Padres expose Dodgers’ flaws, poor bullpen management in NLDS win
SAN DIEGO — A goose on the ground, a drone overhead, a rainy night in Southern California, the biggest playoff upset in 116 years. The weirdness reigned in this National League split series between the padres and Dodgers. But what might be strangest of all is how painstakingly the Padres exposed all the flaws of a 111-win Dodgers team. It didn’t even feel like an upset.
San Diego ended the series on Saturday and qualified for its first NLCS since 1998 by winning its third straight game, each time with its starting pitcher staying in the game longer than Los Angeles’ starter. The Dodgers are always in a rush to get their starting pitcher out of the game, and it burned them in Game 4 when manager Dave Roberts didn’t have enough good arms in his bullpen to make sense of an effective Tyler Anderson after five innings. . (no runs, two hits, 86 pitches).
The Dodgers found themselves in a bad spot in which their season was in the hands of Tommy Kahnle and Alex Vesia. Not good, especially not during a season that started with a $310 million payroll. In one inning, a 3-0 lead became a 5-3 deficit and eventual loss at that score.
In Game 2, Clayton Kershaw gave the Dodgers just five innings in a 5–3 loss. In Game 3, a rusty Tony Gonsolin had nothing and was gone after getting just four outs. In Game 5, Roberts intentionally cut Anderson’s night short because Juan Soto and Manny Machado were scheduled to play the sixth for San Diego.
“There was a thought,” Roberts said of letting Anderson start the sixth, “but I was thinking where he was with his pitch count, coming in, I just felt like we had enough arms to get through that.
“With a 2-0 lead, Soto, Machado come back, I just felt he was going to be in the 90s at that point. I felt we had enough cover.
This from a man who let Anderson throw 124 pitches when he had a no-hitter in play.
In all honesty, don’t blame Roberts. It’s inundated with information and “guidelines” on how to launch a game from its front office. Prior to Game 4, Roberts was 45 minutes late for his scheduled media sessions because he was locked in meetings with his front office number crunchers. They script the game. Roberts is the one to walk into the media room and respond when it goes sideways.
I say it every playoff: many more games are lost by eliminating a starter too early rather than too late. Kyle Hendricks in 2020 is the only starting pitcher in the last five playoffs to be allowed to lose a late game.
It’s a strategy that looks good on paper and works if you have a deep, neutral bullpen like the 2021 Braves, who have used relievers for more innings than starters to make it through the playoffs. to the title.
The Dodgers don’t have that kind of bullpen. They have Three 17e-Round woodpeckers in their enclosure. They rely on clashes with a pitcher’s tricks and the break of his pitches against the arc of the batters’ swings. They believe relievers throw their best pitch over and over again. There are many data points to rely on and you can fool yourself into the odds. But NLCS Game 4 was an example of what happens when the human element gets in the way of those plans.
To tell the story of the anatomy of that loss — the end of the historic Dodgers season — start with the decision to pull Anderson. This was done because Roberts (code for the front office) wanted a new arm on Soto and Machado the third time around. That arm was Chris Martin, who threw about two hits. The Dodgers made another run in the top of the seventh.
Now Roberts had a three-point lead with nine outs to bring the series back to Dodger Stadium for Game 5. He planned to save his top reliever, Evan Phillips, for the ninth. That would leave six outs to fill. He chose to retire Martin for Kahnle, almost entirely because he thought switching Kahnle could incapacitate Trent Grisham, the Padres left-handed outfielder and regular-season .184 hitter who has become a new Mr. October.
Kahnle only pitched 12 2/3 innings during the season due to injuries. It is hardly a reliable winning coin. It was not a good choice. Start with this: He walked the first batter with a 3-0 lead. Then Grisham blew up the strategy again by fielding a single – on a first pitch substitution he knew was coming from Kahnle. Then Austin Nola chose – on another change.
Now Roberts was in trouble. He had Yency Almonte—not Phillips—pitch before the inning started, knowing Kahnle wasn’t going to last past his required three-batter minimum. But he didn’t want to use Almonte for up to three outs and he had lost faith in the stuff of Vesia. Without Phillips to help out, Roberts was put in a bind by Kahnle not even getting one out.
“Well, going into the inning, I don’t expect Yency to knock out the fourth batter in the inning,” Roberts said.
Ha-Seong Kim bluffed the bunt on Almonte’s first pitch which brought third baseman Max Muncy to the grass, after which Kim anchored an RBI brace past him. Soto ripped a single with a pointer to tie the game.
Almonte somehow got the next two outs, bringing Jake Cronenworth, a southpaw, to the plate. Roberts signaled Almonte to pitch first to give Vesia more time to warm up. The Dodgers couldn’t be wrong even on that simple play. Almonte, Roberts said, missed the sign and pitched Cronenworth a ball.
Now Roberts has emerged to bring Vesia up with a 1-0 count.
“He was ready,” Roberts said of Vesia. “I just wanted to buy a little more time. And that was the thought. I’m not going to put a pitcher in there that doesn’t say “I’m ready to go”. He was ready, I just hoped it would be 0-0 just to make sure we felt good.
Vesia threw her best shot, her fastball, twice: once a called strike, the other a foul ball. With two hits and two outs, Soto took off — slowly — for second base, knowing the Dodgers infielders weren’t going to cover second base and open a hole for Cronenworth. The field, another fastball, was a ball. Soto took second place. Now two runners were in scoring position.
With a count of 2 and 2, Vesia decided to roll a slider. It was a bad one. Cronenworth laced it up in center field. His two-out, two-hit, two-run single in an at-bat against two pitchers will become Padres legend for years to come. It’s the dagger that, to borrow from Padres primary owner Peter Seidler, slew “the dragon on the highway.”
Give the Padres a world of credit. As the Phillies, their NLCS opponent, the Padres are an energetic and supremely confident collection of young veterans and workhorse starters. San Diego manager Bob Melvin had a brilliant streak. He let Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove pitch a third time to the top of the Los Angeles roster — Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman — and won each of those games by not pitching the reliever carousel early. He didn’t use a script.
The Padres posted the “Rally Goose” on the stadium video board. When a drone flew over the field, Cronenworth grabbed a baseball and was ready to throw it before it flew away. The rain caused only the second use of the tarp at Petco Park all year, and came down hard after the winning rally as if blessing the proceedings.
It’s all weird, but not nearly as much as the Padres exposing all of the Dodgers’ flaws, not just the bullpen. Muncy and Justin Turner struggled to field reachable fastballs, leaving the Los Angeles roster looking top-heavy. Turner has a $16 million option for next season that likely won’t be exercised.
Cody Bellinger looked so bad that Roberts benched him against Musgrove, leaving Bellinger upset and probably looking unsubmissive. Turner looked nervous at shortstop and likely left as a free agent. Trayce Thompson was lightning in a bottle for a while, but a postseason diet of breaking balls incapacitated him. Chris Taylor, due to two weeks of rust from a neck injury, was useless. San Diego’s bottom roster vastly outperformed Los Angeles’ bottom roster.
The Dodgers’ biggest problem when it comes to 111 wins is that they had no closer starting pitchers and always rushed out of games. Without Craig Kimbrel (ineffective), Daniel Hudson (injured) and Blake Treinen (he pitched once and proved he still wasn’t right after an arm injury), Los Angeles lacked experienced playoff-caliber arms, especially when taking out southpaws like Soto, Cronenworth and Grisham. Brusdar Graterol has fallen out of favor because he’s not getting enough strikeouts for analysts’ tastes.
Ahead of the game, one of Los Angeles’ front office executives expressed concern that the team may have looked flat due to a month of games that lacked intensity with so little at stake. The Dodgers had the division locked up months ago. There was some truth in that — the Padres’ quality at bat was vastly superior — but the Dodgers’ real concern was going into the bullpen too soon too often.
“Things could have gone either way today and impacted the outcome of the game,” Roberts said. ” This is not the case. We were beaten in a series.
He later added when addressing the disappointment of 111 wins: “But you have to give the Padres credit. They have surpassed us this series.
Strange as it may seem due to the huge gap between regular season records, the better team won.
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