The end of the Dodgers‘ last six or so postseasons have all ended at varying stages, and all short of the goal. There also have been varying degrees of heartache along the way, but this season seems the most abrupt and heartbreaking of them all.
And yet, somehow, it is exactly what Dodger fans feared most. It could not have been more of a Dodgers’ loss – a lead given up by Clayton Kershaw, a tie lost by the bullpen, and an offense that aside from one or two bats, slept through the postseason again. Same old crap, different year.
And that to me, dear readers, is the most frustrating and heartbreaking thing of all. We’ve been down this road too many times to not have learned from the mistakes of the past.
As you may or may not know, I live in Pennsylvania and became a Dodgers fan because my mother used to go to games at Ebbetts Field, sit in the bleachers, and remained a Dodgers fan her whole life. She passed that love on to me. My first memories are of the 1981 World Series winning team. My first favorite player was Steve Sax. It then transitioned to Orel Hershiser, and in high school I modeled my softball play after Brett Butler. I played centerfield and batted lead off, and loved to steal or be part of the perfect hit and run. But I have never had a love for a player so much as I do for Clayton Kershaw.
From the very beginning, you just knew there was something special about this kid. He so impressed Vin Scully that Vin nicknamed his curveball Public Enemy Number One. His competitiveness and passion for the game shown in every outing. Sometimes, that competitiveness has done him in, as he doesn’t want to give up the ball, and ends up getting burned for it.￼￼
I’ve watched, conservatively, 90% of Kershaw’s pitches since 2013. I lived and died with every playoff start and appearance. The names Matt Adams and Matt Stairs and the Houston Astros will forever bring me pain.
But there was some brilliance in there too. Game 1 of the 2017 World Series was an absolute gem. I was present in Washington DC to watch Kershaw close out Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS. But I know that these will always be less, somehow, because of how many times he surrendered the lead, or did not pitch like the Ace he is.
I am also fully aware of his decline in recent years – the drop in velocity, the lack of curve in that curve ball. He’s not the ace of this staff anymore, and that’s ok. Walker Buehler showed he was and more. While he started Game 2, Kershaw really was the best third pitcher on the staff this year and while he wasn’t brilliant, he was up to snuff for that position.
Full disclosure, I haven’t read a single write up or quotes or explanations from any of the players or Dave Roberts, other than what has snuck into my twitter timeline. I don’t understand why no one was warming behind Clayton Kershaw. I don’t understand the lack of rush. I understand that he’s a starter, but after the first home run, you got a start to panic a little. I don’t understand Joe Kelly coming out for the second inning. I don’t understand where Kenley Jansen was, especially after looking so good after his previous outing. I don’t understand why the bats just cannot produce in October. ￼￼
But this is what makes me the most upset with the team I love – we all have watched the last few seasons end because of the same things that ended it this year – but nothing was really done about it. Why leave Kershaw in to fail again when you have all these other pitchers? And why was Joe Kelly in there for another inning, when again, you had all these pitchers?
I’ve long been a defender of Dave Roberts. I believe there are few managers out there that could handle what this teams has had in terms of personnel as gracefully as he has. More so in the last few years, with characters like Yasiel Puig and many players with multi-million dollar contracts and rookies appearing all the time. It’s hard to keep a cohesive group when injuries and demotions and trades and routinely changing the composition of your team. He’s mostly done that with aplomb.
But in the postseason, something happens. I don’t know that we’ll ever really know what happens but my personal theory is this – Doc believes in his team and players a little too much. Sending Kershaw out again after the three pitch strikeout of Adam Easton shouldn’t have happened – or in the very least, he should have had backup immediately ready to go if he faltered. Same for Joe Kelly. A two run lead (or a tie game) in an elimination game is too precarious of a position to let the team be set up to fail again.
I’m also so tired of the talking heads (and some fans) that love to place the blame of all these loses solely at the feet of Kershaw. While he deserves some, no player deserves it all, but Kershaw has become the scapegoat for all the Dodgers’ woes. Cody Bellinger had an MVP season – where did he go? A.J. Pollock was their biggest offensive offseason signing – didn’t have a single hit. Corey Seager, who was so hot through September, also nowhere to be found. You cannot win on a few scattered hits and Max Muncy alone.
Obviously, it’s better to be a fan of a team that gets to the postseason every year, as opposed to a team that doesn’t. I get that. And I completely appreciate the front offices quest to keep this team there every year, and part of that may include remaining under the luxury tax. But something has got to change.￼ The Dodgers owe it to Kershaw, the team, the city of Los Angeles, and their fans all over to finally put together the roster that can get them the ring they so deserve.
There will be plenty of time over the postseason to parse what exactly can and should be done to achieve that goal. Unfortunately for know all we can do is wonder “will next year finally be it?”, and are left with yet another bitter pill to swallow.