on the road?
Or should they want to face a team they know well with the advantage of home field? It’s a no-brainer. Play to be the best. Play for that No. 1 seed.