A baseball season goes where it goes, beyond prediction, expectation. Imagine if I had I told you in spring training that the playoff center fielders for the top seeds would be Chris Taylor and Jason Kipnis.
Taylor was a utility player who never had played the outfield professionally. Kipnis was the entrenched second baseman of the defending AL champions who last played the outfield in college.
Yet, in the waning days of the season, the Indians are experimenting with Kipnis in center, owing to injury and also that Jose Ramirez has assembled an MVP candidacy at second in place of Kipnis.
The Dodgers are no longer experimenting. Taylor is their center fielder. What is amazing is just how uncertain so much else is around this club so close to the playoffs.
Los Angeles essentially needed the season to end a month ago and its players preserved in bubble-wrap. Because back in the good old days — through three weeks in August — the Dodgers were drawing comparisons to the best teams in history.
Even in clinching the NL West Friday night, the Dodgers had won just seven of their last 27 games. Studies show little correlation between how a team plays in September and how they perform in the playoffs. You might remember, for example, that the 2000 Yankees closed 3-15 and won the World Series and the 2006 Cardinals lost 14 of 22 to end the year and won it all.
What stands out, though, for the Dodgers is two-fold:
1. Just how much pressure is going to be on them. Those Yankee teams always had an intense burden, but by 2000 the core group had the muscle memory of winning three times in the previous four years. That group handled big games expertly because there was such a faith in each other that no one player over-stressed that success fell upon him.
Which makes me wonder about Clayton Kershaw, who will get Game 1 of a Division Series. The lefty has been good, not great since returning from another back injury — he allowed his first career grand slam against the Phillies last week. Kershaw is an historically great pitcher missing one item to fortify his legacy: a dominant postseason a la Madison Bumgarner in 2014.
Kershaw is wound tightly, and should he not pitch well in Dodger Stadium on Oct. 6 and L.A. loses, well, now shift the burden to likely Game 2 starter Yu Darvish, who also does not seem completely capable of walling himself off from the noise around him.
And remember the whole team is going to be operating with a staggering expectations…