What the Dodgers are doing with their pitching is not working.
There is no other conclusion that can be reached later what happened on saturday night when their bullpen imploded in a horrific five-run seventh inning for the San Diego Padres that erased their three-run lead and ended their 111-win season.
This can no longer be considered a small sample size, the Dodgers have completed eight seasons with Andrew Friedman as their president of baseball operations.
The Dodgers reached the postseason in each of those years but have claimed only one World Seriestheir lone championship during that period was won in a pandemic-shortened season that was unlike any before or since.
They can’t write pitching matches for entire games.
They can’t get rid of their start when they pitch well just because they decided to do so beforehand.
They cannot put their manager in a position where he has to make pitching change after pitching change.
Basically, they can’t do what they did in theirs 5-3 loss to the Padres in Game 4 of their National League Division Series at Petco Park.
Manager Dave Roberts had an important role in the coming-from-behind defeat, but later on a botched execution of the unclear plans of the team.
Any review of the Dodgers’ failure must begin with the general philosophy of the organization implemented by Friedman that devalues starting pitching and requires the use of an assembly line of pitchers.
This is an industry-wide trend, and it’s working — to a degree.
The Dodgers have taken this concept to an extreme, as their management apparatus has shown a tendency to stick with their pregame script rather than allow a starter who is performing well to pitch an extra inning or two.
That’s what happened Saturday when Roberts removed Tyler Anderson after five scoreless innings with his pitch count at 86.
This also happened three days earlier during a Game 2 loss when Clayton Kershaw was taken out after five innings though he retired the last nine batters he faced.
Asked if he thought about allowing Anderson to come back for the sixth inning, Roberts replied, “There was some thought, but where he was with his pitch count coming up, I just felt like we had enough arms to get through that.”
In reality, decisions about how long to stick with starters are made before games, with Roberts consulting with the front office about the number of batters they should be allowed to face.
Anderson cruised, but the brain trust probably decided it didn’t want Anderson to throw to Juan Soto and Manny Machado for a third time.
By limiting the responsibilities of his starting pitchers, Friedman effectively called on his relievers to cover more innings. But if every pitching change Roberts makes is an opportunity to create favorable matchups, it’s also an opportunity for something to go wrong. Any call to the bullpen could be terminal.
This is the inherent danger of the scheme.
What is important to note here is that most substitutes are failed starters. For many of them, success is as much about combating hitters’ unfamiliarity with them as it is about their stuff.
Roberts navigated the first three games of that series without any serious mistakes. But Julio Urías and Kershaw pitched just five innings each in their respective starts. Game 3 opener Tony Gonsolin recorded just four outs. Roberts was asked to make choice after choice. He had to do some bad ones.
Which is what happened, Game 4 featuring a series of mistakes by Roberts and the coaching staff.
Chris Martin gave the Dodgers a scare in the sixth when he gave up an infield hit to Jake Cronenworth that advanced Brandon Drury to second base. Martin escaped the jam by striking out Will Myers.
Disaster struck in the next inning.
With the Dodgers now ahead by three runs, Roberts put the game in the hands of Tommy Kahnle.
Kahnle walked Jurickson Profar, who reached third on a single to right-center field by Trent Grisham. Catcher Austin Nola drove in Profar with a single.
Evan Phillips was used in those types of high leverage situations, but Roberts suddenly decided he wanted him for the ninth inning after stating that his team did not require a designated closer.
Roberts instead turned to Yency Almonte, who gave up a run-scoring double to Ha-Seong Kim. Soto followed with a single that scored Nola and tied the game 3-3.
The left-handed-hitting Cronenworth was two batters away, but left-hander Alex Vesia didn’t start to warm up until Machado struck out. The next batter, Drury, popped up on the first pitch.
With Cronenworth now at the plate, the dugout called for Almonte to throw over to first base to give Vesia more time to warm up. The sign was not relayed and Almonte threw a pitch instead. It was a ball.
Vesia entered the game with a 1-0 count. Soto stole second base and Cronenworth delivered a two-run single to center field. The Dodgers were now down 5-3. Their season is almost over.
Whatever the state of their pitching, the Dodgers should not have lost to the Padres. That’s not what cost the Dodgers this series. What cost them the series was that they didn’t get much production from Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman until Game 4.
However, what the defeat showed was that the Dodgers never had the shot to win the World Series. Their model unsustainable.
The dodgers could have defeated the priests like this. They might even have been able to beat the Philadelphia Phillies that way. But the Houston Astros?
Injuries will give Friedman an alibi.
Walker Buehler was in a Fox studio in Los Angeles, sidelined for the season as he recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery. One-time Cy Young Award candidate Gonsolin suffered a late-season injury, relegating him to a shortened start in a Game 3 loss. Dustin May also went down late in the season, which moved him into a relief role.
However, this winter should be a time of reflection for the front office. Friedman and his lieutenants must look beyond convenient data. They also need to look at the obvious numbers. They need to count the number of championships they have lost.