I’m going to start this article in a way most probably wouldn’t expect it to, by saying this:
In all of his time as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I never, ever, wanted Dave Roberts to be fired.
To the contrary, I’ve advocated for him right from the beginning. In the aftermath of Don Mattingly’s departure in 2015, when I heard that Roberts was a candidate for an interview, I knew right then and there he was the man for the job.
When he aced his interview, and ultimately got it, I was satisfied. Given his prior history with the team, and his role in galvanizing the greatest comeback in baseball history in 2004, I knew he was just right for the new analytics approach the team was now implementing under Andrew Friedman.
The next two seasons only vindicated that faith. In his rookie season, he got the Dodgers within two wins of the World Series despite a record-setting blitz of injuries. He won NL Manager of the Year, and rightly so.
2017 was even better, leading the team to 104 wins and the first World Series of my lifetime. No shortage of vitriol has been spewed at Doc for some questionable moves in that heartbreaking loss. He burned Brandon Morrow and Kenta Maeda in game 3, and should have pulled Yu Darvish quickly in game 7, no doubt.
Still…that series was lost on the players failing to execute, hands down. Clayton Kershaw blew game 5. Kenley Jansen couldn’t locate that cutter against Marwin Gonzalez. Darvish tipped pitches. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager were humbled almost thoroughly. That’s not the manager’s fault.
2018…now that’s a different story. At least somewhat. To his credit, Roberts led the team through a hellish regular season to a second straight WS appearance. Then came game 4, when his inexplicable miscommunication with Rich Hill set up a bullpen meltdown that basically ended the series. It was indefensible, through and through.
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Here’s the thing, though: Los Angeles had absolutely no chance of winning that series. The Red Sox won 16 more games than them. 16! They were better in every facet, and deserved to win. It was an easy loss to take, and while I groused about Roberts’ foolish move, I still celebrated his extension.
Now, however, Roberts has finally crossed the line. He has vindicated his longtime critics who’ve called for his firing. Game 5 of this past NLDS was a managerial failure for the ages, on par with Grady Little in 2003 and Buck Showalter in 2016. It wasn’t a “hindsight is 20/20 move,” as previous ones might have been.
Far from it, it was plainly, obviously wrong. After ending the seventh inning with a strikeout of Adam Eaton, Clayton Kershaw was weirdly summoned for the eighth. Despite being home run-prone all season, having a long history of postseason failures, and facing the Nationals’ best hitters, he was left in.
Sure enough, he coughed up homers to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. In came Kenta Maeda, who has been dominant in this situation many times before. All he did was strike out the side, making him not starting the inning all the more preposterous. Joe Kelly, who pitched a strong ninth, was also available.
Some will say the front office didn’t do enough to shore up the bullpen, and they are correct. But there were still at least two viable options to secure the eighth inning, and Roberts stubbornly went with Kershaw in a way that simply wasn’t optimal.
I am amazed at all the dumbasses on the internet who think "analytics" is to blame for this loss, when Dave literally admitted he went with his gut
— Purple Drank (@purpledrank0) October 10, 2019
As if to add insult to injury, Roberts refused to use Adam Kolarek against Soto in the tenth, despite that strategy working all series. Soto was instead intentionally walked to load the bases with no doubts, and…well, you know what happened next.
The Dodgers’ season is now over. The winningest team in franchise history is gone just like that, in embarrassing fashion. There will be no third straight World Series trip, and certainly no championship. It’s the first time the Dodgers haven’t made the NLCS since 2015, a year when names like Brandon League and Jim Johnson were still topical.
Thus, I rescind my longtime stance. I defended Roberts after 2017, which again is at best only partly his fault. I defended him staying aboard after he threw away game 4 in 2018. After this past NLDS, though, there’s only one thing to say:
Dave Roberts should be immediately fired as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, without hesitation.
I have just learned that Dave Roberts got an extension last offseason that keeps him under contract until 2022.
I don't care. Fire him anyway. The Dodgers have burned through more than enough money in this window to be able to swallow his contract.
— Captain Schlasser: Leader of Men (@UrinatingTree) October 10, 2019
As I tend to do from time to time in my articles, I draw upon my dual experience as a Minnesota Twins fan. I feel that’s relevant here, as there’s a cautionary tale to consider. From 2002 to 2014, the Twins were managed by Ron Gardenhire, who, like Roberts, was widely praised by many fans and writers as a good “player’s manager” who got the Twins to October year after year.
However, for all of his affability, there was no ignoring the fact that Gardenhire was terrible in the playoffs. After making the ALCS in his first year in 2002, the Twins started to be victimized routinely in the first round. In 2006, they should have won the World Series, and instead were swept by a beatable A’s team.
Yet even as the team kept coming up short, there was a vocal chorus of fans who insisted on staying the course with “Gardy.” You couldn’t blame him for the players failing, they said, and it would be risky to potentially lose stability for a new philosophy.
By the time Gardenhire was finally sacked in 2014, the damage had already been done. The Twins had run up a massive playoff losing streak that, unfortunately, still continues to this day (almost entirely because of the Yankees). They never won a single championship with the likes of Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, and Justin Morneau.
Now this comparison may be absurd as Roberts is nowhere near the pathetic farce Gardenhire was, and has gone to two World Series in a row. Yet I feel it applies here. If the Dodgers stick with Roberts after this (and the Rich Hill snafus of 2018), they run the risk of falling into that same trap.
I’ve had some people defend Roberts to me after the end of the series, and they are entitled to that opinion. Again, I must emphasize that I defended Roberts continually when others wanted him gone in the past. But now, I feel that those who want Roberts to stay are like those Twins fans who always stuck with Ron Gardenhire for the sake of “stability.”
Stability is great, no doubt. But here’s the thing: the Dodgers are so obscenely talented and rich that they will make the playoffs with just about any barely competent manager. They just won 106 games. They are not going to stop winning anytime soon.
To put it mildly, the Dodgers are not the kind of franchise that should embrace comforting stability when it isn’t warranted. This is a modern, cutting-edge team in dire need of a championship. It’s going to take a tactical manager with the guile to realize it.
After years of defending him, I now agree with Roberts’ critics. He is not the man for that task. I always said privately to myself that I’d only want him fired if he made a “Grady Little 2003” move that incontrovertibly cost the Dodgers a series.
On Wednesday night, that move finally happened. There is no question Roberts set up the best team in franchise history to fail. The odometer now clocks in at 31 years since the last title, and when you regress from the World Series to a first round exit, it’s time to reexamine everything.
The team was wise to move on from Don Mattingly in 2015 after two straight NLDS exits, and it set up the next phase of success under Roberts. I will always be grateful for 2016, and for the two World Series trips. But a championship is what matters now more than ever.
I’m not sure just yet who is the ideal candidate for that. But if Dave Roberts is standing in the dugout next season, it will signify that the organization isn’t willing to do what’s necessary to make big changes, and just hope more of the same will work.
Complacency won’t fly. The talent is there to win a World Series, and has been for some time. It’s time for a change in order to finally, finally realize that potential.
Thanks for everything, Doc. You were the best manager L.A. has seen since Lasorda himself. But unfortunately, it’s just not good enough.