The Dodgers end their season with a bitter taste and dreams of what could have been
Jumping out to an early 3-0 lead after home runs from Max Muncy and Kike Hernandez, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ odds to make it to a fourth consecutive berth in the NLCS looked excellent. Beyond that, most fans, players and professionals around the game expected the Dodgers to make it to a third consecutive World Series, and potentially win it.
Fans watching the game saw what the Dodgers’ offense had done so many times in the regular season. With 279 home runs in the regular season and two so far in this winner-take-all game five, the Dodgers looked poised to grab their 109th win of the 2019 season and face their next foe, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the NLCS.
As the game continued, Walker Buehler, who had a solid 3.26 ERA during the regular season and allowed no runs in 6.0 innings pitched in game one against the Washington Nationals, looked stellar as he pitched a full 6.2 innings allowing just one earned run and four hits before being pulled. The Dodgers offense, although it had quieted down following a fast start, looked like it had done enough to get the win.
Buehler was replaced by star pitcher Clayton Kershaw, a future first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the most talented pitchers in baseball history. Kershaw has been dominant in the regular season with a career 2.44 ERA as well as an incredible 2,464 strikeouts in 2,274.2 innings pitched. He looked to close out the game and punch the Dodgers ticket to the NLCS.
The Dodgers carried a 3-1 lead going into the eighth inning, and they just needed six more outs in order to seal the victory. Six outs compared to Kershaw’s regular workload seems like nothing to the blind eye, but the difference in this situation was that this game was in the postseason.
Kershaw has historically been rather lackluster in the postseason, with career numbers of a 4.43 ERA, and nine wins versus 11 losses. However, the bigger the situation he’s called into, the worse Kershaw has performed. In the World Series, Kershaw had an average 4.02 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched in 2017 against the Houston Astros, and an abysmal 7.36 ERA in 11 innings pitched against the Boston Red Sox in 2018.
On Wednesday night, the trend continued but in a much more abrupt way. Kershaw was brought in to either finish the game, or at least get his team through the eighth inning so closer Kenley Jansen could finish it off. However, as has been seen many times before, Kershaw blew the game and the Dodgers found themselves in a brand new situation.
Facing Anthony Rendon to start off his stint of the game, Kershaw only threw one pitch before Rendon smacked one over the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium to cut the Dodgers’ lead to just one. Feeling the shock of allowing a home run on his first batter faced, Kershaw looked to get the crucial first out on the next batter he faced in Juan Soto. Before people watching on television and live could even catch their breath from the prior home run, Soto wasted no time and absolutely destroyed the first pitch he saw, homering to center field. Just like that, a 3-1 lead that the Dodgers had held on to for most of the game vanished.
Kershaw has never allowed back-to-back home runs in the regular season. However, including this game, he has done it twice in the postseason according to Elias Sports. It is quite obvious to anyone who looks at Kershaw’s career history that the difference between his performance in the regular season as opposed to the postseason is night and day.
With a shocked Dodgers crowd, Kershaw was pulled after throwing just three pitches and allowing two home runs. Deflated, Kershaw hung his head and returned to the dugout as boos rained down from the monstrous grandstands of Dodger Stadium. Kenta Maeda came in and struck out three straight batters following Kershaw’s pathetic play, but it didn’t matter as the damage was done and the Dodgers found themselves heading into the bottom of the eighth in a 3-3 tie.
The remainder of the Dodger offense involved three strikeouts and one hit. Then, in the 10th, the Nationals found a way to load the bases before former Dodger Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam off of Joe Kelly. After the Nationals took a commanding 7-3 lead in extra innings, that would be all she wrote. The Dodgers walked off the field to a stunned and infuriated crowd.
There is plenty of blame to go around for this loss and the loss of the series as a whole. Between Kershaw allowing two consecutive home runs on just three total pitches, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts putting Kershaw in even though he is well aware of Kershaw’s lack of success in the playoffs, and the Dodgers offense failing to perform when they were needed most, this Dodgers team finds themselves imagining what could have been.
Quite honestly, the Dodgers set themselves up to fail from the very beginning when they did almost nothing to improve their pitching corps in the offseason or at the trade deadline. In past years, it has been quite obvious that the main issue keeping the Dodgers from a World Series title is their pitching. Additions like Buehler, Dustin May and Kelly helped but it wasn’t even close to enough.
Roberts has shown time and time again that his decision making in big games, especially concerning pitching, has not made much sense and has ignored obvious trends. Many of Roberts’ excuses have come down to him simply feeling good about a decision which leaves many unsatisfied. There are more things to consider than just a gut feeling, especially when your gut feeling has not produced the results people are looking for.
Additionally, the Dodgers offense didn’t come through as needed. A.J. Pollock went 0 for 13 with 11 strikeouts in the series, Cody Bellinger, who tallied 47 home runs in the regular season, had a .211 batting average and 0 RBI’s, Corey Seager had a .150 batting average, and many others were just generally inconsistent. Scoring six runs in game one, two in game two, 10 in game three, one in game four and then three in game five, one can easily notice the pendulum style of inconsistencies that exist with this offense as a whole. When you live by the home run, you also die by the home run.
The Dodgers should have more than division titles and regular-season success dominance at this point. A third straight World Series appearance was expected this year, but the Dodgers couldn’t even make it out of the divisional series. They were defeated by a Nationals team that was very close to not getting past the wild card game. There needs to be some soul searching going on for this team in the offseason. The habitual trend of failure in October is getting old for both players and fans.