Analysis: Now what? Dodgers’ NLDS failure leads to blame game and a winter of questions

first_img Fire danger is on Dave Roberts’ mind as Dodgers head to San Francisco Dodgers hit seven home runs, sweep Colorado Rockies The Dodgers are certain to be linked with the top free agents on the market this winter – Gerrit Cole? Rendon? – as they always are. That kind of financial expenditure for a player outside the organization would break from recent history.But last year’s moderate spending – aimed at success in the postseason, not to puff up an already strong regular-season roster – did not pay off. After a weirdly-disguised late-season physical issue, Kelly was the losing pitcher in Game 5. A.J. Pollock was on the bench after an injury-riddled regular season, a move to left field and an 0-for-13, 11-strikeout NLDS.Another winter of frugality after this historic playoff failure will not play well even with the clutch of young players poised to make up the core of the 2020 team.“It’s just a bad feeling right now,” Kershaw said, as he faced the forest of cameras in the gloom of Wednesday’s clubhouse.“I’m not going to hang my head. I’m going to be here. I’m going to continue to try to fight, continue to try to compete. I’m not going to shy away from it. I’m going to continue to try to do it.” For the many younger players in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, though, there is always tomorrow.“We won 108 games,” second-year right-hander Walker Buehler said, adding the franchise-record 106 from the regular season to the meager two they managed to add in the postseason. “Most of the time that gets you past where we ultimately lost. We’re built to keep putting ourselves in this position. But for some guys, it’ll be the last time.”It was clear who many in the Game 5 crowd didn’t want to get another opportunity. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was booed loudly when he went to the mound to make pitching changes in the wake of Kershaw’s failure. The outpouring of vitriol on social media was impressive even for that toxic environment.“Sure. I mean, if the blame falls on me, I’ve got no problem with it,” Roberts said in the aftermath.Oh, it has. LOS ANGELES — Now what?Reddened eyes and hunched shoulders filled the Dodgers’ clubhouse last night as the shock of losing to the Washington Nationals began to sink in. The awareness of just how badly the Dodgers had misjudged their destiny this fall might take longer to process.“I’ll let you know when I process it,” infielder Max Muncy said when asked how long it would take to absorb the disappointment.Clayton Kershaw, playing the noble warrior and trying to lay claim to all the blame for himself, listed the veterans who “deserved to win a World Series” he had let down. He mentioned David Freese, Justin Turner and Rich Hill but just as easily could have included his own name on the list. The Dodgers have won almost 400 regular-season games in Roberts’ four seasons as manager, continued their run of division titles and won two National League pennants. Any credit due for that is quickly dismissed in moments like Wednesday night.But as the Dodgers’ hair shirt of October disappointments grows heavier, Roberts’ trail of postseason mistakes also grows.Why, oh why, did he bring an exhausted Brandon Morrow into Game 5 of the 2017 World Series in Houston? How could he have trusted Yu Darvish to start Game 7 that year? Why did he pull Rich Hill so early in Game 4 of last year’s World Series?To those highlights now add the series of compounding mistakes made in Game 5 against the Nationals.Why were the Dodgers so intent from the start of the NLDS to have Kershaw pitch as a reliever in the series? He is no longer the warhorse of his 20s with a pitch mix capable of overwhelming hitters. The Dodgers certainly know this. His greatest difficulties this season came in the first inning of his outings – not a good attribute in a reliever.Once Kershaw successfully played fireman in the seventh inning, why ask him to face the middle of the Nationals’ order in the eighth? Weren’t Kenta Maeda and Adam Kolarek better options to face Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, respectively? If they had, weren’t there options to get the remaining four outs that then would have been required to close out the game – Joe Kelly, Pedro Baez, Kenley Jansen, Julio Urias? Was all of this reverse-engineered based on an (understandable) lack of trust in their closer, Jansen, who only entered Game 5 after the fatal blow had been struck?None of these decisions were made by Roberts’ gut alone or on some kind of mid-game whim. He talked Monday in Washington about the plan to “piggyback” Kershaw behind Buehler in Game 5. There was clearly a gameplan in place, a “collaborative” effort – a favorite phrase of Dodgers team president Andrew Friedman – among Roberts, his coaching staff and the front office.Should he now be made the fall guy for failing to execute a gameplan that, in retrospect, seems truly flawed? That does not fit Friedman’s thoughtful approach to things.Friedman – whose own contract expires at the end of this month – was not available to answer questions when the media was allowed into the clubhouse Wednesday night and declined an interview request Thursday.But history is actually on Roberts’ side.The Dodgers are the 13th team since 2001 to win 100 games during the regular season then lose in the first round of the playoffs. Only one manager from that doomed group was removed following their ill-fated season – Art Howe left for the Mets after he took back-to-back 100-win Oakland A’s teams (2001-02) to the postseason and failed to advance past the ALDS.None of the unlucky 13 shook up their front office, either – though Stan Kasten stepped down as Braves president after back-to-back 100-win seasons paired with first-round exits (2002-03), a brief retirement before he joined the Nationals’ front office in 2006.Related Articlescenter_img Cody Bellinger homer gives Dodgers their first walkoff win of season Dodgers’ Max Muncy trying to work his way out of slow start How Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling topped the baseball podcast empire Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img

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