February 24, 2024

Three days off during a five-game series seems a bit excessive in a sport where teams play six and often seven days a week over the course of a grueling six-month regular season.

Baseball is a game of rhythm and repetition and — often in October — momentum, but the winner of Saturday night’s National League Division Series opener between the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks won’t be able to build a bigger head of steam Sunday because the series is dark.

This marks the first time in manager Dave Roberts’ eight-year tenure that the Dodgers will have an off day after the first game of a playoff series. Game 2 will be Monday night at Chavez Ravine. The teams are off Tuesday. Games 3 and 4, if necessary, will be played in Phoenix on Wednesday and Thursday night.

If a decisive Game 5 is necessary, it will be played Oct. 14 at Dodger Stadium after another off day.

“I like it,” Roberts said of the quirky schedule. “It’s actually a benefit to us. It gives guys a rest, you can use all of your bullpen guys with an extra day of rest, and you get to use your Nos. 1 and 2 starters twice in a series. So I think it’s good.”

Former Angels manager Mike Scioscia hated the choppy October schedule. Back in the days of yore, when the Angels were regular playoff participants, his 2009 team played nine playoff games in 18 days, an October run that ended with a six-game American League Championship Series loss to the eventual-champion New York Yankees.

Included in that stretch was a peculiar off day between Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS in Anaheim. Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, the ace of a thin rotation, had won Games 1 and 4 of the series. With an off day after Game 5 and Game 6 pushed back a day because of rain in New York, the Yankees would have had Sabathia lined up for a third start on regular rest in Game 7.

“The real test of baseball is that you do it every day — you can’t do that all season and then do it differently in the postseason,” Scioscia said after the Angels were eliminated. “It’s ridiculous. Can I say that any more clearly?”

This week’s NLDS schedule would seem to benefit teams with at least two standout starting pitchers and three or four stout back-end relievers, which could actually work in Arizona’s favor.

After No. 2 starter Merrill Kelly pitches Saturday night, ace Zac Gallen, who pitched the second game of the first-round series in Milwaukee, will start Monday night. Kelly and Gallen can then start Games 4 and 5 on regular rest.

“We feel like this puts us in a really good position because 1A and 1B are going to be able to potentially start four of these five games,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said before the series.

“I think [Major League Baseball] does a good job of reading, reacting and adjusting to schedules. I know they’ve got to deal with college football [on Saturday] and pro football on Sunday. So whatever they do, we stand by.”

The usually rotation-rich Dodgers entered this postseason with a patchwork starting staff. Veteran left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who is limited by a shoulder injury to about five innings, started Game 1, and rookie right-hander Bobby Miller will make his first playoff start in Game 2.

Veteran right-hander Lance Lynn, who gave up a major league-high 44 homers this season, is penciled in for Game 3. Kershaw has pitched on six days’ rest for the past month and might not be ready for Game 4, so the Dodgers may go with a reliever relay effort in Game 4. Miller could come back on regular rest for a Game 5.

But the strength of the Dodgers pitching staff is a deep and versatile bullpen that had a major league-best 2.28 ERA and yielded a major league-low .197 batting average since June 20. With three off days, closer Evan Phillips and top setup men Ryan Brasier and Brusdar Graterol will be available to pitch in three, four and maybe even five games.

“No,” Roberts said, when asked if he had a pitching plan beyond Kershaw and Miller. “I think with the off days, we’re gonna kind of piece it together.”

Head-scratcher

Kelly, the Diamondbacks right-hander, has a superb 48-43 career record and 3.29 ERA in five seasons but entered Saturday night’s game with an 0-11 mark and 5.49 ERA in 16 starts against the Dodgers, including an Aug. 30 shellacking in which he gave up seven runs and 12 hits in five innings of a 9-1 loss at Chavez Ravine.

“It’s a bit of a mystery, a bit of a puzzle, for me to solve,” Kelly said Friday. “It would be nice to get my first Dodger win in five years in the playoffs. In my mind, I’m well overdue for one.”

Why have the Dodgers had his number?

“I think they just prepare really well,” Kelly said. “They do a lot of things that other teams don’t. Whatever analytics or preparation department they have over there, I think they do a really good job of game-planning, and they do a good job as a lineup, one through nine, sticking to that game plan.”

Friend and foe

Dodgers star Mookie Betts interrupted Lovullo’s news conference on Friday to give his former bench coach in Boston a quick hug, saying, “He raised me in this game.” As Betts walked out, Lovullo said, “Good luck … not really.”

Lovullo, the Red Sox bench coach from 2013-16, appreciated the gesture.

“That’s what makes you feel good when you’re a teacher and kind of a mentor,” Lovullo said. “You have a young athlete, you know what he’s like in the minor leagues, he gets to the big-league level, and you have hours and hours of conversations about what it will be like when you get to that level or greatness.

“And for me, I watch him perform, and there’s nothing better. I wish he wasn’t in the NL West, but I mean, that’s a beautiful human being there.”

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