For the first time ever, the Dodgers will participate in a third consecutive postseason (use all the asterisks you want; one-third of the 30 MLB teams get there these days). The rush has been replaced by a professional tranquility. “Guys are trying to get healthy, get themselves ready physically,” said Tim Wallach, the Dodgers’ bench coach, “and I think that’s the biggest thing, because, mentally, I think we’re going to be prepared as we possibly can be.”So there are more reasons to believe than disbelieve this time. That is not to say the Dodgers will make their first World Series since 1988, but they should be more difficult to beat.For one thing, they won’t have to play St. Louis, at least not initially. There’s a bad vibe there, similar to the psychic hammer the Red Sox used to wield over the Angels, who did beat Boston in the 2009 Division Series.Left-handed St. Louis hitters drove in 13 runs against left-handed Dodgers pitchers in last year’s four-game Division Series. That is why “win probability” deserves the delete button. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error The Dodgers didn’t appreciate the contrasts with the Cardinals. They didn’t think it was a simple matter of a rich, bloated, distracted bunch of Hessians getting outfoxed by a brave, homegrown battalion of experts in the fine print of baseball. But the Dodgers did a lot to become more Cardinal-like in the subsequent months, with an eye toward this October.Defense is No. 1. The Dodgers have 71 errors this year, second-best in the National League. They had 107 last year, second-worst in the league. That does not tell the whole defensive story, of course, but Hanley Ramirez is no longer at shorstop and Yasiel Puig won’t be in right field, barring a very quick recovery.“There’s no question we’re a lot more fundamnetally sound team than we were last year,” Wallach said.“It’s been nice to play the kind of defense we’ve played, to let Kersh (Clayton Kershaw) and Greink (Zack Greinke) go out and pitch their games and not make them have to get extra outs,” Justin Turner said. “Overall, I think it’s just a more mature group, consdiering the experience we’ve had in the playoffs.”Don Mattingly and the front office have a painful week ahead. They must decide how to squeeze 25 playoff players out of the 35 or so functional players available. But the flip side is better depth. There will be times when Mattingly gets to the ninth inning in a tie game and will have, say, Chase Utley, Corey Seager and Scott Van Slyke available for pinch-hitting. Not bad.Seager’s absolute insistence on causing a roster problem could nudge the Dodgers over the top. Combined with Howie Kendrick’s recovery from hamstring problems, it gives L.A. untold flexibility in the infield, and that isn’t counting Kiké Hernandez, who is also on the mend and at one point was the Dodgers’ starting center fielder.The Dodgers haven’t clinched anything yet, of course, and they’re in tight quarters with the Mets over who gets home-field advantage in the Division Series. That could mean Greinke or Kershaw pitching a deciding Game 5 in Dodger Stadium, so it isn’t trivial.And, yeah, there’s the part about the bullpen and the No. 3 starter. But every team has unasnwered questions.As reliever J.P. Howell said recently, “We weren’t as mentally tough in the past. When the going got tough, we tried too hard. We didn’t get scared, but we changed.”Nobody seems scared of the Dodgers anymore. That, too, may change. In Toronto and Houston and Flushing, N.Y., the playoffs can’t get here fast enough. In Los Angeles, they’ll get here when they’re supposed to.First-time frenzy is impossible to duplicate. Also hard to control. It’s been nearly a generation since the Blue Jays, Astros and Mets have been so good, so late. None of those fan bases were counting on this. It’s Boxing Day every day at Rogers Centre, and Houston and New York are savoring every minute.• Photos: Arizona Diamondbacks defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-0 MLBThe Dodgers have been through that. They rode the wave in 2008, when Manny Ramirez fell into their lap, and then they crashed into the rocks. Same thing in 2013, when the city was inebriated on the promise of new, baronial ownership and then the arrival of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, with palm fronds. All that buzz was drowned by the hissing showers in a silent clubhouse in St. Louis, sounds that were duplicated 12 months later.