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Are the Playoff Dodgers Showing the Same Warning Signs We Saw All Season Long?

Cracks in the foundation shown, seeds of attrition planted; who are the 2019 Dodgers?

Max Muncy and teammates react.

Now at a crossroads, we’re about to learn the true identity the 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers. To be clear, I don’t just mean what their final epitaph will read. I’m interested to see if this team has the grit and guile to overcome their most fatal flaws.

However, I want to preface this by saying the Dodgers are going to win game five of the NLDS in Los Angeles. Truly, I had this series going five games before it started. Without question, I feel that the winner of this series is your NL Champion.

Remember, last year before game seven of the NLCS; I told you the Dodgers would defeat Milwaukee, on the road as an underdog. Undeniably, I’m here to tell you the same thing happens in this series finale.

Still, I have had my inner doubts about the 2019 Dodgers for a long time.

Sometimes, it’s hard to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about yourself. Similarly, I think we do that with our favorite sports teams. It’s only human, right? Part of being a fan is always having hope. Without that, what kind of fan are you? This season more than any other, I have seen where having objectivity, subjectivity, and being realistic can make other passionate fans made. Even more, they aren’t afraid to tell you that you’re jaded.

Obviously, I hope with that same amount of joy I did as a kid. Now, the difference is I know when I am lying to myself.

While I have the Dodgers’ escaping the NLDS by the thinnest of margins, I’ll tell you my true feelings on them. How are the 106-win regular season franchise record Dodgers the most flawed 100-win team of my lifetime? Hopefully, you can appreciate my viewpoints I have spent countless hours examining in my own head, the ‘mirror’ so-to-speak.

The Bullpen: Only The Start

Back in September, I debated with some knowledgable Dodgers’ folks about something I felt convicted about. I believe the 2017 Dodgers were a lot better team then the 2019 Dodgers. In fact, I think the 2017 Dodgers were one of the greatest teams of all-time; perhaps the best to not win a title.

Joe Kelly: Jekyll and Hyde.

Notably, I was asked what did the 2017 Dodgers do better? For starters, I lead with the bullpen. While I have spent spring, summer, and now fall waiting; this bullpen has never shown the ability to be trusted. Sure, you can section off some dates where stats support stability. However, let’s go back to that mirror; it’s just you and the mirror. Do you really trust this bullpen?

Check out the 2017 Dodgers bullpen members here before reading on. Then tell me – do the Dodgers even have a ‘guy’ – a stopper that you can hand the ball to in a big spot and you know he’s going to get it done. Well, the 2017 Dodgers had a couple of them. One of them is still on the roster, and he’s not the same pitcher.

No matter how much hope, write about it, or look for signs of full restoration from Kenley Jansen; the old big man is not walking through that door. From there, the dependable members of the 2019 team give me a whole different wave of emotion then any other group. From Julio Urias to Joe Kelly, to Pedro Baez and the youngsters trying to carry the load; the guy I trust most is a one-out lefty acquired at the deadline named Adam Kolarek.

Truthfully, from night to night, you never know what you’re getting out of any of these guys. The only thing consistent about them since April is they have been inconsistent, and left the organization shuffling furniture to find a true solution out of pieces that aren’t there.

The argument I am countered most with is that all teams have bullpen issues. Clearly, that should be considered. But with all their variables in play, the Dodgers need a more dependable bullpen. Right now, they’re managing around this problem; not thriving because of it.

The Lineup Has Thunder – But Is Banged Up & Without Rhythm

Obviously, the 162-game body of work says the 2019 Dodgers can hit. Statistics blind us to the truth sometimes though – which truth is real? Indeed, the Dodgers led the NL with 279 home runs and an .810 OPS. Moreover, the Dodgers hit pitchers with hard stuff as good as anyone according to ESPN.

Therefore, what is the problem you ask? Several of them exist:

  1. In a playoff series, power bats can go cold. Especially in a short playoff series.
  2. The Dodgers’ hitters have battled injuries all year long.
  3. Currently, players aren’t being used correctly.
  4. Key players have been a bit of a mirage.

Now, any one of those four quick points could have been put in bold and expanded upon greater. In short, Cody Bellinger should win the MVP award based on a great glove and historic first two months. However, he has failed to stay hot; and it’s continued into the postseason. Equally important, he’s been the only Dodgers’ regular not to face some sort of injury this season.

Corey Seager has felt a bit ‘off’ all year long outside of a few weeks. Justin Turner has shook off the effects of a malady of injuries to have a strong NLDS. The same can be said for Max Muncy. However, how often have the Dodgers’ played at full-strength? The Dodgers appeared to get fully healthy at the right time – with the exception of Alex Verdugo – all ‘major’ contributors are available.

And still, they’re not really hitting a ton. A tremendous amount of weight has been placed upon some superb rookies and a deep bench. Indeed, these are commendable strengths in any team. Even more, a championship can be founded in these things. Though if you’re pointing towards these things while your stars are having issues, it sort of makes a larger point.

Now we’re down to a one game shot – and we all sit and wonder – will Roberts play David Freese over A.J. Pollock? Can an offense that has never really had time to find a rhythm suddenly do it for nine innings? And then, can they ride different hot hands each night to a third straight World Series and then win a title? If you believe so, you are simply more bullish then I am or seeing something I’m not.

It’s been a while since I was at the end of a series and thought to myself that; the Dodgers’ key contributors were all hot and working in unison. It simply hasn’t felt like it’s taken place.

Wrapping Up a Myriad of Issues

Where to begin, and where to finish?

While it would be nice to be writing about whether or not the Dodgers can compete with the AL heavyweights, we’re all waiting to see if they can get through a solid Washington Nationals team. While Walker Buehler has continued his rapid ascent to stardom, Kershaw has a home-run issue. Obviously, he lost what may be his only postseason start; at home and in a game where he could have given Los Angeles command of the series. Then there is Ryu, who put together a Cy Young body of work and got a key victory in game three. But from August 17 onward – spanning seven starts – he posted a 5.40 ERA. It’s reasonable that Ryu be worn down at this stage.

The only sure thing.

And that’s it. Truly, you have those three starters and the bullpen which was already mentioned. While entering the season appearing to have as much starting pitching depth as anyone in baseball – that sentiment has played itself out to be somewhat hollow. Moving forward you still have those three with their strengths and weaknesses, and talk of bullpen games or Rich Hill (who has struggled with his own health issues) for your fourth.

Manager Dave Roberts continues to do his job in a puzzling manner in the most important month of the year. Until things discontinue like the lack of usage of Freese – one of October’s greatest players ever – he will leave himself open to second-guessing.

Undeniably, the Dodgers could suddenly put it all together and run through the rest of the postseason to make this column look silly. While I hope they do, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming. And if I’m being honest, it hasn’t felt that way for a while to me; one guy looking in the mirror at his team.

A million tiny cuts – that’s how a great baseball team faces it’s final ending. With each of these things I mention, the Dodgers face a piece of adversity. We are about to learn if what I believe to be their best quality, their grit and toughness in the big games; is enough to overcome their flaws.

Yes, the Dodgers will escape game five of the NLDS. But I don’t know if they will outrun the things I’ve seen when I look in the mirror along with them all season long.

Written by Clint Evans

Clint lives in Ohio, and played collegiate baseball. He loves the Dodgers due to his first memories of Chavez Ravine when he was nine years old. The voice of Vin Scully has been a staple in his life since he was a kid. No amount of baseball talk is ever enough, and he wishes the regular season was year round. He has written about baseball online since 2007.

34 Comments

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  1. Should they lose it will Dave Roberts last game as manager. He can’t manage a pitching staff and makes the same errors over and over. He’s the “Joe Torre” of the Yankee years who could win blind folded except he doesn’t have Mariano Coming out of bullpen to cover his mistakes

  2. Still trying to understand why Chris “swung on and missed” Taylor was pinch hitting with bases loaded and a former World Series MVP is sitting on the bench?

    • Amen ! Dodgers should employ Dave Roberts during the regular season and turn the team over to someone else during the playoffs.

    • Thats what I find confusing. Roberts sitting Freese and playing Lux so many games in a row. I am super excited to see Lux on this roster and think he has a really bright future but Freese has been a hitting machine and yet he doesn’t start him or get him more than 1 at bat. Roberts is walking a very fine line and I don’t know his future if the Dodgers take an early exit. More than that I’m waiting to hear the FO’s comments if the Dodgers take an early exit as well.

  3. I think your #3 problem is the most troubling for me. We are a 106 win team that has a bullpen game in a game 4 of a 5 game series. Not sure I can make any sense of that. Way too much faith in a pitcher (Hill) who has been great at times but injured more often than not. We need a 4th starter. I’d take May or Gonsolin to start with Hill in the pen. Pollock is on the bench in game 4 as he should be but we are sticking with a rookie in Lux who has never faced any of these pitchers, has 6 k’s in 9 ab’s and it doesn’t appear that management will change course on this. Lux hit a HR off a guy who has pitched all of 24 innings in 2019 with a 5.55 ERA and next thing is him starting over proven vets. He has a great future but we are not in the future! This lefty/Righty obsession has driven me nuts for years. Freese hit over .300 against right handers this year. Play the guy. Put Muncy at 2nd and give us the best chance to win games. We can’t make up for poor showings by Cody and Cory by playing guys who are deeply inexperienced and clearly struggling. Martin is an option, vets like Kike and CT are sitting on the bench…I love Will Smith but he has looked (mostly) over his head at the plate for weeks. I am having Ryan Madson nightmares. Thanks for the article.

    • We used CT ro pinch-hit with Freeze sitting on the bench. How did that work out? Don’t know if they keep stats on it but he must lead the league in SOs with a runner on third and less then 2 outs. Then what about Maeda(a starter for most of the season) being used for only an inning and a bit, then going with a shakey bullpen. How’d that work out? This article only touched on 1 problem with Roberts and I think he is the biggest problem.

  4. Come on, admit it, most of you are surprised when Taylor actually puts a ball in play. He takes a fast ball down the middle, sweeps at the dirt with his right foot, takes a back-wrenching swing and fouls it off to the right, takes a pitch in the dirt, fouls another one of to the right, then misses a curve ball in the dirt by a foot. Same thing, every time.

  5. And I like how the Dodgers come up with a “concept” early in the year as they’re pounding the Giants, Rockies, etc. and expect it to work in the pressure of the postseason. It was “our pitchers don’t face the other team’s lineup a third time” in 2017. Last season it was mass substitutions when the opponent changed pitchers (Bellinger and Muncey on the bench in Boston). This season it’s play all the rookies no matter what. None of that stuff works in the playoffs. Gee, I’m not major league scout but it’s obvious Lux and Smith are overmatched up at the plate. At least Beaty is and upgrade over Pollock.

  6. Over the last several years, the Dodgers have done a great job of drafting and of finding players on the fringes. But they have been woeful at finding the “difference makers” the Scherzers, Verlanders, Martinez and Coles who make a difference in the bright lights. Pollock appears to be another on that long line (Reddick, Darvish, Machado). Yes, it’s a crap shoot, but it seems to coming up snake eyes more often than not. Having a deep team is not as useful as having a couple of guys who are big in big moments in the playoffs.

    • Ah, so true, but you seem to forget the money Guggenheim is saving by going the route they have chosen.

      • Well, if the Bums get eliminated early this year, maybe Mr. G will invite us all over to help him count his money instead of a world series ring. A million one, a million two…

    • Pollock reminds me of the Dodgers signing Michael Young in 2013, everytime Young was called up to pinch hit in the postseason, he ended up striking out. The irony was sports talk radio at that time kept saying Young was due for a breakout hit, it never happened. Fred Rogan and Steve Sax at AM 570 has been saying the exact same thing about Pollock this week, but that’s wishful thinking if the Dodgers are pinning their hopes on Pollock coming through with a big hit, NO, he’s Michael Young all over again. Watch YouTube highlight again, in this series just about every pitch Pollock struck out was a bad pitch low and away.

  7. It’s clearly evident that the Dodgers don’t hit against elite pitching. I worry that Strasburg will strike out another 10 Dodgers in 6 innings again and shut them down. Glad you think we are going to win, but I am skeptical, but I have hope.

    As to winning the World Series this year, I believe the Yankees and the Astros are superior teams, but again Zito hope I am wrong about that.

    Somehow I feel that we would have been a much better team with Verdugo healthy and playing.

    Our 2 big off season acquisitions of Kelly and Pollock were complete busts and wasted money. The team would be better without them.

  8. Your comments on the bullpen are spot on. I have felt the same all year long, “are we getting Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde tonight?” I think starting Hill and then hoping the pen would carry the game was a mistake. Changes need to come. To start with, Pedro Baez should be shown the door and hopefully Jansen will opt out. But then the FO has to step up and really address the bullpen.

    But what has been the most disappointing is the offense. Last night Pederson, Muncy, Lux, Smith, Pollock, and Taylor were 0 for 15 and Turner, Bellinger and Seager were 3 for 12 (Seager’s slash line is .188/.235/.250 and Bellinger is .200/.294/.267). That doesn’t win playoff games. While Lux’s performance at the plate has been disappointing I don’t think you can blame it on his rookie status. Yes, he hasn’t seen these pitchers before but they haven’t seen him before either. It comes down to execution, look at rookie R. Acuna Jr., and the Dodgers’ hitters just haven’t executed. The old saying great pitching will defeat great hitting, especially in the playoffs, and while the Nats may not be “great” on the mound, the Dodgers haven’t been even good at the plate. Just looking in the mirror.

    All that being said, I Dodgers will win game 5 of this series!

  9. I have to disagree with the main point of this article. I think this current Dodgers team is the best they’ve every produced, better evan than the 2017 team.

    If this year’s bullpen is to be regarded as a “weakness”, it’s only in relation to the rest of the team’s strengths. I believe the Dodgers bullpen actually tied for the lowest ERA in the National League this year. It may not feel like it, but that’s the reality; and keep in mind there’s been a sharp increase in home runs just over the past two years. We are in the “juiced ball” era.

    In addition, our playoff bullpen is better than our regular season bullpen, with guys like May, Urias, Stripling and Maeda replacing names like Floro, Garcia, and Sborz. Pedro Baez had a more consistent year in 2019 than 2017, last night notwithstanding. The writer talks about having a couple of “stoppers” in the 2017 bullpen. Yet, that bullpen blew two(!) saves in the World Series.

    The 2019 Dodgers have a deeper lineup, more formidable starters, more overall depth, and a playoff bullpen to match the best from most previous years. The 2017 Dodgers had an amazing 43-7 stretch in summer, and then a horrendous 1-16 stretch late in the season. The 2019 Dodgers were more consistent from start to finish, never winning more than 7 in a row but finishing with 2 more victories overall.

    The 2017 Dodgers coasted through the playoffs but then let the World Series slip away. The 2019 are being battle tested in the playoffs from day one. A loss tomorrow will be one of the most devastating ends to a season in Dodger history, but a win will be exhilarating in the same way that this entire season has been exhilarating- late comebacks, walk-offs, and a new hero seemingly every night.

    Stay tuned, and GO DODGERS!

    • Since 2017 world series lost Dave Roberts should have been replaced or put it in better terms FIRED . This guy doesn’t know how to manage.

    • I think it is the insistence on platooning over who is actually hitting. One is the weatherman telling you what is coming, the other is looking outside your door. “Honey, it’s raining right now. Impossible, the weatherman said clear skies!”

  10. It Is Easy!!!! Wake up see the light.. Dodger have the personal…. it is the manger who sucks..and has every since he been there..and about Dodger in 5 mmmmm only with luck.. they have to battle Roberts.. and I really have my doubts..

  11. Dodgers batters, can’t even call them “hitters” except JT are in a funk! Pollock shouldn’t even be in the playoffs and hopefully not picked up at end of season! He’s played terrible since coming off IR, his hitting leaves a lot to be desired and his outfield play is atrocious!
    I’m too disgusted to write any thing else! Might not even watch the game.

  12. Among the many poor choices in last night’s game and with the understanding that baseball often is a game of contagious hitting or missing…there were two key choices: removing Maeda for Pollock as a PH. Maeda pitches well and is as good a hitter at this stage as Pollock. And leaving Freese on the bench with the bases loaded.

    While Taylor swings and misses with frequency, defensively in the OF he is far better in LF than Pollock–faster, keen sense of space, and great arm..so just play him and address the decisions about key situations with an eye to win.

  13. I kill myself every day about 7 guys in that bullpen who aren’t getting it done. Ferguson,Floro and Baez with a lead? I turn the channel.

  14. I’ve said this before but, if something isn’t working, try something else. Too many hitters in the lineup appear to be trying for a 3 run homer with no one on base; bad swings at bad pitches. We can’t just wait for the 3 run homer; this isn’t the Earl Weaver Orioles. Get some people on base, advance them and put some pressure on the opposition to make perfect plays. Run more, hit to the opposite side and beat the shift.

    As for some previous comments Baez should never be brought in with men on base and Taylor has to cut down on strikeouts and quit over-swinging. Pollack doesn’t appear to be seeing the ball at all and has been an embarrassment in the post season. We have to do something different or we will never make it to the world series, much less win it!

    Someone made the point that the bullpen era of late was good. Bullpen era means very little. You come in with the bases loaded and give up a bases clearing double and you have a ‘0’ era. The problem is that we don’t have anyone we can consistently trust in the bullpen, other than Kolarek, who apparently is a one batter specialist. Maeda has been good, but underutilized . Kenley makes me nervous every time he comes in. Baez cannot be trusted with men on base ( though not a bad option for a bases empty situation, or start of an inning). Kelly can be great, but also erratic.

    I truly hope that we can weather the playoffs and win the series, but I don’t think this will happen without some changes in strategy and hitters not trying to win everything on one swing. Maybe Max Muncy can give patience at the plate lessons. It does no good to just lead in homers if you lose important games trying to hit them. Cross fingers, knock wood!

  15. What confuses me is Dave Roberts seems to like analytics to drive his decisions, but, more closely, depends upon a clairvoyant pattern to enact his decisions. While the latter method has given him much success, that ‘hunch’ methodology has proven to be unuseful. He should examine an approach that considers best case scenarios and play those players who have the better proven record in those various situations. Quit playing those who don’t produce in a tjmely fashion, stop the ‘mt turn to play’ method.

  16. Since 2017 world series lost Dave Roberts should have been replaced or put it in better terms FIRED . This guy doesn’t know how to manage.

  17. All the comments are reasonably accurate. There are (no longer) great pitchers on the team. Kershaw has been great but has a lot of innings on his arm. Buehler may be great in time. There are no other long term good starters on the team. Bullpen needs complete overhaul. Offense should be good for many years to come as long as people stay healthy and are not traded, especially not for players well into their 30’s. I have followed the Dodgers since 1954 and attended quite a few games in Brooklyn. Being a Dodger fan has never been easy but somehow you always say “wait to next year”. It’s been 31 years so be patient!

  18. Yes obviously and guys like Bluz1st and PatientZeroKnowledge said how wrong we were and that this organization is perfect and does nothing wrong and the signs we were seeing meant nothing

  19. I agree with this entire article. I have been a Dodger fan since I’ve been old enough to know what it is. This team has been struggling offensively since the all Star break and has not found any consistency since. You hate to doubt a team u love but they are just off and not playing well. I still hope they can find that mojo , if not it is very disappointing season…

  20. I called the Sirius MLB and asked why Taylor pinch hit instead of Friese, they told me that the Dodgers had some technological advancements based on swing path that Taylor would be the better hitter, now, this is exactly why they will never win the world series, in the season you can play it by analytics and the numbers will play out over time, in the playoffs, your eyes have to tell you who is swinging the hot bat and ride them as long as you can, Martin and Friese not being in the lineup for Game 4 was inexcusable, then, you pinch hit for Beatty who was actually swinging a decent bat…………THIS TEAM WILL NEVER WIN IT ALL PLAYING LIKE THIS

  21. Thank you!! I have said all season bullpen is are fatal flaw. I love how writers are sports related people don’t really watch a team. You have to watch a team to get their true character. Personally haven’t felt good about this series all along. I pray our hitters can pull this series out. No matter what I bleed Dodger Blue here in Indiana.

  22. This piece of writing here is a prophecy that should be reviewed by Dodger Mgmt. You called it, all of it. Except for where you thought the Dodgers would barely make it past the Nats. I think deep down you really didn’t think they would. Very good analysis on your part. The Dodgers keep having the same issues they’ve been having for the last twenty or so years. No bench and/or consistently no plate discipline and/or poor management. I can’t remember the last Dodger lineup that could play small ball and manufacture runs. The one team that I can think of that did this really good was the Murderers Row of the 2004 St.Louis Cardinals. They need a good hitting coach and they need to stop with the numbers and analytics. It has it’s place, but as the Oakland A’s have shown, it’ll get you to the playoffs but not beyond that. As much as I’d like to see a manager with solid instincts and experience, I don’t see that happening with Andrew Friedman in charge. No manager worth his salt is going to hand over game management to Friedman. I don’t see a Mike Scioscia doing that. As long as Friedman stays, and Dodger fans keep showing up to games, disregarding how the ownership treats them, (considering bad cable tv deals, rising ticket and parking prices, for a team that hasn’t won a WS in 31 years) Guggenheim does not have an incentive to spend the money and really build a team to last. I predict similar scenarios playing out in the next Octobers to come.

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