After a decade of unprecedented regular-season dominance, but an all-too-familiar playoff disappointment that continued Saturday night with their National League Division Series elimination, the Dodgers find themselves in a familiar place as they enter in this offseason.
Trying to maintain the success that included winning a franchise-record 111 games this year – but building a more cohesive team in October, where they won just one World Series championship in a streak of 10 straight playoff appearances.
One thing that probably won’t change is the handler.
Dave Roberts, the target of fan frustration over the Dodgers’ failure to win more than one championship during his tenure, is set to return in 2023 for his eighth season as the team’s manager, a person says knowing the situation who wasn’t allowed to speak publicly. Roberts is set to begin a three-year contract extension he signed before this season.
But after a disastrous NLDS loss to the San Diego Padres last week, which was sealed when the Dodgers blew a three-point lead in Game 4 on Saturday night, there are plenty more unknowns that the club will have to address.
Among them are the future of several players, including franchise icons Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner.
“The goal is to win a championship,” Turner said following the Dodgers’ elimination on Saturday. “To be below that in any lap, it doesn’t matter, it’s not a good feeling.
What made this failure particularly difficult for the Dodgers to digest was that it came so quickly after a historic regular season.
Their 111 wins were tied for fourth most in major league history. They led the majors in runs scored and the fewest runs given up. They won their division by 22 games against the Padres. They were heavy betting favorites to claim their seventh World Series title in Los Angeles.
A few common themes emerged during the defeat of the NLDS.
Their powerhouse offense slipped into a playoff drought, going from the most successful unit in the major leagues during the regular season to a disappointing and ineffective group that managed just seven points in three straight losses after the first match.
Their pitching team also failed to maintain its strong regular-season showing, faltering too often in key situations against a Padres team the Dodgers had beaten 14 times in 19 tries this year entering the series.
The Dodgers’ collapse in the seventh inning of Game 4 on Saturday summed it all up.
Their lineup only managed a single run after charging the no-out bases, missing an opportunity to further extend a three-point lead.
Their bullpen imploded against the opportunistic offense of the Padres, who scored five times in front of the boisterous San Diego crowd.
And the Dodgers couldn’t claw back the rest of the way, suffering one of the biggest upsets in baseball playoff history. They became the first team in the sport to win at least 110 games and not qualify for a league championship series.
Said Kershaw, their future Hall of Fame pitcher, “It’s just another good regular season.
Followed by another bout of playoff heartbreak.
So how do the Dodgers solve this? How do they reverse their postseason turmoil, with the 2020 World Series they won in a pandemic-shortened season still their only recent reprieve in October?
That’s what the team’s front-office decision-makers, from president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman through, will start thinking about in the coming days.
Roberts appears to be safe despite criticism for several decisions in Saturday’s fateful seventh inning.
“We didn’t hit our target, and that’s the result,” Roberts said after the game. “Yeah, this one hurts.”
No manager in major league history has managed more games than Roberts with a better winning percentage than his career mark of .632. His 653 total wins are the fifth most in franchise history.
He and the core of his current team, including pitching coach Mark Prior and batting coaches Brant Brown and Robert Van Scoyoc, also helped the team win its 2020 World Series title.
However, they have now overseen early eliminations in the past two playoffs, with the latter involving a crucial miscommunication during Saturday’s seventh-inning debacle.
Hoping to give reliever Alex Vesia an extra moment to warm up, the Dodgers dugout waved pitcher Yency Almonte to lob to first base. The sign was missed, however, Almonte instead delivered a pitch to home plate, leading the Dodgers to make a risky pitch change to the middle of the stick.
Moments later, the Padres took the lead with a hit.
“I don’t know how it got lost in translation,” Roberts said.
That wasn’t the team’s only problem last week.
Although Friedman has built a sustained regular-season winner with rosters built around big stars, homegrown talent and unprecedented depth additions, his teams continue to show a tendency to press in October, particularly at home plate.
“We did it to ourselves,” said Mookie Betts, the team’s $365 million right fielder who had just two hits in the series. “They played well, but there were situations where we didn’t perform.”
For all their compound veteran professionalism, the Dodgers also sometimes seem to lack the confidence and swagger of other title contenders – this year’s Padres team, which adopted the goose that landed in the outfield at Dodger Stadium. during Game 2 as its unofficial series mascot, inclusive.
“They had great shots throughout the series and made big throws when they had to, and they played better than us,” Kershaw said. “It’s sometimes hard to admit, but it’s the truth. They just beat us.
And in the wake of this latest setback, the Dodgers face an offseason full of questions.
The club will have to make decisions on Turner, the third baseman who has a club option for $16 million entering his 38-year-old season; and former NL Most Valuable Player Cody Bellinger, who, despite further struggles this season, peaking with his bench for NLDS Games 3 and 4, will likely get a $17 million salary increase. in arbitration if the Dodgers offer the center fielder a contract.
Shortstop Trea Turner is headlining a collection of out-of-contract free agents, with pitchers Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney and Tommy Kahnle also set to hit the open market without a new deal.
So will Kershaw, although the 34-year-old southpaw will first have to decide if he wants to continue his career.
“Yeah, I think so,” Kershaw said when asked if he wanted to play next season. “We’ll see what happens. Coming home, being there and being a full-time dad changes your perspective on things. But from now on, I’d say I’ll play again.
If Kershaw stays with the Dodgers, he will be part of a club that should still be a contender in 2023.
The offense will always be headlined by former Betts MVPs and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Cy Young Award nominee Julio Urías will be the ace of the launch staff. And there’s no questioning Friedman’s ability to build — and Roberts’ ability to manage — a winning team from April through September.
But for a franchise that now judges itself on October excellence, the Dodgers have to wait another 12 months for their next title shot.
“It was super cool to win so many games [in the regular season]”, Betts said. “But it means absolutely nothing if you lose in the playoffs.