October 16, 2020
The deja vu is sickening. The scenario all too familiar, as if scripted and cursed to repeat each fall, an epic tragedy performed on grass and dirt.
Ladies and gentleman, the playoff Los Angeles Dodgers (hold your applause, please).
Many of the lead roles have remained the same, with a changing cast of background players faithfully recreating seasons past. The villain changes annually, though upon closer inspection, viewer, in a twist our protagonist is arguably the villain of this piece.
In a season so drastically different than anything we’ve seen before, in the end we get a rerun. Okay, prose intro done, let’s get to the rant.
With the Braves going up 3-1 after another domination of the Dodgers last night, we’re once again staring disappointment in the face. Sure, the Dodgers are probably talented enough to win 3 straight games against anybody, but they would actually need to show up for more than an inning for that to happen, so there’s definitely a feeling of inevitability hanging over the rest of the NLCS.
Of course there’s still room for the Dodgers to set us up for one last massive heartbreak this year by keeping things afloat and raising our hopes only to crush them again in game 7. Would it be that shocking if they did?
Anyone who’s been a Dodger fan for more than a couple of years is probably coping with some very familiar feelings extending from last night into today. We’ve been here before. We’ve seen it before. We’ve felt it before. But every year, until it actually happens, we can’t help but feel like this year will be different. It has to eventually, right? Get into the playoffs enough and the randomness of the MLB postseason is sure to break their way eventually. Right? Well…
This year’s gut punch came as it usually does, in a Clayton Kershaw start. Having given up only 1 run through 5, and sitting at 71 pitches, with the bullpen shaky of late, it wasn’t a baffling choice for him to head back out for the 6th. Despite that, he hadn’t exactly looked dominant, and if you’re like me, you subconsciously braced yourself while getting nervous heading into the bottom of the frame. Once Acuna was standing on 2nd after a wild play, I wouldn’t blame anyone for sensing what was coming next.
Often Kershaw’s playoff disasters have come later in games, after keeping the team in the game, until that big inning comes along and suddenly we’re looking at a camera feed of a shellshocked Kershaw on the Dodgers bench, a look on his face straddling the line between disappointment and sadness. It’s never easy to look at. Hindsight is a bitch, and it says Dave Roberts maybe left him in one inning too long. But I don’t think in a vacuum the move seemed questionable, not in a series with no off days and a reeling bullpen. More on Roberts in a bit.
We all know the rest, the bullpen failed to put out the fire, tacking more runs onto Kershaw’s line score, the offense failed to punch back, and the Dodgers sit one loss from another wasted season.
Let’s talk about that offense. After the 11 run inning in game 3, an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had during this Dodgers period of playoff baseball, I posted online that I hoped that would be a moment we’d get to revisit over and over during a championship compilation, and not just a forgotten footnote in another disappointing season. Sigh.
I think one of the most painful things, year in and year out, is watching an immensely talented Dodger lineup disappear in the postseason for games at a time, while seeing the stars and role players for the other guys come up big in the spots that matter. The Dodgers are a deep team. Theoretically, if a couple guys are slumping, they have the bats everywhere else to survive it.
The reality, is that for whatever reason, the Dodger lineup seems to function as a whole. Either everyone is raking, or, more often, the entire lineup seemingly becomes incapable of hitting a baseball, all at the same time. It’s something that has driven me crazy for years. Pitching seems to get the brunt if the blame every year, but the truth is, there’s a drastic dropoff for a large portion of the Dodgers insanely talented hitters in the postseason.
For most of the year, it looked like Mookie Betts was the guy who would change that. The guy who would still come up big even with the rest of the team slumping. He can only do so much though, and yet again, we have what is supposed to be the game’s best offense just disappearing off the face of the earth for long stretches. It’s insanely frustrating.
Sure, they face tough pitching in the playoffs, but it’s not always that. When the Braves announced they’d be sending an inexperienced pitcher with a spotty track record to the mound for game 4, I’m sure I wasn’t the only Dodger fan who was immediately worried, as that’s exactly the type of guy the Dodgers seem to randomly get shut down by. I hoped it wasn’t coming, but I also kind of saw it coming.
Onto the bullpen. The Dodgers kind of quietly put together a really good group there during the regular season. Statistically they were one of the best in baseball. Despite that, I’m probably not alone in feeling that there still wasn’t exactly an arm in there that inspired complete confidence, they way Kenley Jansen in his prime did. And so far, we’ve seen some of their best options unable to translate their regular season success into the playoffs. Going in, the guys you trusted the most were probably Graterol, Treinen, McGee, Gonzalez, and Floro. All of them have had some rough moments in the playoffs. Some have completely melted down in contrast to their regular season.
This too, feels familiar. Playoff baseball is stressful enough, and when you have concerns about the bullpen, even a lead doesn’t allow you to relax.
It’s frustrating to watch so much talent on both sides of the ball fall apart in the playoffs. It’s confusing. It will drive you crazy, especially when you keep seeing some other team seemingly grasp destiny every year, getting those big hits and recording those big outs.
You feel for Kershaw, you really do. His chance to be “the guy” as they win a championship is probably behind him. And now, his only escape from “the narrative” is a ring. It’s probably unfair. That won’t make it go away. He is inarguably one of the greatest to ever pitch. He’s a hall of famer without a ring. You never hear about the guys who have a dominant postseason on their resume but then go on to a mediocre career. You can tell he wants it as bad as anyone. He feels the weight even more. And the worst part is that injuries have probably robbed us of ever seeing peak Kershaw again. He’s had some dominance in the playoffs, just look at the Milwaukee game. He’s still capable of that. But for whatever reason, the deeper into the playoffs he gets, the higher his ERA gets. People will never ignore that. It sucks, but it’s real. Sigh.
How does a lineup so good go cold all at once so often? How do statistically good pitchers fail so frequently? It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t matter. Each year we’re back asking these same questions. This is the plight of a Dodger fan in the playoffs.
So how about the guy pulling the strings?
I’ve defended Roberts a lot during the years. I think hindsight is the true narrative for a lot of the complaints about his decisions, though there are a few instances that are truly baffling. Overall though, I don’t think he’s much to blame. When your best hitters don’t hit and your best reliever can’t get outs, there’s not much you can do. I think this year, more than ever, his decisions have made complete sense. Just looking at last night for example. You could argue he should’ve taken out Kershaw after 5. Yet, he was only at 71 pitches, and with the bullpen being hard to trust and potentially 7 games in 7 days, it isn’t baffling that he stuck with him. I found it slightly odd when he sent Beaty up in a big spot, seemingly holding better hitters for s spot that might not even come up, because he happens to hit lefty. But then you realize he wanted to have Smith available for Barnes’ spot so he could stay in the game, and it makes sense.
So no, I don’t think Roberts is to blame for most of the recent failures of the Dodgers in the playoffs. It all comes back to the players not performing. That, more than anything, is the reason they haven’t won any rings. Despite that, I do think it’s probably time to go another direction if they don’t come back and win it all this year.
His decision making hasn’t been the problem most would have you believe. But, with the team failing to perform year after year, at some point you have to wonder if someone else might be able to get more out of them. I think it’s time. The laid back guy made a ton of sense for a team that would generally have a lot of superstars, just let them do their thing. But you’ve gotta wonder if a different personality type might be able to light a fire under them. Regardless, it’s probably time for a change.
So yeah, until the Dodgers win it all, the playoffs will always be a miserable experience that I subject myself to. If they ever do, maybe I’ll be able to enjoy playoff baseball. Maybe they pull off a miracle and do it this year, who knows.
But that’s up to the players. I’m tired of watching it be someone else’s year.
So for now, it sure feels like see you next year, again.