Dave Roberts was emphatic.
“There’s no letdown,” he said.
Now in his sixth season as Dodgers manager, Roberts could speak with certainty.
Roberts knows the Dodgers won’t take for granted they will beat the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. He abided by baseball’s longstanding tradition of not making any guarantees, but the mindset he described is precisely why his team will thump the Braves.
Leave open the final week of this month, as well as maybe the first few days of November.
The Dodgers are returning to the World Series.
If there’s a letdown in this NLCS, it will be on the part of the viewers, who were served their main courses before their appetizers.
Just try getting excited about a matchup against the 88-win Braves after a down-to-the-wire showdown against the 107-win San Francisco Giants that was decided in the final inning of a five-game series.
Instead of “Beat L.A!” there will be the cartoonishly racist Tomahawk Chop, an unfortunate part of current Dodgers president Stan Kasten’s legacy in Atlanta.
As president of the Braves, Kasten defended the Tomahawk Chop, a 1992 story in the online archives of this newspaper quoting him saying, “The chop salute doesn’t have anything more to do with Indian culture than the Wave.”
His argument was basically that the Chop couldn’t be racist because the chant was a caricature of Native American culture, not an actual part of it.
Thankfully, the fans at Truist Park will be chopping and oh-oh-ohing for only two more days, as this series is unlikely to return to Atlanta.
Following Games 1 and 2 on Saturday and Sunday, the series will move for the next three games to Los Angeles, where the series should end.
Unlike the Giants, the Braves don’t have the balance to stay with the Dodgers.
If they were in the NL West, they would have finished 18 1/2 games out of first place. If they were in the NL Central, they would have finished in third place behind the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.
These aren’t the same Braves who had a three-games-to-one lead over the Dodgers in the NLCS last year.
Their best player, Ronald Acuña Jr., went down with a season-ending knee injury in July.
Their No. 3 hitter, Marcell Ozuna, broke his fingers in May and never returned, as he was placed on administrative leave after he was arrested on allegations of assaulting his wife.
But Soler is expected to miss this series after testing positive for COVID-19.
About the only advantage the Braves have is being better-rested after eliminating the Brewers in four games.
Max Fried will start for the Braves on Saturday, whereas the Roberts refrained on the eve of Game 1 from naming his starter, or opener.
The most likely choice is Max Scherzer, who threw 13 pitches against the Giants on Thursday to earn his first career save. If Scherzer is unavailable, the Dodgers would have to resort to a bullpen game.
With Clayton Kershaw sidelined for the entire postseason, the Dodgers are expected to have a bullpen game at some point in this best-of-seven series. But their quality will eventually win out.
The Braves' bullpen includes closer Will Smith, right-hander Luke Jackson and left-hander Tyler Matzek. The Dodgers’ bullpen is deeper, with Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel, Brusdar Graterol and Joe Kelly.
The Braves' lineup includes Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Pederson. The Dodgers’ lineup has better high-end players, with Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Trea Turner.
The Dodgers are just better.
And they won’t choke. They won’t beat themselves. They will show up. They will fight.
“That’s like the X-factor,” Roberts said. “Because I think with baseball, you just don’t know who is going to be the better team that day. But I think the variable of a letdown emotionally, the moment getting too big for a player, I do believe, and I have all the confidence we wouldn’t be victim of that. Knowing I don’t have to worry about that, it just gives me added confidence in our guys.”
The Dodgers have now advanced to the NLCS five times in the last six years. In another week or so, they will be able to say they have reached the World Series in four of the last five years.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.