Under New Mismanagement?
It would seem to be unreasonable to question or criticize the Los Angeles Dodgers management decisions considering they just won a World Series a year ago. But we specialize in the unreasonable.
Eddie Rosario has carried the Atlanta Braves offense through the National League Championship Series. Yet, the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to pitch to him. It’s one of several poor decisions the Dodgers have made in these playoffs. Let’s call it Mistake One.
The Dodgers are in the middle of a full-scale meltdown. Much of it is injury-related and you cannot blame management for that. But one key decision in the National League Wildcard finale has thrown the Dodgers bullpen into disarray and has Dave Roberts now being forced to consider several unpleasant possibilities.
First if you look at the Dodgers pitching staff from the season you will find many left-handed pitchers who had solid years. Unfortunately they are all on the injured list. That leaves Dave Roberts with three left-handed pitchers: Alex Vesia, Justin Bruihl, and Julio Urias. Because the Dodgers did not put Bruihl on their postseason roster for the wildcard series against the Giants they had to use Urias out of the bullpen: Mistake Two.
In Game 3 of that series, the Dodger brain trust including manager Dave Roberts decided to start right-handed reliever Corey Knebel followed by Brusdar Graterol. They were out after a total of three innings, though both could have been left in for two each. Urias then came in and gave them four innings –four high-stress, high-pressure innings. Knebel was not particularly sharp, but he had great movement on his pitches and he was missing bats. Graterol probably could’ve gone another inning. At the time I thought he should have considering he would have two days rest before the next time he might be needed and because it would mean one-fewer time Urias would have to face the top of the lineup. By using Urias as they did, the Dodgers essentially taxed him as if he had started the game. Mistake Three.
They then brought Urias in in Game 2 of the NLCS which would’ve been his day to throw on the side a little bit in between starts. There’s a big difference between throwing on the side a little bit and high-pressure, high-leverage situation in a playoff series. He struggled. Mistake Four.
Three days later for Game 4, the Dodgers trotted him out on the mound again and he promptly began hanging curve balls and serving up meat pitches in the heart of the plate. His pitches were lifeless, unless they were being scorched by Braves batters. The reason given for not pulling him –though he was obviously not up to the task– was that the Dodgers planned a bullpen game for Game 5. So in order to avoid taxing the bullpen in Game 4, they almost intentionally lose the game in order to go into Game 5 down three games to one? Mistake Five.
Back to Mistake One: at what point do you realize that Eddie Rosario cannot be pitched to? Sure he was five-for-23 in his previous postseason experience, but teams’ postseason dreams are littered on the side of the road, cast there by the likes of Mark Lemke, Sean Casey, Terry Pendleton, Jose Oquendo, George Springer et. al., who might not have been Hall-of-Famers but who stepped up huge in the postseason. And like them, Rosario has also benefited from opposing managers who couldn’t seem to avoid pitching around him or just intentionally walking him. Going into game four of this series, Rosario had essentially carried the whole Braves offense while Freddie Freeman was striking out seven times in a row. A combination of poor offerings from Urias, and a dialed-in Rosario leads to two more home runs and a Braves rout. This leads to Mistake Six which is the insistence on giving Freeman fastballs on the outer third to hit to left field and thus break out of his slump.
Mistake Seven: the Gavin Lux experiment. Any idiot with an ounce of baseball knowledge knows you start a defense from the middle out. Lux had 17 games of outfield experience as a pro coming into the game. Six of them were in center. He’s a career infielder. Cody Bellinger has a gold glove as an outfielder. So, whhhhhyyyy isssssss Luuuuuuuxxxxxxxxx innnnnnnnn cennnnnnnntttttttteeeeeeerrrrrrrrrr? To misjudge a flyball in center in Game 3 that would have cost them a game had it not been for the greatest Dodgers postseason comeback in their history…and to fail to dive for a blooper in short center in Game 4 that allowed two runs to cross. An experienced fielder would have laid out for that, knowing it wouldn’t get far even if he missed it. Lux hasn’t been terrible offensively, but he hasn’t been great either. And why was Lux picked to start over Matt Beaty -who has outfield experience, and who hit .270 compared to Lux’ .242 in the regular season? This is especially odd considering Beaty hit .371 in his final 30 games of the season.
Only Alex Vesia and Justin Bruihl were available for the Wild Card series. But wait, this leades to Mistake Seven: Bruihl wasn’t on the roster, which necessitated the need for…Julio Urias.
Now add Max Scherzer‘s dead arm after being used similarly to Urias (Mistake Eight or necessary given the need to win the Wild Card? You be the judge), Max Muncy‘s elbow and Justin Turner‘s hamstring, that’s a lot for one team to overcome.
Sure, add it to the pile. That brings us to Mistake Nine: batters’ approach. Way too many swings at the first pitch. Way too few pitches required of the starters. The Braves’ weakness is its bullpen, but only if Dodger hitters are impatient.
Mistake 10 was perhaps unavoidable, but it sure didn’t seem like the Dodgers did a lot to keep Kiké Hernandez. As we predicted in our April season preview the Dodgers were bound to miss the intangibles that the everywhere, all-the-time utility guy brings to a club. And certainly, Boston is enjoying the tangibles that he has brought with a record-setting postseason performance for the Red Sox.
Mistake 11: and this one falls squarely on GM Andrew Friedman. Who is Stephen Souza Jr. and why on earth is he on the Dodgers postseason roster?
The Dodgers came back from 3-1 to beat Atlanta last year. This isn’t the same club at this stage for health reasons alone. Whether it be Doc Roberts or the metrics boys in the back room, this team has had to overcome strategical failures as well.