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Murray's Mailbag: How will the Dodgers choke in the playoffs this season?

Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw doing his typical postseason pose. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

With the Mountain West voting last week to play a truncated fall football season, I figured this week's Monday Mailbag would be loaded with questions about the Nevada football team. Instead, there were a lot of baseball questions (and almost none about the Wolf Pack), perhaps because my tweet Sunday centered on rooting for the San Francisco Giants to make the playoffs (they didn't pull through). Let's get to this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag question. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome.)

I wanted to see the Giants in the playoffs for two reasons: (1) There's never been a Dodgers-Giants playoff series in the divisional era (since 1969), although they faced off in best-of-three series in 1951 and 1962; and (2) the Giants are devoid of aces, and aces scare me the most in the playoffs. They're like a hot goalie in the Stanley Cup Finals. They can jack up all your plans, just like the combo of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg did to the Dodgers in a short series last season (and the Dodgers were still six outs away from winning that series with competent managing). But no NL team wanted that final playoff spot. The Giants finished the season 1-4 over its final five games; the Phillies went 1-7 over its final eight games; and the Brewers went 2-4 over its final six. Alas, the Dodgers get the Brewers, whose ace Corbin Burnes is out with a strained oblique, which I will take. I like the matchup.

I was really rooting for the Giants!

The Dodgers were 6-4 against the Giants and out-scored them by 27 runs in those games (plus-2.7 runs per game, which is higher than the Dodgers' overall run differential this season of plus-2.3 runs per game, which was historically great). I would not have been worried about the Giants any more than any other team in a three-game series, which is a joke by the way. These series should be five games, or the lower seed should have to win all three games if this is the format you like. Anyway, my MVPs are Mookie Betts in the NL (he led MLB in bWAR) and Shane Bieber in the AL, who also wins the AL Cy Young. NL Cy Young goes to Trevor Bauer.

(4) All of the above.

We all know the Dodgers are the best team in baseball. They had the best record by three wins. They had the best run differential by 56 runs. They scored the most runs per game. They allowed the second-fewest runs per game. They were second in defensive runs saved. By every description, they're the best team in baseball. Historically good even. But we put a lot of emphasis on this postseason tournament MLB holds, so I'm sure Dodger fans will be let down by the randomness of the game. Here's how it will happen in 2020.

Game 1: Walker Buehler either (a) has his blister rip open in the second inning or (b) gives up one run over seven innings only to see Kenley Jansen blow a three-run lead in the ninth for a 4-3 loss. My money is on B.

Game 2: Clayton Kershaw gives up one run in the first five innings and then loads the bases with two outs in the sixth before Pedro Baez enters to give up a grand slam. Dodgers lose, 7-5.

The Dodgers don't even make it to game three. After being the best team in baseball for 60 games over two months, they're out of the playoffs after a bad 30-hour period. I'm looking forward to it!

He's been healthier this season, as you can see with his fastball velocity. He did spend some time last offseason at Driveline Baseball's headquarters, a data-driven performance center. So it's a combination of that and his back getting a longer time to heal that has pushed his average fastball from 90.3 mph in 2019 to 91.6 mpg in 2020, which isn't where it was in 2015 (94.2 mph), but it's a positive sign, and he has increased the movement on his slider, too. Kershaw is no longer the best pitcher in baseball, but he's better than the previous two seasons stuff-wise, so he doesn't have an excuse there if he falls short in the playoffs this year. Much of Kershaw postseason narrative is wrong. He pitched on three days' rest all the time in his elite years, which bloated his numbers, and the last two years his stuff just hasn't been that good. Given the additional rest he's had this season, his stuff is back at a level where you'd expect him to be good in the playoffs, and if he's not good, that's on him.

While I know some Giants fans believe the team overachieved this season, the Marlins made the playoffs for goodness sakes. The 105-loss Marlins from 2019 that lost half its team to COVID in 2020 made the playoffs. It's pathetic for a high-payroll team (Giants were ninth in payroll) to not to make the playoffs when eight of the 15 teams in each league make it. At least the Giants did fish out some future pieces in Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano, Alex Dickerson and Mauricio Dubon. The offense was fine (eighth in MLB in runs). The defense was fine (13th in defensive runs saved). The pitching is the issue, and I don't know how you fix that with Johnny Cueto, Tyler Anderson and Logan Webb being the frontline of your rotation in 2021. The top free-agent pitchers are Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman and Masahiro Tanaka, and even signing two of those leaves you short in the rotation. And there's not much help pitching-wise on the farm. But they'll always have 2008, 2010 and 2012.

It depends on the biceps of Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger, who both left their last start of the regular season with biceps injuries. They're as good as any non-Dodger team out there if those two are healthy, but it's hard to see them being 100 percent given the happenings of the last week.

No. While the NCAA is going to waive bowl eligibility requirements, meaning a team with zero wins would be eligible for a bowl, I don't see the quality of bowl teams changing. The MW has six bowl tie-ins this season, and assuming all of those games are played, the conference is probably just going to take its top six teams by winning percentage. Given how crazy this season is going to be, it didn't make sense to have rigid bowl eligibility requirements (some teams could play five regular-season games while others play 12). College football added three bowl games in 2020 (Myrtle Beach Bowl, Fenway Bowl, LA Bowl), so that will water down the field a little, but most bowl teams will be .500 or better. The only exceptions I could see are marquee brand names with bad 2020 seasons getting a nod in bigger bowls to try and juice ratings (like a Florida State). It shouldn't impact the MW. Finish in the top of the conference and you should get a bowl.

Unknown at this stage. The team has not announced having new uniforms, although there are typically tweaks every offseason. They are practicing in silver helmets, which I've not seen before. They usually practice in navy helmets without logos in fall camp. So maybe they'll be wearing silver domes this season, although I say stick to navy except for special uniforms. Just one more area of intrigue as we get ready for an eight-game, eight-week 2020 season starting Oct. 24.

I'll have a story Tuesday on potential attendance at Nevada sporting events, but the Wolf Pack will be waiting on Gov. Steve Sisolak there. He hasn't allowed fans at Reno 1868 FC games yet, and that's an outdoor venue whereas Lawlor Events Center is indoors, and thus more prone to COVID spread. Gov. Sisolak said Friday he will give an update this week that will include adjustments to the current capacity limit for gatherings, lifting certain restrictions on youth sports, and other updates to current statewide standards. So he could give a green light to fans in the stands as early as Tuesday, and Nevada will have to wait until then to announce any plans for seating at Lawlor Events Center. It seems like Mackay Stadium would be first up on that front because it is an outside venue, which makes it safer to gather in large numbers than Lawlor. Bottom line: My guess is there will be fans in the stands when Nevada football resumes in late October, which would likely mean fans in the stands at Lawlor in a limited capacity, too. But outdoor venues should get clearance before indoor ones.

(Also, having the former governor as your university president, which Nevada is about to have, comes in handy for situations like this.)

Reader's Digest version for those who didn't keep up: Je'Lani Clark, the San Francisco prep player of the year in 2019-20, didn't enroll in classes at Nevada in the fall and his open scholarship for the future was used on Jalen Weaver, a four-star recruit per ESPN, who verbally committed to the Wolf Pack. While I would not rule out Clark playing at Nevada down the road, it seems like a one-for-one transaction considering they play the same position (combo guard), and Nevada technically did not have the scholarship for Weaver until Clark left (and if Clark does return next year, that'd put Nevada over the 13-scholarship max). With Wichita State combo guard Grant Sherfield now eligible this season, the need for Clark was decreased, so, yes, it's probably an overall upgrade if it ends up being a Clark-for-Weaver swap. Losing Clark would have been much worse if Sherfield wasn't in the fold this season given the dearth of depth in the backcourt. Final note: Even though Nevada is full on scholarships in 2021-22, I wouldn't bet against the Wolf Pack landing more class of 2021 recruits and figuring things out later. Nevada has put a lot of effort into that class, and it probably isn't turning down good prospects if it can get commits from them.

Both swimming and diving and golf, two sports that have a fall and spring season, should have truncated 2020-21 seasons in which they only compete in the spring. Additionally, Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth said all athletes competing this season will get three COVID-19 tests per week like football. In June, the MW approved a cost-containment proposal that eliminated some postseason tournaments, but that didn't include cutting the MW swimming and diving and golf championships. They were reduced by one day each but remain scheduled to happen. I'd expect a short regular season plus conference and NCAA tournaments in both sports, although that's fluid given the current climate. We'll see if COVID-19 numbers spike again in the winter.

Jerry Rice has admitted to using illegal stickum on his gloves when he played in the NFL. Did Stone Cold Steve Austin ever need illegal stickum? No. I think you have your answer.

(Rice also had a problem with drops in 1993 when Steve Young took over for Joe Montana; Stone Cold could catch beers from lefties and righties with equal aplomb.)

I'm not a big WWE guy, but I'll go with Andre the Giant.

5. Washington Compromise

4. Washington Gridlock

3. Washington Swamp

2. Washington Deep State

1. Washington Illuminati

The National Finals Rodeo announced earlier this month it was relocating to Arlington's Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers, for one year due to COVID-19 restrictions in Nevada on mass gatherings. The event brings an annual $200 million to the area each December, so that's a huge chunk of money. Thomas & Mack Center had held the event every year since 1987 and poured $72.5 million into a renovation in 2016 to keep it up to the NFR standard. So it'd be a disaster if the NFR left for good, but I don't see that happening. The PRCA's deal with Las Vegas Events runs through 2024 and a year was added to the contract in exchange for letting the event leave town in 2020, so now it runs through 2025. The Pro Bull Riders World Finals, which have been held at T-Mobile Arena every year since 2016, announced last week it was moving to Arlington for a year. In exchange, the next Global Cup will be held in Las Vegas, next spring. So I think these are minor blips rather than long-term exoduses, which would severely impact the state's economy.

Damn. That had to take some effort. We hiked up to the "N" this summer, and those are good-sized rocks painted white that had to be moved to form a "U." It certainly wouldn't have been worth the time for whoever did it, and it's not an obvious prank by anybody because I have no idea what the "U" would stand for. And below is a fun fact about the "N" I posted in 2016.

Sweet jerseys for sure, but as a fan of the Lakers, the Miami Heat are not getting my affection no matter what. It's an intriguing NBA Finals. The Lakers have the best two players, and that almost always wins out. But the Heat's ability to shoot the three (37.9 percent in the regular season, second in the league, and 35.7 percent in the playoffs) is scary in a game dictated these days by hitting threes (the Lakers shot 34.9 percent in the regular season, 23rd in the league, and 35.5 percent in the playoffs). If the teams shoot threes at the same clip, the Lakers are going to win, adding to LeBron James' case for greatest player ever (although most MJ fans will never give up that title and will act as if losing before getting to the Finals is somehow better than losing in the Finals). This year's NBA Finals will prove LeBron James > "Heat culture." I'm just looking forward to watching a Lakers NBA Finals game and Dodgers playoff game on the same day. I never thought that'd happen. 2020 has been crazy, but it has delivered some good things.

See y'all next week!

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to finish. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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