Alexander: Was time off good or bad for the Dodgers?

LOS ANGELES — If five days of R and R while their playoff opponent was fighting for its competitive life – and getting hot in the process – concerned the Dodgers, no one let on Tuesday afternoon.

The scores from other outposts, on day one of the Division Series, seemed ominous. Philadelphia took down Atlanta in Game 1, leading 7-1 at one point and holding on to win 7-6 to continue its postseason run. Seattle knocked out Justin Verlander in taking a 7-3 lead over Houston, before burping up the lead and the game in the final two innings.

So, rest or rust? After their 5-3 victory over San Diego on Tuesday night, the Dodgers can at least say the time off didn’t hurt them.

The teams that drew byes for having the top two records in each league might as well be guinea pigs, going into a totally new postseason environment. Aside from 2020, when everybody had to play in that edge-of-the-cliff first-round series, the team with the best record got the winner of the wild-card game. That team had to use up pitchers to get through that game while its opponent could reset its pitching staff, a natural advantage for the higher-seeded team.

(If you’ll remember, that advantage didn’t manifest itself in the Division Series last year when the Dodgers beat the Giants, but they were worn out by the time they got to the NLCS against Atlanta.)

But that break for the wild-card game was generally only two or three days.

This time, no one knew for sure how those teams who were sitting around would respond. Tuesday’s early results provided some hints, and they weren’t necessarily encouraging for a team that won a team-record 111 regular-season games, has won more than 100 games in four of the last five full seasons and had baseball’s best record in the 2020 pandemic sprint, but somehow has its fans conditioned to expect the worst in October.

Idk how any Dodgers fan could possibly watch that Mariners game and think to themselves, “yeah the next few days are going to be super chill”

— Jeff Spiegel (@JeffSpiegel) October 12, 2022

Justin Turner, speaking before the game – while the Mariners still had a big lead on the TV monitor on the wall of the news conference room – talked as if it wasn’t really a big deal.

“We played some intrasquad games and took at-bats and tried to keep the flow of feeling like you’re going out and playing in a game every day as best as possible,” he said. “Obviously, guys weren’t stealing bases and breaking up double plays and stretching singles into doubles, but it was good to get out there, play those intrasquad games.

“Plus, for the hitters it was kind of nice. We got to face our pitching staff, which is pretty good. So it wasn’t like we were missing too much. We were facing some pretty good arms, so we like how that went.”

So while the Padres were dealing with Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Edwin Diaz and the New York Mets’ other arms, Dodger hitters were taking their hacks against Dustin May, Blake Treinen, and the rest. Not, obviously, at full throttle, but if you have to prepare against a pitching staff I suppose you could probably do worse.

The concern before the fact works both ways, of course. While the Dodgers worried about rust, the Padres dealt with having to fight through a three-game series, use their Nos. 1, 2 and 3 starting pitchers, and then take a cross-country flight to LAX with one day between series. The structure of the wild card series does at least allow San Diego to bring back its No. 1 and 2 pitchers quickly in this series, Yu Darvish Wednesday night and Blake Snell Friday at Petco Park.

Still, the Padres’ Bob Melvin would prefer that time off, as would most managers.

“You want to play one less series,” Melvin said before Tuesday’s game. “I think typically wild card teams have to fight their way in. They win the first series. They have to fight their way through that, and they’re probably playing well, as you are seeing in games like today. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a benefit.

“If you are choosing it, you would always choose the rest, winning a division and playing one less series.”

And here, a reminder: Past results (in other cities) are no indication of future performance.

That three-game series in New York meant that Mike Clevinger, with an 0-2 record and 9.69 ERA to show for his three starts against the Dodgers this year, would pitch Game 1 of the NLDS. Clevinger had been rocked in his two starts at Dodger Stadium, an 8-3 loss in August and a 9-4 loss in September.

And this one pretty much started out the same way. Trea Turner homered, Will Smith doubled and Max Muncy delivered an RBI single for a 2-0 Dodgers lead in the first. In the third, doubles by Trea Turner, Smith and Gavin Lux surrounding a walk to Muncy made it 4-0 and knocked out Clevinger, and Wil Myers’ error on Cody Bellinger’s grounder to first allowed the fifth run to score.

But along the way, this meeting of supposed unequals turned into an old-fashioned playoff game, anything but easy on the nerves. Julio Urías only made it through the fifth before handing it over to the Dodgers’ new-look bullpen, and all throughout Southern California their fans were biting fingernails and rubbing worry beads.

The Dodgers didn’t have a hit after the third inning and didn’t have a baserunner after the fourth, but their bullpen protected the lead, and that sound you might have heard at the end was a mass sigh of relief.

So on the first day of this new format, consider the results mixed. The Braves could be in trouble against a surging Phillies team that’s using Atlanta’s 2021 playbook, the Astros wormed their way out of trouble, and the Yankees established their authority in a Game 1 win over Cleveland.

And here? We are again reminded that baseball in October is not a soothing pastime, even – especially – when your team has won 111 games.

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