Whicker: Bullpen roulette backfires on Dodgers yet again

first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error How Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling topped the baseball podcast empire Dodgers hit seven home runs, sweep Colorado Rockies “We had opportunities,” rookie catcher Will Smith said. “We scored three runs in the first two innings and then we didn’t score another one.”But bullpen madness beat the Dodgers again. It did not come out of the blue, so to speak. It was the “check engine” light on the dashboard from the beginning of the season. Arms were added, arms were promoted, fortunes fluctuated, and the Dodgers wound up with the best bullpen WHIP in the league.The civic anguish about Kenley Jansen was wasted. In fact, that was the emptiest sight of the night, when Jansen was called after the fire was gone. Kendrick’s homer was still rattling around when the sound system played “California Love,” but the park had lost its energy by then, and also its love. Jansen got five inconsequential outs in this series.Walker Buehler threw 117 pitches and got the Dodgers a 3-1 lead, outpitching Stephen Strasburg. “He’s the man,” Hernandez said.No one questioned why Roberts pulled him in the seventh after a walk to Trea Turner. No one even questioned why Kershaw came in. His assignment was Adam Eaton, whom Kershaw dismissed on three pitches. The crowd of 54,159 hit maximum volume.Rendon led off the eighth. He hit .350 for the series with five walks, four RBIs and four strikeouts. Kenta Maeda was ready to roll out of the bullpen. At that point, he had thrown 3⅔ innings with one hit and four strikeouts. The Nationals had not yet figured out his slider. But in Game 2 last week, they had been reading Kershaw’s pitches before he threw them.Kershaw returned anyway. Rendon golfed Kershaw’s 1-and-1 slider over the left field fence.“That was a really good pitch,” Dodgers infielder Max Muncy said.“It was down but it didn’t have great action on it,” Smith said. “The next one was the same way.”True, except it went 449 feet and dived into the right-field bleachers like an eagle fetching a fish.Kershaw slumped into a crouch, removed his cap, and forced himself to look at the disappearing baseball. A 3-1 game had become 3-3.Only then did Maeda arrive, and he struck out three Nationals.“I wanted Kenta against the right-handers,” Roberts said. “I wanted to keep him away from Soto. Clayton was very efficient there and I felt great about him getting those two hitters. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game.”He’s one of the best starters in the game, still. But to ask Kershaw to do something so unfamiliar, even to the point of getting one hitter, sitting down, and going back out, is to cling too hard to yesterday.Roberts had Pedro Baez and Dustin May, power right-handers, to challenge Rendon, but chose instead to fulfill this expired obligation to Kershaw.Soto had only six of his 34 home runs vs. lefties this season but did have an .850 OPS against them, and last week he won the NL wild-card game with a double off Milwaukee’s hard-throwing Josh Hader, who is sort of what Kershaw was 10 years ago.But forget all that. The score was only tied.Joe Kelly, either sublime or ridiculous most of the year, had an easy 1-2-3 ninth inning. The problem was that he went out for the 10th.He walked Eaton. “It’s never good when that happens,” Smith said. Rendon bashed a double to left field.Soto emerged again. With no hesitation, Roberts ordered him intentionally walked. That created a bases-loaded, no-outs situation.Left unused was Adam Kolarek, the submarining lefty who had been Soto’s snake-charmer. He had faced three batters in the series, all of them Soto, and struck him out twice and induced a grounder. This is why he was on the roster.“I could have brought him in, played the infield in,” Roberts said, thinking out loud. “You can hope for a punch (strikeout), but in that situation, I thought Joe could get Howie to put it on the ground. Joe had thrown 10 pitches the inning before, There was no stress. Then you bring in Kenley to get (Ryan) Zimmerman after that.”Related Articles Dodgers’ Max Muncy trying to work his way out of slow start Kelly’s 0-and-1 pitch was a 97 mph fastball, a juicy rib-high rib eye that Kendrick turned into his third postseason home run, in 39 games.Washington’s Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson came in to handle the ninth, following Patrick Corbin’s easy eighth, and that was the final indignity: The Dodgers were even out-bullpen-ed by the Nationals.After Cody Bellinger’s third-inning single, they had two singles and struck out 10 times. In five games they struck out 64 times, and they turned 38 hits and 20 walks into 22 runs.“If the blame falls on me I have no problem with it,” Roberts said. “If it doesn’t work out there’s always going to be second-guessing, and I got no problem wearing the brunt of that.”He will wear it uncomfortably all winter while the invisible hands behind him are never raised.It’s Hollywood, after all. The one thing you need to get right is the ending.center_img Cody Bellinger homer gives Dodgers their first walkoff win of season On back-to-back pitches that traveled 830 feet, Rendon and Soto tied the score, and the ballpark went from house party to bleak house.In the 10th, Howie Kendrick’s grand slam off Joe Kelly won the game (7-3) and the series (3-2) for the Nationals, who won their first series since they came to Washington in 1995. They have seen late leads in clinching games gurgle down the bullpen drain, too, as have lots of teams. But the Dodgers won 106 games this season, a club record.They said it wasn’t worth it unless they won the World Series.Horse, meet cart.“I’m not going to stand here and say it feels worse than the other two times,” the Dodgers’ Kiké Hernandez said. “One day when we’re all retired, we’ll be able to stand around and talk about all the records we broke this year. To win 106 games for a historic franchise like this … I never dreamed we’d be going home this early.” Fire danger is on Dave Roberts’ mind as Dodgers head to San Francisco LOS ANGELES — The questions kept coming to Dave Roberts and his answers kept coming back, landing on the same circular truth.You use Clayton Kershaw because, well, he’s Clayton Kershaw, even though the radar gun and the situation and the echoes of the bats all tell you he isn’t.And, yes, the cheapest and most dishonest thing a fan can do is blame the manager in kneejerk fashion, particularly when this manager is far from the only decision-maker at Dodger Stadium.The old visitors clubhouse, where champagne somehow never flowed as freely as it does in the new one, is now the information department, the chamber of the decimal points, from which all truth emerges. Somehow this massive Adjustment Bureau arranged it so that Kershaw, in an unfamiliar role with eroded stuff, was just the man to face Washington’s two best hitters, NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and future MVP candidate Juan Soto, with a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning of a winner-take-all game.last_img

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