Oh yeah, something’s definitely different.The past five seasons of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball have reaped five divisional titles and three trips to the NLCS. But in each of those postseason runs, something was undoubtedly missing from those teams, hindering their pursuit of World Series glory. Dodger squads of postseasons past lacked something — something you couldn’t quite put your finger on — a playoff magic of sorts that would lead to ultimate failure come October.Over the past decade, Angelenos have witnessed the Dodgers strand runners in scoring position when a big hit was needed. When a strong inning of relief pitching was required of the bullpen, a Dodgers hurler would be sure to serve up a game-winning run to the opposition in devastating fashion. There’s been no shortage of postseason disappointment for L.A. fans over the past three decades.But at the exact moment when Justin Turner launched a 3-run homer past the outfield wall in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday night, I concluded that this year’s Dodgers team is in fact, different. Turner’s walk-off blast, which gave his team a 2-0 lead in the NLCS against the reigning champion Chicago Cubs, came on the exact 29-year anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s legendary World Series home run in Game 1 of the 1988 Fall Classic. It doesn’t get more Hollywood than that. The Dodgers’ bullpen also performed heroically in Game 2, completely shutting down the Cubs lineup from the sixth inning on after starting pitcher Rich Hill delivered five frames of one-run baseball. Dodgers relievers combined for four innings of shutout, no-hit baseball: The only Cub to reach base was Anthony Rizzo, who was hit by a Kenley Jansen pitch in the top of the ninth inning. Through the opening two games of the NLCS, the L.A. bullpen has retired 24 of the 25 hitters faced. Chicago has yet to record a hit or walk against Dodger relievers in this series.Jansen, in particular, has been automatic for the Dodgers, recording a save in Game 1 and a win in Game 2. Through 2.1 innings pitched against Chicago in the series, Jansen has struck out six and allowed only one hitter to reach base. Jansen is the finishing move that opposing teams never want to see the Dodgers resort to. “[The bullpen is] just executing pitches, and they’re ready when called upon and competing,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the media following Game 2. Considering the Dodgers have been victim to bullpen meltdowns in past postseasons, it has been a refreshing sight to see Dodgers relievers locking things down in the early stages of the NLCS. Moving forward, Los Angeles must keep dialing up strong outings from the back end of its bullpen. Timely hitting and heroic pitching efforts are twomust-have elements for any team looking to make a title run in October. In their 5-0 start to this postseason, the Dodgers have put both aspects on display. And now, following Sunday’s magical win, Los Angeles is believing that the Commissioner’s Trophy could be coming to the southland for the first time in 29 years. The Dodgers’ postseason slogan in 2017 has been “This Team.” The slogan is appropriate, as it appears that this team could be the one to finally solve the championship puzzle for the Dodgers. It appeared so during the regular season, but through five games of postseason play, the Dodgers have confirmed that they have the championship attributes necessary to win a World Series title. “What’s different about this team?” Jansen said. “We all care about each other. It’s not about that one guy or this … every night it’s been someone [different] stepping up for us.”Jansen’s sentiments about this Dodgerg team ring true. It’s been a different hero every night for Los Angeles all season long. The Dodgers have had 10 walk-off wins in 2017, coming from nine different players. The Dodgers’ collective efforts have brought them to the gates of baseball’s promised land. Two wins from a World Series berth and six wins away from ending a nearly three-decade title drought. This team will look to make another advance toward the Fall Classic Tuesday night in Chicago for Game 3. The Dodgers now leave the friendly confines of Chavez Ravine for those of Wrigley Field. Behind Yu Darvish, Los Angeles will look to take a stranglehold on this series and return home by the end of the week with the franchise’s first National League pennant since 1988. This team. This team is the one with all the potential to return World Series prosperity to the Dodger faithful. Angel Viscarra is a junior studying broadcast and digital journalism. His column, Viscarra’s Vice, runs Tuesdays.
It wasn’t like Dan Haren was all about the money earlier in his career. At every single stage of his 12 years in the big leagues, winning trumped everything else.But he’d be lying if he didn’t admit there was a financial stake in pitching well.It all went hand in hand.By establishing himself as an upper-echelon major-league pitcher, he better positioned his team to win baseball games. The more he did that, the better the chance for a big payday. By all accounts, Haren accomplished his goals. By his third season, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball, a distinction that will translate to approximately $71 million in earnings by the end of his current contract.Objective met.All of which makes the 33-year-old right-hander just like every professional athlete who has ever laced up a pair of high tops or spikes.You play to win the game. And to make a living.At this stage of his career, he could easily dismiss a bad start or rough outing.But if anything, failure is harder to stomach more than ever.After starring at Bishop Amat High and Pepperdine University, Haren has been an All-Star, a Cy Young Candidate and a staff ace. And he’s got enough money to last a lifetime and beyond.Life hasn’t just worked out. It’s exceeded his wildest dreams.Yet the angst he carries around when he doesn’t deliver is more pronounced now than at any other time.He should be embracing the good times and brushing off the bad.But he can’t.“At this stage of my career, the losses hurt more than the wins feel good,” said Haren, whose suffered plenty of pain this year while enduring a devastating five-game losing streak in which he provided the Dodgers with little chance to compete.It got so bad Haren was in danger of losing his spot in the rotation.But losing his job had nothing on the anguish he felt being a liability to the Dodgers rather than the asset they needed him to be. “It’s not fun going out there and getting pummeled every night for like, a month straight basically, and coming to the park miserable every day,” Haren said. “That’s no way to live.” For the moment anyway, Haren seems to have straightened himself out. His seven-inning, three-hit, one-run outing against the Mets over the weekend was his third solid performance over his past four starts, providing the Dodgers some stability in the back end of their rotation and Haren some much-needed peace of mind.“Positive reinforcement is always good,” said Haren, who has been progressively locating his curveball and fastball better and minimizing use of his cutter. “Now I can go into my next start feeling really good and try to keep this thing going.”At the very least, it beats the anxiety he was dealing with during the losing streak.Again, you’d think he’d be better equipped to let the rough times roll off his back after accomplishing everything he has over his career.Actually, it’s anything but.“It also makes the losing even harder,” Haren said. “When I was going through my rough stretch earlier, there were times I was doubting why I was even doing this.” You’d have a field day with all that if your professional title ended with an M.D., but the pop psychologist in Haren suggests it probably has more to do with what he doesn’t have than anything he does.He no longer pitchers for baseball cred or to secure a life-altering contract.Been there, done that.He just wants to do his job at a high level and help the Dodgers win. Even as he creeps closer to the 180 innings needed to trigger the $10-million dollar option on his 2015 contract, money is of little significance.“It may sound stupid, but who knows if I’ll even want to play next year?” Haren said. “I’d rather throw 179 2/3 innings and us win the division, honestly. I’ve made enough money in my life. I’ve been blessed. My kids’ kids hopefully are set up. That’s a lot of money. I don’t want to devalue that and sound like a snob, but I mean, my goal is for this team to achieve what we set out to.” Point is, the only motivation now is hold up his end of the bargain on a winning team. “I have to be able to step up,” Haren said. “That’s what they brought me here to do.”And when that objective isn’t met every fifth day, it’s excruciating.The key is compartmentalizing those emotions in order get the job done.That’s easier said than done.“There’s always the self-doubt element that comes into play. It happens to even the best of them,” Haren said.“I realize at this stage of my career, I’m not an elite starting pitcher anymore. But even if a guy like Clayton Kershaw had a few bad games, he’s going to doubt his stuff and himself. That’s just natural. For me, you’ve got to also, when the good stuff happens, enjoy those too,“You can’t just beat yourself up over the bad ones.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error