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From Up 4-0 to Down 9-4: Let’s Play the Blame Game

October 28th, 2018 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

Do you do this? Something goes badly wrong for your team, and you spend a minute or five replaying the events in your head, and settle on what you believe led to your team’s destruction.

I do that. Especially in regard to baseball, which is a start-and-stop game chock-full of decisions, choices, options.

And the Dodgers’ crushing, 9-6 defeat in Game 4 of the World Series, after holding a 4-0 lead through six innings, is ripe for a session of “whom to blame”?

We start with the least blameworthy events, and end with the most.

–Rich Hill’s walk of Xander Bogaerts to open the seventh inning. With the Dodgers giddy after Yasiel Puig’s homer capped the bottom-of-the-sixth eruption. Hill was, of course, a huge plus for the club, throwing six scoreless, but whatever chance he had of going another inning or two may have ended when he put the leadoff man on. Not even striking out the next batter, Eduardo Nunez, taking Hill to 91 pitches, kept him in the game. If he opens the inning with two outs, maybe manager Dave Roberts lets him finish the seventh and two guys mentioned below never enter the game.

–Scott Alexander’s four-pitch walk of Brock Holt. Alexander replaced Rich Hill, and threw four consecutive pitches wide of the strike zone, giving the Red Sox two men on and a chance at a big inning. This is probably more a failure of nerve, by Alexander, in his first postseason, and we don’t come down on the player as heavily — even if it was a key to the inning.

–Kenley Jansen’s grooved cutter to Steve Pearce — which the Boston first baseman put into the seats for a 4-4 tie in the eighth. That made for consecutive blown saves by the Dodgers closer, each via solo homer. Jansen is not the pitcher he was, before this season, but the man also has a heart condition that likely will require another surgery and, again, we cannot apportion a full rasher of blame. Also? He threw two innings in the 18-inning game.

–Ryan Madson’s latest meltdown. The 37-year-old right-hander acquired late in the season, as a set-up man, has entered three games, with seven runners on base, in aggregate, and allowed all of them to score. The latest: The monster, three-run pinch-homer he gave up after taking the ball from Alexander, plating Hill’s walk and Alexander’s walk and making it 4-3. Madson has played with two World Series championship teams; the Dodgers thought he would be a difference-maker — and in a dark way, he has.

–Dave Roberts. The Dodgers manager made the decisions about his bullpen, and all six of the relievers he summoned were charged with at least one run. Never had happened in baseball’s postseason. Still, it is not clear how circumscribed by management his actions are. Does he get a print-out from the advanced-metrics crew outlining how he should handle each game’s final innings? Or is that all him? We can say one thing with certainty: Roberts’s statements after the 18-inning victory the night before, about how his bullpen was in pretty good shape, were nonsense. He had used eight relievers the night before, and three of them (Jansen, Pedro Baez and Kenta Maeda) had thrown two innings and Dylan Floro had gone 1.2. Exactly no one was fresh. Some of Boston’s offense was seeing-eye grounders, but there were some bombs in there too, especially in the four-run Boston ninth, which takes us back to yanking Rich Hill in the seventh, setting up a reprise of the reliever parade that was successful, the night before — when everyone was throwing after at least one day off.

–Dodgers management. This is where the blame lies heaviest. Talking about Andrew Friedman, director of baseball operations, and general manager Farhad Zaidi. The bullpen was a problem on opening day, and it was never fixed. We know injuries made it a tricky task, but every team faces the same issues.

Some telling statistics: The Dodgers went through 26 relievers, in the 2018 season. We did not count Rich Hill or Walker Buehler, each of whom made one relief appearance, and Enrique Hernandez, who mopped up once in a blowout.

First, let’s mention two rotation guys who ended the season in the bullpen, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda. Then the guy who started in the bullpen and moved into the rotation, Ross Stripling. Counting those guys as relievers.

Then we have 21 pitchers who exclusively (or overwhelmingly) got into games versus the bullpen gate, listed by regular-season innings pitched: Kenley Jansen, Scott Alexander, Pedro Baez, Caleb Ferguson, Tony Cingrani, Daniel Hudson, Josh Fields, JT Chargois, Erik Goeddel, Dylan Floro, Yimi Garcia, Brock Stewart, Pat Venditte, Adam Liberatore, Zac Rosscup, Wilmer Font, Edward Paredes, Julio Urias, Daniel Corcino, Dennis Santana and Zack Neal.

And two veterans who were late additions, via trade, as the front office acknowledged it had issues in the ‘pen: John Axford, obtained on July 31; Ryan Madson, who came over on August 31.

Jansen was mostly fine, when healthy, and Alexander was the one guy who was around pretty much all season, recording 21 holds — the only Dodgers reliever with more than 11. But, demonstrating the constant search for reliable set-up men, the Dodgers got holds from no fewer than 16 guys. It was a sort of a season-long audition for “who wants to pitch the seventh or eighth?”

And the front office never got it right, and the criticism has to focus on their failure to find/sign/trade for a dominant set-up guy, like, say the three the Red Sox have been using: Matt Barnes (25 holds), Joe Kelly (21) and Heath Hembree (20).

The Dodgers execs made their decisions (or allowed the situation to drift) in the light of day, while sitting at a desk. They did not have to execute before tens of thousands of fans and millions of TV viewers. Their culpability is exacerbated if they exercised a particularly invasive relationship with Dave Roberts — essentially telling him how to negotiate the final innings.

It comes down to management having their team enter the World Series, facing the best offense in baseball, with what was known to be a patchwork bullpen with a shortage of power arms. Now they are about to pay the price — another lost chance at a first championship since 1988.




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