LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers head into another Major League Baseball postseason on Wednesday looking to end a 32-year wait for a World Series crown after a litany of recent failures.
For the third time in four years, the Dodgers head into the playoffs boasting the best regular season record in the National League, armed with high hopes of winning a first Fall Classic since 1988.
But for all the vaunted regular season dominance, a postseason championship has remained elusive, with a series of agonising losses fuelling the perception of a psychological brittleness in pressure situations.
In 2017, the Dodgers were beaten in seven games in the World Series by the Houston Astros, losing the decider in front of their shell-shocked home fans at Dodger Stadium in game seven.
The following season, Dodger fans again had to witness a rival team celebrating the championship at Chavez Ravine, with the Boston Red Sox wrapping up an emphatic 4-1 series victory in game five.
In 2019, it was the turn of the Washington Nationals to inflict the pain, with the Dodgers losing 7-3 at home in game five against the eventual World Series winners after blowing a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning.
That game was notable for another in a series of disappointing outings for ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, regarded as one of the greatest pitchers of his generation yet struggling to shed the crude tag of postseason choker.
"Everything people say is true right now about the postseason," a distraught Kershaw said after last season's letdown. "When you don't win the last game of the season and you’re to blame for it, it’s not fun."
It is a tale of postseason woe that will give even the most optimistic Dodger fans cause for nervousness, despite the team boosting their firepower this year with the acquisition of former Red Sox MVP Mookie Betts.
The format of the abbreviated 60-game season, and the expanded 16-team playoffs, mean that the advantages normally accrued for dominating the regular season will be absent this year.
Instead the Dodgers must navigate a potentially awkward three-game wild card series at home to the Milwaukee Brewers starting on Wednesday, before then heading into a division series which will be played on neutral turf in Texas.
"When the season's closed down and we start the playoffs, none of that means anything," said the Dodgers in-form outfielder AJ Pollock.
"We start over and everything goes back to zero. Hopefully, me personally, and the team, can just keep this thing rolling."
If the Dodgers make it past the Brewers, they face a NL Division Series round against either the explosive San Diego Padres or St Louis Cardinals in Arlington.
In the American League meanwhile, the top seeded Tampa Bay Rays face the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild card round, with their series starting on Tuesday.
Meanwhile the Astros, found guilty of cheating in a sign-stealing scandal that tarnished their 2017 World Series victory, begin their playoff quest on Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins.
The Chicago White Sox face a trip to Oakland to take on the Athletics while the New York Yankees face the Cleveland Indians in other games on Tuesday.
© Agence France-Presse