The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Where do the LA Dodgers go from here?

In my September 16 blog post, I was asking which Dodgers team would show up in the post-season.  The one that lost the World Series in 2017 and 2018, or the powerhouse team that won 106 regular season games on their way to easily winning their seventh straight division title?

Well, the Dodgers, who were favored to get to the World Series again this year, answered that question last week, but it wasn’t in the Fall Classic this time.  They allowed the Washington Nationals to force a Game 5 in the Division Series and then collapsed in the late innings when the Nationals came from behind, hitting three home runs to tie and then win the deciding game in extra innings.

Now the discussion around the Dodgers is: where do they go from here?  Are they just a victim of bad luck?  Did they just get beat by a better Nationals team? Or is there something more fundamental in their post-season failures over the past few years?  Who gets the blame for their disappointing ending?

If we go back and look at the 2019 regular season performance of the Dodgers, there are a few revealing numbers that might explain why this year’s fateful ending shouldn’t be so surprising.

The Dodgers beat up on weak West Division competition, getting 51 of their 107 wins (against only 25 losses).  On the other hand, in facing tougher regular season competition against American and National League teams that are in the post-season, the Dodgers were only 18-16.  They were only a .500 team (10-10) in all interleague games.

The Dodgers’ powerful bats were a huge part of their regular season success.  They were overwhelming winners of blowout games (decided by five or more runs) with a 41-12 record.  They had the most walk-off wins of any National League team with 12.  Yet they were only 27-22 in one-run games.

The Dodgers’ insufferable defeat could be blamed on several fronts.  Roberts didn’t have any confidence in his bullpen and thus he made some questionable pitching decisions.  Clayton Kershaw curiously faltered again in the post-season.  Several key Dodgers’ hitters, including MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, were absent in the offense.

The Dodgers were exactly where they wanted to be after seven innings in Game 5.  Buehler did his job holding the Nationals to only one run in 6 2/3 innings.  With two runners on base, it was a good decision to bring in Kershaw to shut down the Nationals.  It’s been a familiar move made by several post-season managers to call on their aces in critical shut-down relief situations.

However, Roberts was uncomfortable using relievers Kenta Maeda and Adam Kolarek, or even closer Kenley Jansen, to start the eighth inning, and he went with Kershaw again.  That turned out to be a big mistake, as Kershaw gave up two home runs to tie the game.  Ironically, Maeda struck out the side after relieving Kershaw in the eighth..

The Nationals’ Howie Kendrick then delivered the final blow with a grand slam in the 10th inning to send the Dodgers packing for the rest of the playoffs.

Roberts admirably took full responsibility for the Dodgers’ devastating defeat.  His inability to deliver a World Series title over the past three years, with some very talented teams, initially drew speculation that he may not get a chance to finish out his contract.  However, the Dodgers’ front office squelched any conjecture a few days after the series by announcing Roberts would return for 2020.  But keep in mind managers Joe Girardi, John Farrell, and Dusty Baker were fired immediately after winning division titles.

With Kershaw’s inability to come up with big performances in crucial games in the post-season, did Roberts decide with his heart (versus the stats) to put the left-hander back out for the eighth inning?  Was he trying to give Kershaw an opportunity to re-gain his confidence?  It’s baffling that Kershaw’s post-season performances don’t come close to matching his regular season records when he has been the best pitcher in baseball since Sandy Koufax.  I wonder if the three-time Cy Young Award winner (and two-time runner-up) just runs out of gas at the end of the regular season and has nothing left in the tank for the playoffs.  As the Dodgers look ahead at their roster’s needs, perhaps they will be tempted to off-load the 31-year-old in favor of a younger, cheaper alternative.  After all, they already have Walker Buehler as Kershaw’s heir apparent as the ace of the staff.

Keeping Kershaw wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Dodgers, but keeping the same bullpen would definitely be catastrophic.  When the blame game is played, the Dodgers’ front office has to take responsibility for not acquiring much-needed bullpen help at the trade deadline this year.  Their bullpen weaknesses during the regular season were masked by a terrific offense and a stellar starting rotation.  I don’t see them making that mistake again.  Expect the Dodgers to go out and buy the best bullpen components available during the off-season.

The Dodgers seem well-situated for the future with their position players.  They are a young team (Justin Turner is the grizzled veteran at 34 years old) with most of their better players under team control for the next few years.  Their farm system has recently produced Alex Verdugo, Will Smith, Gavin Lux (2019 Minor League Player of the Year), and Matt Beatty, all of whom figure to be part of their starting lineup of the future.  If anything, the Dodgers might look to add a veteran player who can help bring along the youngsters (like the Astros used Carlos Beltran in 2017), especially in post-season situations.

Based on this season’s results with their divisional competition, the Dodgers would have to be favored at this time to finish as division champions yet again next year.  So what else is new?  The big question will remain though:  which team will show up in the post-season?


2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. James Marbury | October 14, 2019 at 10:40 AM EDT

Richard, Your article \Where do the LA Dodgers go from here!\ is spot on! Kershaw should not have gone back out and certainly should have been pulled after the first HR. The Dodgers need some more \young guns\ in the bullpen to strengthen their staff.

Excellent website! I enjoy your insight on baseball from all angles.

2. Richard | October 20, 2019 at 08:06 PM EDT

Thanks for the note, James. My post on Monday will provide some additional commentary on the post-season.

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