Many of us, including this author, have been very critical of how Dave Roberts has managed the Dodgers in the playoffs over the years. There have been so many baffling decisions, specifically in the handling of the pitching staff and not showing much urgency. It seemed like some key games were played like there was a tomorrow when there was not a tomorrow. There were even some times during the 2020 championship run when history seemed to be repeating itself.
However, Doc made plenty of key adjustments that helped put the Dodgers in the right spot to finally win it all in 2020. Here, we’ll break down some of his best moves in the 2020 postseason.
Even though Kenley Jansen was the “closer,” the Dodgers had five different pitchers earn a save during the playoffs. It was great to see Doc not just stick with one closer. And it was excellent to see that the old patterns of relying on old favorites didn’t show up too often. There is no doubt in my mind that the Dodgers would not be the world champions of 2020 without this change to Doc’s bullpen management.
What a way for the Dodgers to go up 3-2 in the World Series. Blake Treinen unleashed four straight 97-98 MPH sinkers against Willy Adames, who fouled one pitch and whiffed twice, including on the strikeout. Incredible. pic.twitter.com/C3jdq6LW8x
— Positive Residual (@presidual) October 26, 2020
Pacing Of Buehler and His Blisters
If you all recall, Walker Buehler spent most of September battling blister issues. I was nervous about not being able to have Buehler in his best form. He wasn’t his best during his first three playoff starts but he was good enough. Doc was smart enough to pull him early instead of pushing him, even though there were some key spots where keeping Buehler in would have been better. Instead, Roberts went to the bullpen and put some trust in them. It paid off as we got the best Buehler in his last two post-season starts.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) October 24, 2020
Use Of Turner At DH
It was only one game but it was game three of NLCS when Justin Turner started at DH and Edwin Rios started at third base. That was the 11 run first inning game. Having JT as the DH for even one game seems to have made a difference. Before that game, he was slashing .148/.250/.148 (AVG/OBP/SLG) but from game three of the NLCS until the last game he slashed .317/.391/.683. That rest in the middle of a seven game series sure didn’t hurt.
— MLB (@MLB) October 25, 2020
Barnes Catching More
Austin Barnes went from being sent to the minors and not making the playoff roster in 2019 to being an important part of the 2020 championship team. The eye test was starting to show that Will Smith was struggling a bit on defense. Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler both wanted Barnes to catch them. It was clear that Barnes needed to catch more. I even wrote an article about it. Doc caught on like the rest of us and Barnes was going to catch until the series was done. The masterful job he did in managing all the pitchers in game six of the World Series will never be forgotten.
When Austin Barnes is hitting dingers… pic.twitter.com/5CjJTaTKrt
— Chavez Ravine Fiends (@RavineFiends) October 24, 2020
WATCH: Dave Roberts’ Best Moves From the Dodgers’ 2020 Postseason! Has Doc Been Vindicated?
Keeping Muncy In The Cleanup Spot
Max Muncy had a very tough year in the regular season of 2020 as he slashed .192/.331/.389 yet was still batting cleanup. After going hitless in the first two games of the playoffs I had wrote that the Dodgers should look at other cleanup options. Roberts stuck with him and he was awarded with a slash of .273/.452/.509 to help lead the offense for the rest of the playoffs.
OH MY WORD MAX MUNCY JUST DESTROYED THIS BALL pic.twitter.com/3gk97Lj4HN
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 26, 2020
Great Management Of Kershaw
Since the Dodgers started their run of eight straight division titles, Clayton Kershaw has been misused in almost all of them. Whether short rest, bullpen appearances or pitching too far into a game, the Dodgers have put Kershaw in many bad spots. The club was always asking more of him than he was capable of.
Of course, Kershaw would never say “no” he was not put into a lot of bad situations. In 2020, the Dodgers finally seemed to get it right. Kershaw never pitched on short rest and was pulled almost too early instead of too late. Doc was criticized a bit for pulling him a bit early but it was clearly the right decision. For once Kershaw was put into the position to just pitch and not save the team.
As he eyes an encore shortly, stop and marvel at Clayton Kershaw's postseason career-high 13 strikeouts from last week's Wild Card Series: pic.twitter.com/ZQxERp6eOw
— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) October 8, 2020
Trusting The Young Bullpen Arms
The Dodgers used various young pitchers in key roles of the playoffs. We’ll never forget the enthusiasm of Brusdar Graterol. What about Dustin May coming in for some key outs? Victor Gonzalez striking out the side in the sixth inning of game six of the World Series while the Dodgers were still down 1-0 should never be forgotten. Tony Gonsolin struggled but still filled in some innings as an opener. The contributions of Julio Urias will be covered later. The experience that all these guys got will be invaluable in the future.
— Doug McKain (@DMAC_LA) October 8, 2020
Floro In To Face Arozarena
It is the second inning of game six and the Dodgers are down 1-0. There are two outs and runners are at first and second. The hottest hitter on the Rays is coming up in Randy Aronzarena, who had connected on a home run an inning prior. So, who do you bring in? Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol or Joe Kelly? Nope, it is Dylan Floro, a player who was left off the Wild Card round roster.
That is a gutsy move. And Doc was rewarded as Floro struck out Arozarena with his newly found change-up on three pitches.
— Aldo De León (@AldodeLeon) October 28, 2020
Letting Wood Earn Key Innings
Alex Wood wasn’t even on some of the postseason rosters but was added for the NLCS and the WS. My guess is that Wood was put on the postseason pitching staff as a mop-up pitcher and maybe a little sentimentality move by management. He was decent in the NLCS in his 2.2 innings pitched but it was in the World Series when he stepped it up.
In game 2 — a Dodger loss — Wood pitched two key innings to help keep them in the game. The bullpen was bad that game and Wood helped get them back on track.
In the clinching game 6, Tony Gonsolin struggled and was pulled early. Wood was brought in and proceeded to get the next six batters out. His sinker topped out at 93.4 MPH as he struck out three. Doc made the right call in trusting Wood for two innings and facing lefty and righty batters.
— Red Sox Podcast to be Named Later (@RedSoxPod_BSS) October 28, 2020
Early Use Of Urías
Julio Urias is well known for wanting to be a starter. While he’s had some very good moments as a starter, and LA had him lined up as the number three or four starter in the playoffs, each series had different plans for him.
When Walker Buehler could only go four innings in the first Wild Card game against the Brewers, Urías came in and struck out five in three innings to get the win.
In the NLDS, Dustin May got the ball for game three and only tossed one inning in what looked like an opener role. Adam Kolarek came on in relief and immediately struggled. His control was off and the Padres were teeing off on him. Finally, with two runs in, two outs and the bases loaded for star slugger Fernando Tatis Jr., Doc pulled the trigger and brought in Urías to face him. With the chance for the Padres to break the game open, Urías came in and struck Tatis out on four pitches.
Julio tossed five scoreless innings and allowed only one hit in the series clinching win for LA.
Julio Urías had Fernando Tatís Jr completely out of sorts to escape the Dodgers’ bases loaded jam. Fastball, change, fastball, then this curve to get the strikeout. Tatís swung at all four pitches and whiffed on all but one fouled ball. pic.twitter.com/9M9vgKFnLB
— Positive Residual (@presidual) October 9, 2020
Urías finally got a start in game three of the NLCS when LA was down two games to zero against the Braves. Before Julio took the mound he was spotted an 11 run lead. In game seven, the game was tied at three when Urías was brought in to face the Braves in the seventh inning. He proceeded to get the next nine batters out as the Dodgers took the lead and won the series with him on the mound for the final out.
The World Series followed a similar script. Urías got the game four start and was decent in a loss for the Dodgers. In game six the Dodgers were up 2-1 in the seventh inning when Julio was called upon to get the final out in the bottom of the inning. He struck out Yandy Diaz with a runner on first to end a minor threat. He proceeded to dominate the next two innings to get the save and final out in the World Series.
All in all, a masterful use of Julio Urías. He ended up pitching the third most innings of all Dodgers pitchers. If you dig into the statistics an argument can be made the he was the best postseason pitcher on the team in 2020. Many of his innings were in crucial spots which points right back at the manager.
It’s exactly been one month since that 27th final out was recorded and we finally became World Series Champs pic.twitter.com/rSQlPlemTH
— Reuben Hernandez (@reuben81691) November 28, 2020
In the past it seemed that Dave Roberts and the rest of the management staff would count on a select few players to carry the team by having to go above and beyond what they are capable of. The classic examples were the use of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen. Roberts did a much better job in 2020 and it paid off. It was also nice that the offense was more than just one or two players trying to carry the load.
This time many different players contributed on offense.
At the end of the day it takes more than just a select few to win a World Series. There were so many contributors at different times and Dave Roberts helped facilitate those opportunities.
The key was the bullpen management. Something very important to note – in games where the Dodgers went less than five innings the Dodgers ended up winning six of those games and losing three. At the end of the day it looks like Doc learned from the past and from even game-to-game. That was evident based on who closed game 5 and 6 in the World Series. All in all, a great job by Dave Roberts.