By Griffin Olah
October 16, 2019
Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major with a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are the gold standard for success in the National League in recent years. They’ve been to the World Series in 2017 and 2018, and followed that up with a franchise record 106 wins in 2019. After losing two straight World Series, the Dodgers revamped their roster this past offseason, bringing in outfielder A.J. Pollock, righty reliever Joe Kelly and lefty reliever Adam Kolarek. Walker Buehler turned into a bona-fide ace and star shortstop Corey Seager was back healthy. They were heavy favorites, as usual, going into the postseason, led by the same cast of characters that always got them there: Dave Roberts and Clayton Kershaw.
The NLDS against the Washington Nationals was a roller coaster ride leading to a winner-take-all Game 5 in Los Angeles. Walker Buehler toed the rubber for the Dodgers, and red-hot ace Stephen Strasburg faced him. The Dodgers jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, and Buehler’s gem ended when Roberts lifted him in the 7th with 2 outs. Coming in from the bullpen was none other than three-time Cy Young winner and generational pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw got Adam Eaton out quickly to end the 7th, and then came out for the 8th. The first Nationals’ batter, Anthony Rendon, golfed a down and away pitch over the left field fence. 3-2 Dodgers. Lefty-killer Adam Kolarek sat in the bullpen as Kershaw stared down young phenom Juan Soto. Kolarek had great success against Soto throughout the series, not allowing Soto to reach base. Kershaw stayed on, however, and Soto took him deep to center field. Tie game.
The entire dynamic of the game changed, and instead of cruising to a win, Kershaw let up two runs and now the Dodgers were fighting for their lives. Kershaw got out of the inning, and Roberts called on Joe Kelly to pitch the 9th. He sat down the Nationals in order, going 1-2-3. The game moved to extra innings, and Joe Kelly came out in the 10th. Joe Kelly. Not Kenley Jansen, one of the league’s premier relievers. Not Kenta Maeda, starter turned playoff reliever who has been lights out all postseason. Joe Kelly, who gave up nine runs in 12 ⅓ innings of multi-inning outings (Baer, 2019). Kelly loaded the bases, and then Howie Kendrick launched a moonshot through the night sky at Chavez Ravine and through the Dodgers’ hearts. A grand slam, game over.
The media looked at this collapse and talked mismanagement immediately. Blame was laid on the shoulders of Dave Roberts for his bullpen mismanagement. Critics pointed to Roberts’ “lack of confidence in the rest of his bullpen” (Baer, 2019, para. 6) as the main reason for the loss. Roberts had one of the best overall bullpens in the league, yet stuck with a starter carrying postseason demons and a reliever who struggled in multi-inning appearances all year. Others looked to the man who let the game get tied in the first place: Clayton Kershaw. It seems every season someone “write[s] about [his postseason] failure” (Baumann, 2019, para. 11). Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in MLB history, and has had his share of success in the postseason. Sure, he hasn’t won a World Series, but he is still one of the best we have ever seen.
Many in the media want to push the narrative that Clayton Kershaw cannot pitch in the postseason, and this latest collapse is a major piece of evidence to support that point. Where is the talk of his dominant performances, though? Where is the talk surrounding his reign of dominance over the last decade, with only injuries and a few bad starts holding him back? Justin Verlander got shelled by the Rays in the ALDS, but he is still heralded as a great postseason pitcher. Both had bad outings, but only Kershaw’s is considered a problem across his entire career. Kershaw may have had some bad postseason outings, but he is not the reason that the Dodgers’ season came to an untimely close. That is Dave Roberts’ problem.
Dave Roberts severely mismanaged the end of the game, and that’s the main problem. The media likes to focus on a pivotal point in the game that swung the outcome one way or the other, and Kershaw’s meltdown fits the bill. The real issue, though, is Kershaw staying on to face Soto, or Kelly’s second inning of work. There was a capable bullpen, a fact many articles ignore, and Roberts left the game in the hands of two relievers that struggled mightily in the game. Will this mishap cost Roberts his job? No, and it shouldn’t but media members looking for a scapegoat point at both Roberts and Kershaw as the problem, and think they should be removed from the team.
Baer, B. (2019, October 10). Dodgers’ NLDS Game 5 loss is on Dave Roberts. NBC Sports. Retrieved from https://mlb.nbcsports.com/2019/10/10/dodgers-nlds-game-5-loss-is-on-dave-roberts/.
Baumann, M. (2019, October 10). NLDS Game 5: The Clayton Kershaw playoff narrative will never go away. The Ringer. Retrieved from https://www.theringer.com/2019/10/10/20907661/nlds-game-5-nationals-dodgers-clayton-kershaw-playoff-choke.