It’s three days later, and it still feels as if I need to be waking up from this nightmare. It’s real. It’s all too real.
After winning a franchise-best 106 games in the regular season, the Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated by the Washington Nationals in the divisional series. It happened. No team in major-league history has ever won 106 games, and failed to get out of the divisional round. That is, until the 2019 Dodgers.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. When a loss this catastrophic occurs, it’s easy to shift the blame towards one person — the manager. Dave Roberts blew it in game 5. There’s no other way around it. The decisions he made, or should I say, didn’t make, cost LA the game. They were six outs away from advancing. They had a two-run lead. Yet, they are spending today at home.
Sure, you can put the blame on Clayton Kershaw, who allowed back-to-back home runs in the eighth to allow the Nationals to tie the game. Our very own Dustin Nosler wrote a great piece on Kershaw following the loss. As he wrote perfectly, Kershaw was set up to fail.
However, instead of bashing on the baffling decisions made by Roberts, as well as the never-ending criticism of Kershaw, I want to talk about who in my opinion was the biggest letdown of the series — the Dodgers offense.
Before I begin, we have to shout-out a few players, because there were some bats who decided to show up for the series. Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Russell Martin and Enrique Hernández. They contributed most of the offense from this series. The rest of the team, however ... where do I begin?
Game 1 was great. The Dodgers scored six runs and won the game. It looked as if things were going to be fine. Walker Buehler was lights out and the bullpen arms that followed were dominant as well. The Nats were held to only two hits. The Dodgers could have scored one run, and they still would’ve come out on top based on how well the pitching did.
Yeah, they won by six, but they still stranded NINE runners on base, while going a mere 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Game 2 is where things started to go south.
The game gets off to an awful start. The Nats tacked on three in the first two innings against Kershaw, and LA already found themselves in a hole. To no surprise, everyone immediately shifted the blame towards No. 22, and for good reason. He was shaky early on, and was charged with the loss. What people will forget was how he was able to get out of multiple jams and hold the Nats in check the remainder of his outing.
Stephen Strasburg was practically untouchable in Game 2. It wasn’t until the fifth when Will Smith had LA’s first hit. An inning later, the Dodgers had a golden opportunity to get right back into the game. Back-to-back hits put runners on second and third, and brought the tying run to the plate with one out. Turner, on the first pitch of the at-bat, flew out, bringing in a run to cut the deficit to two. A.J. Pollock followed with a strikeout, ending the frame, while stranding a runner at third.
Side note on Pollock, who had a very, very poor performance in the divisional series. He went 0-for-13, while striking out 11(!!!) times.
Trailing two in the ninth, Turner led off the bottom of the inning with a double. Representing the tying run at the plate, Pollock struck out on what would have been ball four. He worked the count full, but instead of first and second with no outs, there was one down. Following him was the MVP-favorite, Cody Bellinger. On the first pitch, he flew out, putting the Dodgers down to their final out.
Back-to-back walks loaded the bases, and the tying run all of a sudden was standing at second base. A base hit would tie, and a double would likely win. Who better to have at the plate than doubles machine Corey Seager, the man who was tied for the NL lead with 44 doubles on the season.
He worked the count, seeing a total of eight pitches. But on the eighth pitch, he swung and missed at an 88-mph slider out of the strike zone to end the game. If it seems like I mentioned a lot of strikeouts during this brief recap, it’s because there were a lot of them. Seventeen to be exact. Yup, 17. The Dodgers struck out 17 times in Game 2. I have to keep writing the number 17, because I am still trying to fathom how that’s possible. How can the No. 1 offense in the NL, who had some of the best plate discipline in all of baseball, strike out 17 times in a nine-inning game? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.
Meanwhile through two games, LA stranded 14 while going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. The series was now tied.
The Dodgers piled it on in Game 3, scoring a total of 10 runs. Now, granted, seven came in one inning, while they were a strike away from finishing the inning with a total of zero. Some (rare) timely hitting, as well as a collapse from Patrick Corbin and the Nats bullpen, helped give the Dodgers some runs. Amazingly, even after that incredible sixth inning, as well as the ninth, the Dodgers still finished the game going only 3-for-10 with runners in scoring position, as well as stranding 11 on base. Through three games, they were now 4-for-22, while stranding 25. It was fine though, because they had the 2-1 series lead.
In Game 4, the Dodgers jumped out to the early 1-0 lead. An inning later, Seager led off the inning with a double. Boy, how nice that would’ve been in Game 2. Facing Max Scherzer, it was obvious that runs were going to be scarce, and any you could get off him would seemingly be worth more. Seager was left at second base to end the inning, as a lineout, flyout and strikeout ended the inning.
Two innings later, Bellinger found himself at second base with no outs, a situation identical to two innings prior. With the game now tied at one, it was imperative for the Dodgers to tack on another run or two. They didn’t. Two strikeouts and a flyout left Bellinger stranded at second, as the Dodgers failed to bring him in.
A nightmare fifth saw the Nationals score four runs, giving them the 5-1 lead. A run an inning later gave them a 6-1 edge, and a comeback from LA looked impossible. However, they gave themselves a chance.
With Scherzer still on the mound in the seventh, three great at-bats from LA loaded up the bases with only one out. The Dodgers had their chance to inch their way back into the game. Chris Taylor came in to pinch-hit, and battled himself into an eight-pitch at-bat. With a full count, Taylor swung right through a slider down the heart of the plate for the second out.
Joc Pederson followed, and came inches short of a potential bases-clearing double. On the first pitch of the AB, he fouled one down the right field line, landing just inches away from the chalk and going foul. Had that ball been a foot over, it would’ve scored at least two, but potentially could have made it a two-run game, bringing the tying run to the plate. Instead, one pitch later, a groundout would end the inning. Over the next two innings, the offense did nothing, and the series was now tied.
On to Game 5. Things looked so good early on. Muncy hit a two-run homer, and Hernández hit a solo shot to put the Dodgers up 3-0 after two. Things were looking great. After that homer to lead-off the second inning, the Dodgers didn’t score a single run over the next (technically) nine innings. No runs. The best offense in the NL scored zero runs over a nine-inning stretch. They only had three hits the rest of the way, too.
The Dodgers had the chance to capitalize in the first and tack on more runs. They had runners on first and second with only one out. Having yet to ground into a double-play in the series, Seager grounded into LA’s first, ending the inning. In the third inning, Bellinger stood on second base with only one out. He did advance to third on a groundout, but a strikeout from Seager ended the inning.
The Nats scored a run in the sixth, cutting LA’s lead to only two. In the bottom half of the frame, the Dodgers had yet another golden opportunity to tack on some insurance runs. Bellinger was at second base with no outs. He remained there, as three consecutive strikeouts from the Dodgers left him stranded to end the inning.
After getting to Strasburg early, the offense let him hang around and go six innings. He struck out seven, throwing 105 total pitches. When Washington went to their bullpen, LA had no answers. They saw a combined four pitchers over four innings, and were only able to get one hit, striking out five times.
With the game tied at three, Turner was hit by a pitch in the eighth, putting the go-ahead run at first. With the chance to break out of his slump and deliver the biggest hit of the series, Bellinger struck out. Then, in what turned out to be his final at-bat of his career, David Freese struck out as well.
Hernandez singled in the bottom of the ninth, representing the series-winning run. Granted, Smith then barely missed hitting a walk-off home run, but the offense left him at first. The rest is history.
The blame can be shifted in many directions. You can blame Roberts, Kershaw, Joe Kelly, or whoever you choose, and rightfully so. However, the offense simply left too many opportunities on the table. They had their chances in Game 5 to score more insurance runs, they didn’t. They had their chance to win Game 2, they didn’t.
In five games, the Dodgers left 38 runners on base. They were... wait for it.. 5-for-37 with runners in scoring position. Yikes. If they’re able to go maybe just 10-for-37 instead, this series could’ve gone LA’s favor, in maybe only three or four games.
Baseball more than any sport is a team sport. You win as a team, you lose as a team. More often than not, a loss can hang in the hands of multiple people. You have to tip your cap to the Washington Nationals. Coming into the series, they had been one of the best teams in baseball since May. It was a tough matchup. The series was there for the taking for LA. They could’ve, and probably should’ve won that series.
Unfortunately, the World Series drought extends another season. It’s now been 31 years since the Dodgers’ last championship. The offseason will be hard, really hard. The front-office has a lot of decisions to make. Eventually, spring training will come, and it will be baseball season again. The Dodgers will still be good — really good. They’ll likely win another NL West title next season, and they’ll likely be in contention for the World Series again. Hopefully, something can change. Hopefully, they can learn from this series, and give the city of Los Angeles a championship that is long overdue.
We’ll just have to wait and see.