CHICAGO — It hasn’t been 108 years since the Los Angeles Dodgers have won a World Series, but they are one step closer to erasing their own drought. After knocking out the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series with an 11-1 victory at Wrigley Field on Thursday, the Dodgers are back in the World Series for the first time since 1988, when Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson led the team to a dramatic upset of the Oakland A’s.
This is the Dodgers’ 11th postseason appearance since then, and their stretch of 10 appearances in a row without a title is an MLB record. That history has been punctuated by four previous losses in the NLCS, including last season when the Cubs beat them in six games, a defeat that prompted ace starter Clayton Kershaw to admit the Cubs were “just the better team.”
This year was different. Kershaw was once again on the mound for the Dodgers, but this time trying to pitch his team into the World Series instead of facing elimination. In his five previous NLCS starts dating to 2013, the Dodgers had been shut out three times and scored only six runs — three of those coming in Game 1 of this series after Kershaw was knocked out.
In this game, the Dodgers scored early and often. Super-sub Enrique Hernandez was the offensive hero, with a solo home run to left-center off Jose Quintana in the top of the second inning and then an opposite-field grand slam to right-center off reliever Hector Rondon in the third that gave the Dodgers a 7-0 lead. Hernandez added a two-run homer in the ninth, ending the night 3-for-4 with seven RBIs.
Kershaw did his part as well, throwing six innings to earn the win. He gave up one run, on a solo homer by Kris Bryant, and three hits. He struck out five and walked one.
Just a few weeks ago, it was difficult to envision the Dodgers going 7-1 in eight postseason games. After a torrid 56-11 run put them on pace to challenge the MLB record for wins in a season, they inexplicably lost 16 of 17 from late August through mid-September, a stretch of ineptitude no playoff team had ever endured. The Dodgers recovered to finish with 104 wins, most in the majors and most for the franchise since it moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
“We learned that we could get through something like that and come out on the other side,” manager Dave Roberts said before Game 4. “It was also encouraging to see that guys continued to stay the course as far as the preparation. There wasn’t any finger-pointing. We still banded together and stayed focused on winning baseball games.”
The Dodgers eliminated the Cubs even though All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, the team’s No. 2 hitter, missed the series because of a sore back. Roster depth has been key to the team’s success all season. In Seager’s absence, Charlie Culberson — who started only one game at shortstop all season — started the first two games and Game 5, and Chris Taylor, who had become the team’s starting center fielder, took over in Games 3 and 4. Hernandez, a right-handed hitter, has started games at seven positions this season and was in the starting lineup with the lefty Quintana starting.
Taylor and Justin Turner were named co-MVPs of the NLCS.