The End of Clayton Kershaw? — a final missive from San Francisco
Normally, I write up field reports shortly after games. This last field report on what happened out of San Francisco was delayed for a few reasons, most notably, while I did microblog during the game, it was largely a family affair. It was a brief family affair as the game time was barely over two hours.
Regardless, the whole point of the exercise was to take a tour of Oracle Park (done) and go to my first ballgame with my little sister. She had fun, even though sports apart from archery are not her thing — that status was all I asked for even if she never wanted to do this experience again.
Shockingly, she does not want to visit the Oakland Coliseum next year. To some, if not most, it’s a dump; to others, it’s a dive bar. Tomato, tomatoe.
As the regular season wrapped up, this game served as a final exhibition and a final chance to see Clayton Kershaw pitch during the regular season. He was adequate, giving up occasional loud contact before Max Muncy’s defense drove Kershaw from the game. Even the fun of purchasing the ball that hit Miguel Rojas could not distract from the inescapable truth of Oracle Park:
It’s a great ballpark, but I do not see any reason to visit again unless I am with friends and family. Considering that I now live two hours away from Oracle Park, the park does not even have the ease of convenience anymore.
Originally, I figured that this field report would serve as a coda to the season. One last morsel before digesting the playoff run, which I thought would certainly last more than a week. Oops.
I wanted to wait until the final press conference of the year and the inevitable declaration that Dave Roberts and the coaching staff are returning for 2024 to a man before finishing this essay.
And dear reader, you are not alone if you have an unmistakable sense of déjà vu.
I am not ashamed to admit that going into the 2023 postseason, I had little expectation of ultimate success. I just wanted the Dodgers to do two things: keep Clayton Kershaw from adding to the (unfair) legacy of his postseason failure and not get swept.
Kershaw recorded one more out than you and me this postseason while giving up five more runs than you or I did. I do not think that I have written a more painful sentence in my life. As for being swept?
Breaking down this NLDS does not take much effort.
The starting pitching was putrid. A series where Lance Lynn is technically the best starter is a series that likely was very short and very frustrating.
The offense was non-existent — again. In part, because Mookie Betts disappeared at the plate — again. Seriously, ever since his Casey at the Bat reenactment in his final at-bat in the 2021 NLCS, his slash lines have been eerily similar in the regular season and postseason.
- August 2022: .330/.383/.697
- September/October 2022: .222/.292/.410
- 2022 postseason: .143/.278/.214
- August 2023: .455/.516/.839
- September/October 2023: .244/.393/.326
- 2023 Postseason: .000/.083/.000
The Dodgers’ offense failure is not all on Betts.
However, for the money he is paid, this trendline gets pretty noticeable pretty quickly once you know what you are looking for. Freddie Freeman did not fare much better as he had a single hit, which looked like it was going to destroy several ligaments in his knee by an awkward slide at first base.
Mythbusters and other studies are not wrong: sliding to first base is generally a dumb idea.
The Dodgers came out flat even with a first-round bye — again. The Dodgers got bounced by a divisional opponent well on its way to being bounced by the Phillies — again. Do I need to go on?
Second verse, same as the first
Much like a famous Herman’s Hermits song, as a fitting coda to last year’s embarrassing, generational playoff loss of The One-Win Team, I had minimal expectations for this year’s team. Initially, I thought this version was good for 88 wins. I was wrong, mostly because the Dodgers overachieved in August, and (stop me if you have heard this one before), the Giants and Padres collapsed in September.
Dissecting the generational failure of last year and the organizational failure of this year, certain trends are pretty clear, but before diving into them there is one question that should be addressed first:
Why can’t you let the 2022 season go?
Put simply: that year’s team put me in the impossible position of having to lie to a dying man. I am quite embittered by that fact.
I remember Game 4 of that NLDS like no one’s business because I was driving from the Bay Area to see my father. I thought he was going to die in early October 2022. Dad was so invested in my travels last year and he was so excited by that year’s team.
With his then-recent diagnosis, I did not have the heart to tell him that the Dodgers were fading faster than he was. That night, I forgot to mute my phone, so I was doing my best not to let on that the Dodgers were faceplanting against the Padres with great aplomb. I failed.
So I was placed in an impossible position: lie to my old man or deflect. So I did a little of both. The truth was sussed out a few days later, which was quite disappointing to Dad.
In any event, Dad let the team off the hook as he lived for another extra year. However, I did notice he did not ask me about the Dodgers anymore, but he did encourage my travels to see the team.
To put my position another way, I am mostly over 2017.
I will mock the Astros when appropriate. I will boo the relevant players for the duration of their careers, but I am just tired of talking about it, thinking about it, and dwelling on it. But the pain from 2022 is now mixed with the pain of losing my father — it’s not going away anytime soon, but I can do my level best not to inflict that pain on others.
More of the same
Along those same lines of failure, when Andrew Friedman took the podium recently, he had the following to say after the Dodgers were bounced from the NLDS, calling the defeat an organizational failure.
“...In this series, we were not good. During the course of the season, we had peaks and valleys with runners in scoring position and this [series] was a valley. The question is is it baseball or are there things we can do to improve upon that? Are there levers we can pull, things to put us in a better position? ...”
Friedman is not wrong here. Admittedly if you think he was talking about the most recent NLDS, you would be wrong. The above quote and links are from last year’s NLDS loss against the Padres.
Last week Friedman took to the stage in the same room, in what looked to be the same sweater as last year, and described the playoff loss as an organizational failure...again, by pointing out that the goal was to win 11 games. The team did not even win one game.
For those keeping track, the Dodgers have now won 211 regular season games in the past two seasons, and have just one postseason win.
And to be honest, a more competitive result in either series likely prevents the agita. It’s not fair to pretend the team was a juggernaut in 2023, and then get mad when it did not play like one. What is striking is that for two years in a row, this team picked the brightest stage to play (literally) its worst baseball of the year.
The Dodgers had only two and a half innings in this series where they were merely tied with Arizona and not playing from behind. Accordingly, the Dodgers have now lost six playoff games in a row, which is tied for fourth in active playoff losing streaks, now that Minnesota finally won a playoff game.
The Orioles have the longest active streak of eight losses in a row, going back to 2014, and the Blue Jays and Rays are tied for second with seven, going back to 2016 and 2021 respectively. The Dodgers are tied with the Reds, whose streak goes back to 2012.
Yes, the Dodgers are the kings of August; unfortunately, titles are decided in October.
Waiting for the culling that will likely never come
While Roberts had some questionable management decisions in the finales of both series, these defeats are not his fault — again. Even Fangraphs mostly absolved Roberts for the Dodgers’ failures in this year’s NLDS. At this point, I could likely be forgiven for expecting to wake up to some Sonny and Cher while wondering if a groundhog is about to show up.
Roberts eventually blamed the layoff in part for last year’s result, and once again, he blamed the layoff in part for this year’s result. This fact is frustrating enough, especially if you recall that Atlanta in 2021 had one less day of rest, but still managed to beat a depleted Dodgers squad in six games in the NLCS.
Furthermore, Roberts said the following:
“It doesn’t matter if it was a seven-game series, we lost the first three games. For me, I’ve got to do a better job of figuring out a way to get our guys prepared for the postseason. I’ll own that. I think we’ve got great players. I’ve got to figure out a way to get these guys prepared for whatever format, whatever series.”
Dave Roberts has been managing the Dodgers since 2016. I would expect a statement like the above one after year one, or year two, or maybe even year three. But making a comment like that one after year eight? Words fail, especially when you consider that Roberts literally made a similar statement last year.
I have been vocal that Dave Roberts probably should have been fired after his managerial malpractice in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS against the Washington Nationals. But I do acknowledge that in the intervening years, Roberts has shown his mettle and talents in the regular season.
But managing in the regular season and the postseason are clearly two different animals. If it were up to me, considering all of the changes that have previously been made to no effect (adding veterans, dumping payroll, completely changing the makeup of the team, etc.), maybe the time has come to make multiple changes.
I would consider promoting Roberts to a higher post in the front office with farm development (ala Ned Coletti) and cull everyone else from the staff apart from Mark Prior and the bullpen coaches, as the bullpen did nothing wrong this time. I would consider keeping Gomes dumping Friedman.
Would I pull the trigger? I’d at least think about it, which is probably a good reason to keep me out of the Executive Branch of most organizations. After all, if only there was a hungry young executive who managed to cobble together a playoff roster of bubblegum, pluck, and a shoestring budget only to walk away from a toxic situation on the job market.
Wherever will the Dodgers find such a person?!? As many have said, there’s not just one person to blame, so why not entertain the idea of a cull and bring in those who still need to sing for their supper?
How many more failures will it take to realize that maybe the approach itself just is not working? Nothing lasts forever. If you need an example, just look at the New England Patriots as the “Bill Belichick is a genius” stories dried up quickly once Tom Brady and Company moved on/retired.
As it stands, it feels like the Dodgers are content to mimic Stan Kasten’s first team as an executive: the 1990s Atlanta Braves. Those Braves won all those division titles in a row but only managed one title. It feels like the current front office erroneously views the postseason as a roulette wheel, only subject to chance. After all, if Dodger Stadium remains full and the money keeps coming in, why fix what allegedly is not broken?
There are two contraindications to that thought process. One need only look at the Astros, who had every benefit the Dodgers had (twice), managed to win an undisputed title (while breaking the city of Seattle over its knee), and were one game of a return trip to the World Series before laying an egg in Game 7.
Or one can look at the Phillies, who were not built to be the best of the East (that would still be Atlanta), but were built to be good enough, as they have gone on two consecutive deep playoff runs while feasting on the teams that dispatched the suddenly-hapless Dodgers. If Craig Kimbrel had a tummyache in this year’s NLCS, the Phillies advance in five.
But as they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
And a child shall lead them...or not
All the above aside, there are some interesting days ahead for the Dodgers. A lot of dead payroll in the form of Trevor Bauer/Lance Lynn/Julio Urías/etc. is coming off the books. There are a lot of young arms banging at the door, including a returning Walker Buehler, Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan, and Gavin Stone, but also Landon Knack, Kyle Hurt, and River Ryan coming up right behind them.
Said analysis does not even consider the Dodgers breaking open the bank for the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Blake Snell (please no), or Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
One would be wise to figure that Miguel Vargas, Michael Busch, Jorbit Vivas, and Andy Pages (among others) would get an extended look at playing time next year. This past year was the “house money” year, only the finale was a bummer.
The Dodgers could be quite exciting next season. But if the Dodgers are not careful they will find that the embarrassment of this year’s NLDS is not the worst-case scenario.
Dodger fans, rock bottom has still not happened. It is painful to consider but the Dodgers are now quickly running out of divisional opponents to lose to in the playoffs.
I suppose 2024 could potentially end with the Dodgers losing (in three, breaking the playoff game losing streak) to the Giants at Dodger Stadium in the Wild Card Round and 2025 could potentially end with the Dodgers being swept by the Rockies at Dodger Stadium in the Wild Card Round.
The above thought experiment is not a prediction by any means. Is this thought experiment outlandish? Sure, but so was the thought of the Dodgers losing to Arizona at this time in 2022. Time will tell as it always does.
When winter gives way to spring...
As Vin Scully once said, at the very end, there will be a new day, a new year, and eventually before you know it, it will be time once again for Dodger baseball. As for me, my travels for 2023 have officially ended. While I was critical at times, I did enjoy myself this year. As always, I am grateful for all of you who came along with me, from the comfort of your screens, sharing stories and adventures with me, while I was on the road covering this year’s team.