Dodgers grateful for ability to set NLCS rotation

Unlike recent LCS appearances, all options on table heading into series

Dodgers grateful for ability to set NLCS rotation

For the third time in five years, the Dodgers will play in the National League Championship Series.

NLCS Game 1: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on TBS

In most respects, they've been here before. In one critical aspect, however, they haven't.

Game Date Time Matchup/Results TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 14   LAD 5, CHC 2 WATCH
Gm 2 Oct. 15   LAD 4, CHC 1 WATCH
Gm 3 Oct. 17   LAD 6, CHC 1 WATCH
Gm 4 Oct. 18 9 p.m. LAD @ CHC TBS
*Gm 5 Oct. 19 8 p.m. LAD @ CHC TBS
*Gm 6 Oct. 21 4 or 8 p.m. CHC @ LAD TBS
*Gm 7 Oct. 22 7:30 p.m. CHC @ LAD TBS

Los Angeles faced the Cardinals in 2013 and the Cubs in '16, losing both series in six games. The circumstances are undeniably different this time, thanks largely to their sweep of the D-backs in the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Dress for NLCS: Get Dodgers' postseason gear

For the first time in their run of five consecutive division titles, the Dodgers will enter the NLCS presented by Camping World with the ability to set their rotation just how they like it. Unlike previous postseasons, Clayton Kershaw will not be coming off a short-rest start. Thus, unlike previous postseasons, the Dodgers won't be scrambling to find a Game 1 starter.

"Being able to set your rotation, not having to travel the first two games of the series, I think they're huge advantages," said Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts. "That's the byproduct of having the season that we had."

Roberts, who appears to be deciding between Yu Darvish and Rich Hill for Sunday's Game 2 start, actually hasn't set his rotation yet. But that's beside the point. This time, Roberts gets to make the choice. His hand wasn't forced by a long Division Series or a Kershaw short-rest start.

Beyond Kershaw, Roberts mulling NLCS rotation

A year ago, Kershaw pitched five times in a 16-day span. For all the talk about Kershaw's postseason struggles -- specifically in the seventh inning -- his skipper chalked at least some of that up to fatigue.

"I haven't dug into every single seventh inning that he's had," Roberts said. "But I think some of it has been on the short rest. It has gotten him in the seventh."

Roberts hasn't ruled out using Kershaw on short rest as the postseason progresses. But it helps that he hasn't had to play that card yet. The side effects of short-rest starts often linger beyond just the next start.

Kershaw ready for NLCS Game 1

"The biggest thing is that we have the opportunity to set things up the way we want to," said Hill. "Obviously, having home-field advantage is huge. That's something we're going to take advantage of and use to our benefit."

Added Kershaw: "It can't be a bad thing [that we can set our rotation]. It's definitely a good thing for us."

They would know.

A year ago, Kershaw started Game 4 of the NLDS, then came out of the bullpen in Game 5, with Hill starting that game. Neither pitcher was available in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cubs, which the Dodgers lost after four innings of three-run ball from Kenta Maeda. Instantly, they found themselves playing from behind.

This year, the roles will be reversed, especially after the Cubs burned through seven pitchers in their Game 5 win over the Nationals on Thursday.

So before the NLCS even begins, the Dodgers already have the pitching edge.

"To be at home, watching games, seeing how things play out, we're in a pretty good place," Roberts said.

AJ Cassavell is in his seventh season as a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.