“We have the chance to be one of the best teams in Dodgers history,” said Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts a day before the start of the NLDS.
That statement made by Roberts was a bold one at the time, yes, but he had a good reason for it. The Dodgers had won 106 games in 2019 setting a new franchise record. They also had won 59 games at Dodger Stadium which was the best home record in the Major Leagues.
The ‘Boys in Blue’ hosted a Game 5 match-up with the Washington Nationals and all signs pointed in favor of the Dodgers when they took a 3-0 lead at the end of the second inning.
This was a team that had “World Series or Bust” type of expectations heading into the regular season and those expectations only heated up once the playoffs started. But like a tea kettle filled with boiling water, the Dodgers started losing steam as it got closer to the end of Game 5.
The Nationals cut the deficit to two runs in the 6th inning when Juan Soto singled in Anthony Rendon. However, starting pitcher Walker Buehler was able to get a double play and a strikeout to end the threat in the inning.
Buehler had a great outing and pitched 6 ⅔ innings while recording seven strikeouts and limiting the Nationals to just one run. After allowing two runners on in the seventh, Roberts pulled Buehler for Clayton Kershaw for a lefty-on-lefty matchup and Kershaw got the out.
However, Roberts decided to leave Kershaw in to start the eighth inning despite the southpaw’s notable struggles in the postseason (4.43 career postseason ERA). Due up was the 3-4-5 hitters and the 3 & 4 hitters – Rendon and Soto – were some of the hottest hitters this postseason.
Then, the unthinkable happened. On back-to-back pitches, Kershaw gave up back-to-back home runs to both Rendon and Soto that tied things up 3-3.
Throughout his regular-season career, Kershaw has never given up home runs on back-to-back pitches. Yet Wednesday night marked the second time in the southpaw’s postseason career that had happened.
Kershaw was pulled and the Dodgers had gotten out of the inning, but the damage had been done. The tea kettle was now not only losing steam, but the water had started spilling out the sides of the lid.
The Dodgers offense continued to struggle as both teams traded scoreless innings, pushing the game into extras. It didn’t take long though for the Nationals to get the fireworks going.
After pitching a clean 9th inning, Roberts left in reliever Joe Kelly in to start the 10th inning. Two walks on a ground-rule double later, the bases are loaded for Howie Kendrick.
Up until that point, Kendrick was having a very forgettable series. He made three defensive errors in the series and had a costly base-running error in game three. Of all the batters in the Nationals lineup, Kendrick was the last player the Dodgers were worried about; so naturally, he hits a grand slam.
Mind you, relievers Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias, Dustin May and Adam Kolarek were still available in the bullpen during the 10th inning collapse by Kelly. Kelly was eventually pulled two batters later for Jansen, leaving Kelly with a 23.14 ERA this postseason.
The Dodgers went scoreless in the bottom half of the 10th and lost by a final score of 7-3.
The tea kettle had now lost its lid as the boiling water had popped the top off becoming too hot to handle.
Dodgers fans are used to postseason collapses but this one felt like the last straw. All across social media platforms, Dodgers fans showed their disgust with the team’s performance on Wednesday night.
While it’s easy to point the finger at one person, baseball is a team sport and like any team sport, there are many people at fault in a loss.
You can fault Roberts for leaving both Kershaw and Kelly too long in the game. You can fault Kershaw for never coming through in big moments during the postseason and allowing those two home runs. You can fault the Dodgers offense that failed to score any runs since the second inning of that game. You can fault the likes of AJ Pollock, Cody Bellinger, Will Smith and Corey Seager for having an awful series at the plate.
Point is, there were a lot of parts at fault in the series loss. A team that had reached two straight World Series and that had its “best roster” under Roberts went on to have an underwhelming postseason performance.
Where do the Dodgers go from here?
Los Angeles is a sports market that is not content with just making it to the playoffs. Sure, NL West teams like the San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks or even their American League rival down the five freeway would be happy just making it to the postseason, but not the Dodgers.
Roberts took over the manager position back in 2016 and has yet to bring home a championship for the Dodgers, a void that has not been filled since 1988.
The Dodgers have plenty of young talented players on their roster that could keep the team competing for championships for the next 3-4 years. However, a different managing style may be necessary for the Dodgers to take that next step and win a championship. With two-time World Series champion Joe Maddon available on the market, that could spell the end and force Roberts out of Los Angeles.
As for the players, the Dodgers don’t need to “blow things up and rebuild” their roster but they could be faced with a few tough decisions like moving on from their older veterans. Kershaw (31), Rich Hill (39), Jansen (31), Russell Martin (36) and David Freese (36) are on the decline and the Dodgers will likely have to move on from them.
The pitching staff needs a desperate makeover and that means players like Justin Turner, Joc Pederson and Seager might be the Dodgers best options in getting bullpen help via trades.
While the specifics of who may not all be there yet, know that the Dodgers are in for some drastic changes come this off-season.