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Dodgers pitching strategy unraveled in disastrous 7th inning in Game 4

111 wins and nothing to show for it

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

A historic 111-win Dodgers season ended in epic disappointment Saturday night on a drizzly night in San Diego. Dave Roberts confidently predicted that the 2022 Dodgers, a roster filled with superstars and former MVPs, were going to get to the World Series. Instead, the Dodgers laid a big goose egg in a shocking elimination loss in Game 4 of the NLDS.

The 2022 version of the Boys in Blue was a juggernaut of a baseball team. They finished the regular season 22 games ahead of the San Diego Padres in the National League West division. Their +334 run differential during their 162 regular seasons was the best in the majors. The “Big 3” atop the Dodgers’ lineup - Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman - collected 547 base hits.

We know the postseason is unpredictable and has no memory. The Dodgers historic season ended with a 5-3 loss to the Padres in one of the most heartbreaking ends to a season in Dodgers history.

In the series, the Dodgers’ bats went 5-for-34 with runners in scoring position. They left 32 men on base over the four games, a result that’s obviously not usually associated with winning in October. Although the bats were obviously struggling, the Dodgers’ dominant pitching staff was routinely able to win games for L.A. during the season when the offense lacked.

Tyler Anderson was ready to go for Game 3, but instead, Roberts chose to go the unconventional route of a bullpen game with Tony Gonsolin as the opener. The Padres, fresh off a big series upset over the Mets in the wild card series, took advantage and exposed the Dodgers’ flaws.

Roberts’ mismanagement of the Dodgers’ bullpen has lost games for the Dodgers in the past. There was no good reason to pull Anderson after five innings in Game 4. In his first postseason appearance since 2018, Anderson pitched with ice seemingly in his veins and a noticeable uptick in his velocity. He allowed two hits with six strikeouts on just 86 pitches (54 strikes) in five innings. The left-hander was cruising like he did many times during the regular season for the Dodgers. Anderson had a career-year and went 15-5 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.002 WHIP in 178 ⅔ innings which earned him his first All-Star nod.

Roberts, presumably working with matchups, didn’t let Anderson go back out for the sixth. Roberts went to the bullpen to try to preserve the lead. He used Chris Martin in the sixth frame, and he was able to pitch around two San Diego singles for a scoreless sixth.

Going into the seventh inning, the Padres were behind 3-0. The odds were in the Dodgers’ favor, but the tides turned quickly for Roberts in the fateful frame that ultimately sealed the Dodgers’ fate this postseason.

Roberts gave the ball to Tommy Kahnle to start the seventh, and the game quickly became undone for the Dodgers’ bullpen.

The dreaded lead off walk to Jurickson Profar started the domino effect. Consecutive base hits from Padres postseason powerhouse Trent Grisham and Austin Nola brought in the first run of the game for the Friars.

The situation only got worse. Instead of going to Evan Phillips, a guy who’s been one of the best arms out of Roberts’ pen this season, he opted for Yency Almonte in a puzzling decision.

Almonte immediately served up an RBI double to Ha-Seong Kim and a RBI single to Juan Soto that tied the game at three runs apiece.

The nail in the coffin for the Dodgers came with the next move made by Roberts. With two outs and Jake Cronenworth at bat, Almonte missed a pickoff signal from the dugout meant to vy more time for Alex Vesia to warm up in the bullpen, but Almonte threw a ball to Cronenworth instead.

Roberts made the pitching change in the middle of the at-bat anyways, and the move immediately had dire consequences. Cronenworth’s two-run single against Vesia gave the Padres a 5-3 lead and ultimately the series win. Later we discovered Vesia was already warm and ready to go before the Cronenworth at-bat started.

Before Saturday’s crushing loss, the Dodgers were 80-3 in franchise postseason history when leading by three or more runs in the seventh inning or later. This painful loss will be felt for a while. A short five-game series shouldn’t erase all the work the Dodgers did to win 111 games over the 162-game marathon of the regular season, but it did.

The Dodgers have made it to the postseason every season for a decade. They only have one championship to show for it. The agonizing loss was more than just one poorly managed inning. The Dodgers also stranded 32 base runners in the four games, Betts had two hits in 18 plate appearances, Chris Taylor went hitless, and their top defender in Cody Bellinger managed just one hit and was benched against a right-hander Game 4.

They were a great team who failed to execute when it mattered. 111 wins ultimately led to 111 questions remaining to be answered.