Time for me to once again don my helmet and flak jacket as I deliver a column that many of you won’t like, and some of you may consider blasphemous. With a heavy blue heart, I’m laying much more than partial blame for the Dodgers’ losses in Games 2 and 3 of the World Series right on top of manager Dave Roberts‘ head.
I’ve said it plenty of times here, when you have two teams that are evenly matched, the difference will come down to the managers. While I’m not saying Astros manager A.J. Hinch is outsmarting Roberts, I am saying Roberts’ insistence on blindly following analytics and data, while also making boneheaded in-game personnel moves is hurting his team’s chances, and could kill Los Angeles’ first shot at a World Series title in a generation.
I’ve covered here and in my Youtube video why I think Roberts’ bullpen decisions hurt the Dodgers’ chances in Game 2. I’ll summarize by saying Roberts pulled Rich Hill too soon, Kenta Maeda was pulled too soon, and Josh Fields should have been pulled immediately after giving up a home run to his first batter. Instead, Fields was left in to give up one more dinger. Go figure.
Fast forward to Game 3. It was evident from the get-go that Yu Darvish had nothing. Nothing but gifts for Houston’s bats. Darvish barely escaped the first without a run but was hit hard.
In the second inning, Darvish gave up a monster home run to the first batter he faced. Then a double and a walk to the next two batters. Roberts went to the mound for a conference. Roberts almost never goes to the mound! He did this time, and it was the right move. The other move he should have made was attaching a very short leash to Darvish and begin warming Kenta Maeda.
Instead of a super short leash with a run in and two on, Darvish stayed in for two more singles and two more runs. The score was 3-0, but not completely demoralizing, and the game was manageable for a comeback if the Dodgers could stop the bleeding. Darvish was allowed to stay in until it was 4-0. Finally, a run too late, he was lifted for Maeda.
Kenta Maeda dominated the Astros from his first pitch (much like he did in Game 2). He held Houston scoreless for two innings, and he started the sixth off by getting the first Astros batter he saw to ground out. Then Roberts went gaga.
He let the charts and the graphs and analytics decide Maeda should go, and Tony Watson should be brought in. He was managing like the Dodgers were protecting a lead. They weren’t. Roberts’ defenders are saying he’s making decisions “like he has all year”. I’ve got news for them – you can’t manage the World Series like it’s a Sunday afternoon in July.
Kenta Maeda retired eight of the ten batters he faced and only allowed a hit and a walk in 2.2 innings. There was no reason to pull him and play bullpen bingo once again (especially when that didn’t work so well in Game 2). Maybe Roberts didn’t want to stretch Maeda? He was going to be toast for Game 4 anyway. Besides, Kenta was a starter his entire career. The man can be stretched out. The man was mowing down Astros left and right.
Nope. Tony Watson was brought in. A southpaw specialist who usually sees only one or two batters. The Dodgers were forced to stretch him out because it was only the sixth inning. Result, Watson gave up a run. The score clicked up to 5-1.
Roberts wasn’t done screwing the pooch. The bottom of the sixth was a real doozy.
The Dodgers finally got something going and managed a rally. Two runs were in, there were two outs, and Justin Turner was on third base. The score was 5-2 and the Dodgers desperately needed that run.
Roberts got cute and pulled Logan Forsythe for a pinch hitter. Forsythe is one of the Dodgers hottest postseason hitters and was one of the few hitting in this game. Who did Roberts replace him with? Chase Utley. Utley has been an absolute dog in the postseason. At the time he was 0 for 12 with two walks. Was Roberts hoping Utley would walk?
Maybe the strategy was to bring in a left-handed batter that would force the Astros to lift their pitcher. Two things were wrong with this. One, the Astros are not data-driven robots who change pitchers no matter how well they are doing. Second, Chase Utley. Why would the Astros fear a guy who was 0 for 12? Of course they didn’t, and the results were as expected.
Why didn’t Roberts use Andre Ethier? Ethier is 2 for 9 in the postseason, he’s hit a home run and scored a run. Houston might not have changed the pitcher for Ethier, but the chances were much higher he might have knocked in Turner with a single or caught lightning in a bottle and tied the game. Instead, Captain Clutch was left sitting on the bench.
The Dodgers ended up scoring Turner but that was on a gift passed ball. Utley, of course, weakly popped up and the Dodgers never threatened again.
In the top of the seventh, Roberts lifted Austin Barnes for a pinch hitter – Yasmani Grandal. Granted, Barnes didn’t register a hit, but if he was going to PH for anyone, it should have been for Bellinger after his third strike out. Bellinger was lost at the plate all night. Enrique Hernandez could have gone to first, and Ethier to left field. Instead, we got ol’ Passed Ball Grandal and were bit on the behind one last time in the ninth, when the final three Dodgers batters were Yasiel Puig, and two automatic outs, Utley and Grandal.
In Game 3 Houston used two pitchers, while the Dodgers burned through six. Analytics are useful, but baseball is a game of adjustment and gut feeling . The Dodgers are being run by robots, and that aint gonna win a World Series title.