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Dodgers roll into NLCS with sweep of rival Padres

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Los Angeles Dodgers completed a division-series sweep of NL West rival San Diego with a 12-3 victory Thursday night, setting up an NLCS showdown against the only other unbeaten team this postseason, the Atlanta Braves.

The two best teams in the National League will square off in a seven-game series starting Monday. The ALCS, featuring Houston and the winner of New York and Tampa Bay’s ALDS Game 5, will begin Sunday.

“We obviously feel really confident about our club, [but] we’ve still got a lot to work to do though,” A.J. Pollock said. “We did what we wanted to do, we did what we’re supposed to do. We’re going to celebrate that, but we expected it.”

The Dodgers remain the clear favorites to win the World Series, and after watching how they blunted the Padres over three games, it’s easy to see why.

Every game, the Dodgers exhibited championship-caliber characteristics. Their pitching shut down the Padres’ dangerous lineup in Game 1. Their home run-robbing defense preserved a close win in Game 2. And in Game 3, the Dodgers’ offense, relatively dormant in these playoffs, awoke with fury, led by Will Smith, who became the first catcher and ninth player ever to record five hits in a postseason game.

Smith capped his outburst with a bases-loaded double in the ninth inning and finished 5-for-6 with three RBIs. Los Angeles’ four runs in the ninth inning were a nice bookend to the third inning, when the Dodgers put the game out of reach.

Trailing 2-1, Los Angeles plated five runs, three of them coming with two outs and after a curious intentional walk. Rather than face Cody Bellinger, the Padres allowed Pollock to lace a run-scoring single to left field before Joc Pederson followed with a two-run single to extend the lead to 6-2.

“Our offense was great. We had big plays, big moments from a lot of different guys throughout the series,” Pollock said.

From there, the Dodgers set it to cruise control and returned to the NLCS for the fourth time in five years and the 14th time in franchise history. In 2016, they lost to the Chicago Cubs. In 2017 and 2018, they won the pennant only to fall to the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, both of whom later were disciplined by the commissioner’s office for illicit sign stealing. Last year, they were ousted in spectacular fashion during the division series by the eventual champions Washington Nationals.

This season, the Dodgers ensured they would suffer no such fate. Their 43-17 regular-season record secured the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason, and Los Angeles quickly took care of Milwaukee in the wild-card round. The Padres, their NL West rivals, were a greater threat but a hobbled one. Their best starter this season, Dinelson Lamet, did not pitch in the postseason because of an arm injury, and Mike Clevinger, the starter they acquired at the deadline, left in the second inning of Game 1 because of arm troubles.

The Dodgers have spent the season relatively healthy, and it allowed them to weather the barrage of looks San Diego threw at them in Game 3. The Padres used a playoff-record 11 pitchers and 24 players in the game. The volume couldn’t match the Dodgers’ excellence.

They move to the NLCS with one pertinent question — will longtime closer Kenley Jansen keep his job after a troubling downtick in velocity? — and a few smaller ones that tend to answer themselves. The overarching questions are all answered.

Do the Dodgers have the talent to win their first World Series since 1988? Certainly.

Will the Braves, with their devastating lineup and crack bullpen, pose their most difficult challenge yet? Absolutely. Is this NLCS going to be memorable? Whether it ends with the Dodgers returning to the World Series or Atlanta going to its first since 1999, for sure.

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