For seven innings, the game could not have gone much more to script for the Dodgers. They basically had gotten seven one-run innings without using their array of bullpen options and they had a two-run lead to work with against the Nationals.
Then it all fell apart. Before I look at that, let’s look at the other takeaways from NLDS Game 5.
Walker Buehler is the “Ace” of the Dodger starting rotation
Buehler followed his Game 1 performance with another strong outing, he pitched 6⅔ innings and allowed a run and four hits. He walked three and struck out seven.
The @Dodgers’ Walker Buehler has his postseason scoreless streak officially end at 21.2 innings.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) October 10, 2019
That’s the 4th-longest scoreless streak in MLB postseason history by a pitcher 25 or younger, behind only Babe Ruth (29.0), Christy Mathewson (27.0) and Madison Bumgarner (22.0).
In both of his National League Divisional Series starts, it is fair to say, it wasn’t peak Buehler, he didn’t have all of pitches for the entirety of the outings but he was able to push through and keep runs off the board.
Buehler posted career highs in strikeouts and innings pitched in 2019 and he will enter his last non-arbitration eligible season when he steps on the mound in March 2020.
No offensive flow throughout the NLDS
The 2019 Dodgers set multiple franchise records for their offensive production. They also prided themselves on improving their contact rate and situational hitting.
None of those things were apparent in their series against the Nationals. Now, they didn’t play 162 games against the Nationals starting rotation so that does count for something but does that count for everything?
As a team, in 195 plate appearances, the Dodgers hit .220/.303/.428 with nine home runs, 20 walks and 64 strikeouts.
With runners in scoring position, they went 5-for-37 with three of those hits coming in the seven-run sixth inning in Game 3.
Individually, Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Joc Pederson played well with a series OPS of 1.128, 1.000 and .953 respectively.
Max Muncy gets the Dodgers on the board early with a 2-run HR. He is the first player in Dodgers history with 3 HR in consecutive postseasons.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 10, 2019
Over the last 2 postseasons, Muncy has 6 HR. No other player has more than 4 (Steve Pearce, George Springer). pic.twitter.com/Ybf6LBpxZF
But Cody Bellinger went 4-for-19 with a double and seven strikeouts. Corey Seager was 3-for-20 with a double and eight strikeouts. And it is hard to imagine anyone with a worse playoff series than A.J. Pollock, he was 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts.
It is true that, so far, only the Yankees have come close to matching their regular season output in the playoffs and that was against the Twins pitching staff but shouldn’t be an excuse for poor execution by the Dodger offense in their series against the Nationals.
As for Game 5 itself, the Dodgers finished all of their scoring with no outs in the second inning. They would go 0-for-5 from that point with runners in scoring position.
What the heck happened in the eighth inning?
As I started this article, I said up top that the Dodgers got all they could have wanted when they had all of their bullpen options with six outs to get to win the game. Clayton Kershaw had gotten Adam Eaton on a called third strike to end the seventh and while it did seem like a short appearance, it was a perfect use for Kershaw.
So it seemed, manager Dave Roberts wanting two more outs from Kershaw.
Dave Roberts said the decision for Clayton Kershaw to start the 8th was not an “analytic question.” Kershaw, he said, “is a guy I believe in.” Roberts indicated plan was for Kershaw to face Rendon and Soto, before bringing in Maeda for #Nats right-handers.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 10, 2019
Now, it is still just a few hours ago when this happened so maybe I am just not there yet but I don’t get this plan. Sure, Howie Kendrick would burn the Dodgers in the tenth inning but he wasn’t the right-handed hitter that needed to be dealt with in the eighth inning; I mean, if Kershaw gets out Rendon and Soto, surely he could get Kendrick out.
And what are you saving Adam Kolarek for at this point?
Now, Roberts did make good calls in playing Kiké Hernández and Matt Beaty on Wednesday night and it is hard to fault him for the poor execution by his offense.
But it just seemed like there was either no trust in using some combination of Kenta Maeda, Kolarek, Joe Kelly and Kenley Jansen to get six outs to close out the game or he just wanted Kershaw to pitch in that situation. Neither of those options seem logical for a team that prides itself in gathering all of the data and putting players in the best position to succeed.
Also, it did seem like some of the choices made were due to familiarity and perhaps not wanting to have to rely on younger players like choosing Ross Stripling over Tony Gonsolin for the series roster or perhaps grooming Julio Urías or Dustin May for that fourth starter role in the postseason.
Losing a five-game series to the Nationals isn’t altogether surprising, they are a really good team with excellent starting pitching.
But for a team that planned for their postseason for months, for a team that maybe should have thought more about a fourth starter to avoid a bullpen game in a five-game series and maybe for a team that really never played a meaningful game until Game 3 of this series, this loss is excruciating for the team, the organization and their fans.
So, this postseason will continue, a new World Series champion will be crowned and life will go on. As for the Dodgers, I don’t know what they will do but it would seem like this loss will sit with them for a long time.