Nearly a full day after contemplation, so many thoughts and insights still exist over the Dodgers‘ loss to the Nationals that there’s plenty of varied perception, at least on my own end.
The way our minds are wired is extraordinary—even as fans who probably know very little about what actually transpires inside the typical MLB clubhouse. Normally, after a shocking defeat such as this, the blame phase exists for several days before the acceptance phase eventually sinks in. That’s just the way things work. It’s human nature.
Regardless, fans are indeed the driving force of the team. They fill the stands. Ultimately, they pay the bills. Fans also have the ability to speak loudly. I remember back in 2011 at the peak of the Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce when there were huge boycotts in attendance. That year, the Dodgers finished 11th in the MLB in attendance, which was incredibly low for a franchise that was perennially in the Top 3.
It was ugly.
Thankfully, team ownership will never be in that bad of a position again.
Even though I write this during the afternoon following the defeat, there is still some lingering fan fallout from the loss, although the acceptance phase is starting to sink in gradually. As such, most of the blame has been placed on skipper Dave Roberts. This morning, I heard a fan of reasonable knowledge and demeanor proclaim that a six-year-old tee ball player could have managed the Los Angeles bullpen better.
Last year, there was even a certain resident of the White House who publicly criticized Doc for yanking Rich Hill after allowing just one hit and one earned run over 6-1/3 innings in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series. In the 2-2/3 innings that followed of that particular game, the Los Angeles relief crew gave up a whopping eight runs to lose 9-6 after the team led almost the entire affair. Stories like these over the past few years are beginning to add up.
No wonder fans are heartbroken.
Consequently, there are an overwhelming number of fans that believe Roberts, who has a deal in place through the 2022 season, should not return as the team’s manager.
I think there are a few things to consider before jumping to conclusions so quickly. First, if you are not aware, Andrew Friedman’s contract has ran its full course, and there have been no indications of a renewal. At least not yet, anyway. Nobody has any knowledge of a prospective return. In that light, only a few people really know to what degree Friedman runs the team or how he instructs Roberts to manage.
What we do know is that planning for a 162-game regular season—something that Friedman has proven he’s masterful at doing—is much different than managing a five-game playoff series. Perhaps Friedman should take notes on the recent success of the Cardinals and Nationals. Regardless, one would think that five games is enough time for the better team to show its worthiness to advance.
Maybe, like some fans are insinuating, it’s all about business and money. When fans learned about the organization’s intentions of staying under the Luxury Tax Threshold this season, there was tremendous fallout. In 2019 (much unlike 2011), the Dodgers finished first in the MLB in attendance, almost a half-million more paid tickets than the Cardinals. With the payroll decreasing and attendance up, margins are conceivably higher than they’ve been since Guggenheim bought the franchise in 2012.
Anyway, without Friedman and his army of analytical tacticians, it’s tough to say how Roberts fares in the future. If Friedman does return, though, fans can probably forget the idea of Joe Maddon coming to Los Angeles to manage. There simply isn’t enough freedom under Friedman’s reigns for someone like Maddon to thrive.
Some say that Friedman made mistakes by not making significant bullpen upgrades during the trade deadline, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. The Braves gobbled up almost every reputable reliever on the market, and it got them nowhere. In retrospect, maybe there wasn’t anyone out there who could have helped the Los Angeles relief crew. Perhaps Washington was on the right track when they made an under-the-radar trade for Daniel Hudson. Relief pitching is such a crapshoot in the modern game—just ask Friedman.
And that leads us in to Roberts’ management of the dreaded NLDS Game 5. Starting Enrique Hernandez appeared to be a smart move, but the lineup proved to be ineffective overall, regardless of the batting order. The Dodgers had players galore who were slumping tremendously during this series. A.J. Pollock was 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts. Corey Seager was 3-for-20 with eight punchouts. Cody Bellinger, who is a leading candidate for NL MVP, was 4-for-19 with seven Ks. Will Smith was 1-for-13. Chris Taylor was 1-for-8. The list goes on.
It’s a shame Alex Verdugo was unavailable to contribute.
In total, the Dodgers struck out a total of 64 times over the five games in the NLDS. That’s an average of roughly 13 per game.
Was this simply due to poor performance, or was there a specific approach in the batters box to be faulted? Apparently, only a select few people have the knowledge to know.
One of the biggest arguments still gaining momentum among fans was the team’s use of lefty Clayton Kershaw. Why was there an obsession to use him even at all? Roberts stated that before the game that “all hands were on deck,” which meant a total of 10 pitchers were available in relief aside from Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Yet, Roberts decided to use Kershaw and Joe Kelly for multiple innings.
Were his decisions directed by Friedman? Or, were these strategies based on the mathematical matchups we know that Roberts has grown to heavily rely upon?
Coincidentally, Kelly finished the NLDS throwing a total of 2-1/3 innings over three appearances. He surrendered six earned runs on five his and a whopping five walks, calculating to a monstrous 23.14 ERA. All this after the 31-year-old righty had a regular season WHIP of almost 1.40 and an ERA north of 4.50. Yet he was still asked to throw multiple innings with the season on the line.
Furthermore, it wasn’t difficult to detect the disgust on the face of Kenley Jansen after he was inserted to mop up the mess that Kelly created—a storyline that we’re certain to revisit multiple times over the coming winter months.
Realistically, things may move quickly for the Dodgers during the offseason, starting with the decision surrounding Friedman’s prospective return. There are lots of arbitration cases, and there are plenty of scenarios surrounding the team’s free agents. Thoughts and opinions about Kershaw, Jansen, Bellinger, Seager and Pollock are bound to crop up, too.
The winter meetings are less than 10 weeks away.
Pitchers and catchers report in roughly four months.