Kershaw, being modest, diplomatically disagreed with that notion before Game 1. “Until somebody beats them, they’re the best team,” he said of the Cubs. “So we’ve got to go get them.”
Which is what the Dodgers did on Saturday. With Seager out, his replacement, Charlie Culberson, tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning, and the Dodgers got more offense from outfielder Yasiel Puig, who drove in two runs with a double and a home run. With Kershaw out of the game after five solid, but unspectacular, innings, the Dodgers turned the game over to their stout relief corps, and over the next four innings it didn’t allow a base runner.
The work of the Dodgers’ relievers — in succession, Manager Dave Roberts called on Tony Cingrani, Kenta Maeda, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson and the All-Star closer Kenley Jansen — contrasted with the Cubs’ continuing bullpen struggles, which became glaring in the first round and continued on Saturday.
Those troubles emerged again in the bottom of the sixth when, with the score tied, 2-2, and starter Jose Quintana out of the game, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon called on Hector Rondon, who was left off the playoff roster in the previous round. Two pitches into his relief outing, Rondon served up a home run to Chris Taylor to give the Dodgers the lead.
Taylor symbolizes the interchangeable pieces of the Dodgers’ roster. A former shortstop, he can play every infield and outfield position. Entering this season, he had two career home runs, so he worked diligently in the off-season to hit more fly balls, as many hitters now do. He hit 21 home runs this season.
“We have a better team this year in all aspects,” the Dodgers utility man Enrique Hernandez said.
Puig had a career year in terms of power, smashing 28 home runs in the regular season and providing plenty of pizazz. When he doubled in the fifth inning to drive in the Dodgers’ first run, he flipped his bat, perhaps thinking the line drive would leave the stadium. At second base, he waved his arms and smacked his waist.
When he extended the Dodgers’ lead in the seventh with a solo home run — this one off Mike Montgomery — Puig admired the flight of the ball, although it just cleared the fence.
“The wind helped me a little bit tonight,” Puig said, then blew on the microphone he was using in the news conference room.
The Dodgers added another run in that inning when Justin Turner singled to left field, off John Lackey. Culberson was initially ruled out at home on a terrific throw from Kyle Schwarber and tag by catcher Willson Contreras. But after a replay review, Culberson was ruled safe because Contreras was deemed to have violated the collision rule by not leaving Culberson a path to the plate.
The ruling incensed Maddon, who argued with the umpires and was ejected.
“It’s wrong,” he said. “I think anybody that’s played major league or minor league baseball will agree with me 100 percent on that.”
Maddon added, “All rules that are created and laws aren’t necessarily good ones.”
Seager said he had hurt his lower back on a routine slide into second base in Game 3 of the previous round against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He said he tried all types of treatment, to no avail.
“It’s a big blow,” said Rich Hill, who will start Game 2 for the Dodgers, opposite Jon Lester of the Cubs.
Disappointed not to play, Seager said he would not even travel to Chicago in this series since it would not be good for his back. He said he hoped to be ready for the next round, the World Series, should the Dodgers get that far without his help.
“Next week is going to be kind of a big week to see if I can get back into baseball activities,” he said. “I’m progressing every day, which is really nice, but I’m not really sure.”
Regardless, the Dodgers did fine without him in Game 1. They might have been mindful of comments Maddon made back in August, when he said that he felt “very confident” playing the Dodgers in the playoffs and that he liked how the Cubs matched up against them.
The Dodgers declined to turn those comments into any verbal sparring in the days leading up to this series. They simply waited until Saturday to deliver the first part of their response.