ATLANTA (AP) — Even with all their star power and deep pockets, all their booming hitters and ace pitchers, the Los Angeles Dodgers are approaching three decades since their last World Series championship.
They’re making another run at that elusive title.
Only this time, Manny Machado is along for the ride.
The slugging shortstop hit a three-run homer that wrapped up a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Monday, sending Los Angeles to the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row and fourth time in six seasons.
This is what the Dodgers had in mind when they acquired the free agent-to-be from the lowly Baltimore Orioles back in July.
They’re hoping Machado is the one who turns Tinseltown into Titletown for the first time since 1988.
“Can’t say enough about him,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. “A player of his caliber, there are so many expectations put on him.”
Machado had only three hits in a 3-1 division series victory over the Braves, but two of them were homers. He finished with six RBIs.
“We prepared ourselves to get here,” Machado said. “We’re not going to stop till we get what we want.”
Clearly, nothing less than a World Series title will do.
While the Dodgers went through the customary celebration that follows any postseason victory — they doled out T-shirts and caps, posed for pictures in the middle of SunTrust Park, then doused themselves with beer in the clubhouse — the focus turned quickly to the next round.
The Dodgers will face the Brewers in the NLCS. Game 1 is Friday night in Milwaukee.
“We all know that there’s a lot more work to be done,” Roberts said. “We have eight more wins to go.”
Los Angeles spent much of the season locked in a tight race with division rivals Colorado and Arizona, and required a one-game playoff with the Rockies to clinch its sixth straight NL West title.
“We took a hard path to get to this point, but I do think it made us stronger and kind of galvanized our team,” Roberts said.
It certainly helps to have a player of Machado’s caliber bolstering an already potent lineup. The Dodgers hit a franchise-record 235 homers during the regular season, and added eight more in the NLDS.
“They’re a very powerful team,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s what they’ve done all year is hit home runs. We’re not built like that yet.”
Indeed, the Baby Braves were thoroughly overmatched in their first postseason appearance since 2013, hitting .154 overall and scoring just eight runs. Though the future looks bright for a team that pulled off a massive rebuilding job much quicker than expected, Atlanta was not quite ready to contend with a team of the Dodgers’ quality.
Los Angeles had too much power, too much depth, too much pitching.
Not to mention too much Machado.
“It was a great ride,” Snitker said. “We took a huge step forward this year. We had some very young players get a lot of great experience, both during the regular season and the postseason. And we have some really good players coming up. I really am excited about the future of the Atlanta Braves right now.”
The Dodgers are locked firmly in the present.
This is a franchise desperate to win one more game than it did a season ago, when the Houston Astros took Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium.
That’s why they acquired Machado.
“Coming over from Baltimore midway through the season — new ball club, new atmosphere, new teammates, new coaching staff, new front office, I mean, it’s always a bit of an adjustment,” he said. “But they’ve been nothing but amazing to us, to myself and my family. And coming here to a winning ballclub that’s been determined the whole way since last year to get into this situation and further, I’m just sitting here enjoying everything, enjoying the ride.”
Machado wasn’t the only in-season acquisition to play a key role in the clinching victory over the Braves. David Freese, picked up from Pittsburgh just minutes before the trade deadline, came through with a pinch-hit, two-run single that put the Dodgers ahead to stay in the sixth.
The MVP of St. Louis’ improbable victory in the 2011 World Series, Freese is eager to take part in another magical postseason run.
“You never know what this game is going to give you, what opportunities arise for you,” Freese said. “You just gotta be ready.”