Dodgers Meltdown: Turning Strength Into A Weakness.
It would’ve been such a great story.
Clayton Kershaw –long-suffering Dodger with postseason failures and successes, but no World Series championship enters a do-or-die Game 5 of the National League Division Series and mows down the Washington Nationals just like he did three years ago. The Dodgers move on. Washington goes home, happy to have made it this far, but with the knowledge the team needs a lot of bullpen help.
It would’ve been a great story.
The problem is Kershaw is not the same pitcher he was three years ago and counting on him to be that isn’t fair to him nor is it fair to the team. Team management had seemingly come to terms with that this year. But, for reasons unknown, Dodger manager Dave Roberts announced before the game that he would be bringing Kershaw in to relieve starter Walker Buehler. Way to keep your strategy close to the vest there, Dave.
Having announced his plan to the world and having painted himself into that corner, Roberts indeed brought in Kershaw in the top of the 7th inning with a two-run lead and runners on.
Kershaw slammed the door on Adam Eaton.
Super. Plan enacted. Plan successful. Kershaw’s a hero. Next reliever, please.
Roberts certainly thought was that Kershaw could face two left-handed batters out of three and likely get one or both of them out. So, he stays in to face right-handed hitting Anthony Rendón, even though Rendón looked dialed in against Buehler and had walked and doubled off of Kershaw in Game 2. Slider at the knees. Home run.
Then Juan Soto. Hanging slider. Home run. Game tied.
Sabermetrics aside, there is a thing called “feel“ for the game. Roberts generally does a decent job of mixing what the numbers tell you and what your eyes tell you. I’ve second-guessed him some and been wrong occasionally. Sure, it’s easy to manage from the cheap seats, but this felt forced.
Sure, Kershaw’s career postseason ERA out of the bullpen was 2.79. But after Eaton went down swinging in the seventh, I couldn’t believe he was coming out for the eighth. “Oh no,” I said to no one in particular. Kenley Jansen was available in the Dodgers bullpen. He would’ve been a better choice to square off against the right handed hitting Rendón. And Jansen has been notoriously tough on left-handed hitters with his cut fastball.
In fact there were at least eight pitchers in the Dodgers bullpen who could’ve been brought in for that task, or who could have been used to mix and match. Six outs. Eight pitchers.
Even though the “choke” memes are trending, give credit to Rendón. That was a decent slider at the knees or a little lower. He looked like he was waiting for it. The pitch that will eat at Kershaw is the hanger to Soto.
Once the game was tied Roberts felt the best option was to go with Kenta Maeda for the rest of the eighth. He struck out the side. “Leave him in, I thought.” So he brought in Joe Kelly who was great in Game 1 and lousy in Game 3. It worked for an inning. The slider was unhittable.
But then the 10th rolled around and another “Oh no” moment. I don’t trust Kelly as far as I can throw him. Your bullpen is a strength. Your closer is a strength. Use both and hope you can scratch out a win in the bottom of the 10th.
Also, the Nationals are a smart team. There was not much difference in the way Kelly and rookie catcher Will Myers attacked the three hitters in the ninth. So instead of bringing in Kelly again, how about lefties Hyun Jun Riu or Rich Hill or Adam Kolarek or Dustin May or Pedro Baez who has been your go-to guy the entire year?
The difference between the Dodgers and the Nationals over the season was their bullpens. L.A.’s ERA was sixth in baseball. Washington’s was dead last –two runs higher than the Dodgers. Reliever awfulness in the first quarter of the year was a primary cause for them being 12 games under .500. So I don’t question Washington manager Dave Martinez for using his starters in long relief throughout the series.
The time it took for the Dodgers’ ninth to play out was all Kelly needed to get ice cold. He also had history going against him. He hadn’t gone two innings since June.
A walk and a hit. Then an intentional walk to Soto, which, regardless of my feelings and omniscience, was a bonafide mistake at the time. Roberts should have brought in any of the lefties on the bench to face him. Instead he left Kelly in against Howie Kendrick, who only hit .344 for the year and was 0-4 for the night.
I’d bet just about anything I own against Howie Kendrick going 0-5 blindfolded… with one hand tied behind his back… at age 82.
I just looked it up. Kendrick didn’t take an 0-5 the entire year.
Result: grand slam.
And then Roberts left Kelly in for two more batters.
There have been meltdowns in the postseason. Grady Little comes to mind. Coaching isn’t easy under normal circumstances. But, there should be a little shakeup in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, like a bench manager who can shake Roberts by the shoulders and scream something like, “Bob Moffitt’s got a bad feeling about this!”
If only. This would’ve been a much better story.