The Los Angeles Dodgers have choked in October once again. Clayton Kershaw and company proved that they still can’t handle the playoffs by blowing the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals. This year marks the first time a team that won 106 games in the regular season lost in the opening round of the playoffs. All-time bad decision making by manager Dave Roberts in Game Five and the disappearance on the offense is what led to their downfall. The Dodgers only had five hits with runners in scoring position, despite having 37 chances. Some of the bad decisions made by Roberts in Game Five were to leave Kershaw in the game against the two best hitters on the Nationals in the eighth inning where he gave up back-to-back jacks and to have Joe Kelly try to pitch two innings, which he has not done in a while, which led to him loading up the bases and giving up a bomb to veteran Howie Kendrick. These faults the Dodgers made do not discredit the Nationals though, their starting pitching was remarkable and their bats seemed to always wake up at the right time.
The top performers for the Nationals came from starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez as well as 20-year-old phenom Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Kendrick. Strasburg shut down the Dodger offense particularly in Game Two of the series, going five innings without allowing a hit as well as keeping the Nationals within reach in the winner take all Game Five. Scherzer and Sanchez combined for a 1.465 earned run average in 13 innings. Soto crushed two bombs in the series, with one of them tying Game Five late against Kershaw, Rendon slashed for a .412 batting average as well as notching five runs batted in. Kendrick proved to be the hero of the series with a clutch grand slam off Kelly in the 10th inning in Game Five, which sunk the Dodgers and their chance at ending their 31-year title drought.
Despite the collapse, the Dodgers also had some people like Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda, Justin Turner and Max Muncy show up. Buehler pitched masterfully, only allowing one run in 12.2 innings of work and showed that he is the best starter on the Dodgers’ staff.
Kenta Maeda was downright nasty out of the pen in the series allowing zero runs in 4.2 innings and striking out seven batters, which makes the decision for Roberts to put known choker Kershaw on the mound to face Soto and Rendon while Maeda was ready to go even more mind boggling.
Turner hit two home runs and batted .286 in the series, Muncy raked, giving the Dodgers seven runs batted in and three home runs while also rocking a 1.128 on base plus slugging percentage.
The real story is the disappointing performance put on by the Dodgers’ star players. MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, A.J. Pollock and Clayton Kershaw all choked in the clutch. Cody Bellinger failed to show up when it matters once again, slashing a lowly .549 on-base plus slugging percentage and hitting zero home runs and having zero runs batted in while also striking out seven times. Seager was even worse with a .390 on-base plus slugging percentage, eight strikeouts and having three hits in 20 at-bats. Pollock didn’t even get a hit in 13 at-bats, 11 of which were strikeouts.
Clayton Kershaw showed that once again, he cannot handle the pressure of the big moment. Kershaw’s earned run average in the playoffs is almost double his career earned run average in the playoffs and this year he finished with a 7.11 earned run average in the postseason. The best pitcher of his generation and first ballot hall of famer has gone 9-11 in the playoffs throughout the course of nine seasons and blew it again this season. He blew Buehler’s Game Five gem, where he threw only six pitches and two of them flew out of the yard.
The man who shoulders most of the blame is Roberts. His perennial overmanaging and bad decision-making ended the Dodgers season once again. His decision to step away from the analytical approach the Dodgers have taken all year to try and give Kershaw his October moment should have him fired.
It now feels like a yearly occurrence for when the Dodgers are going to choke in the playoffs. This marks seven years in a row they have made an appearance and they have nothing to show for it except billions of dollars spent and a resemblance to the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s. Something must change for the Dodgers to finally get over the hump and win it all. Whether it be a change in the front office, a managerial change or signing a big free agent or two, something must happen.