For the past five years or so, the Dodgers have carried just about the same narrative. Or the same narratives, and eventually it’ll probably reach the same level of undying debate that LeBron v. Michael has. Either Clayton Kershaw is a playoff mess, or Dave Roberts constantly has a stiff breeze whistling between his ears. The thing is, it’s probably both, or could be both, and whichever side you want to fall on, you’re probably not wrong.
Last night’s Game 4 loss was something of a microcosm of it all. On the one hand, Kershaw had been very good for five innings, his pitch-count hardly crippling. And then it fell apart a third time through the lineup. Generally, that’s the rule in playoff baseball, only allow your starter to see a lineup — especially one as artillery-laced as the Braves’ — a third time if you have to and he’s truly cruising. But Kershaw was getting along, if not exactly cruising. If there’s one pitcher you should feel comfortable, and trust, to go through a lineup a third time, It’s Clayton Kershaw. If there’s a pitcher you trust to shrug off a couple hits that result from fiendish BABIP treachery, which is what the Braves’ two hits to start the 6th were, it’s Kershaw. If the light catches it right, it looks a lot like Kershaw not living up to Roberts’ trust and calculation.
Or at least, it was of the 2015 version of Kershaw. Which this is not. And maybe that’s Roberts’ problem. He can’t see that’s not what he has anymore. And so Roberts left Kershaw on an island with only one bullet.
If you want to come down on Dave Roberts, you have plenty of ammo. Third time through, Marcell Ozuna has been just about the Braves’ hottest hitter, two runners on, game tied, this definitely feels like a pivot point in the whole series. And maybe you play it like that, and realize this is Kershaw with 2,400 innings (postseason included) on the odometer, and you go to someone who’s fresh and lively and can throw 117 MPH.
Maybe Roberts let the Kenley Jansen-sized plug in his pen get to him, and it gummed up the works. Maybe he watched his pen without Jansen cough up Game 1 in the late innings and didn’t trust any one of them anymore. Maybe he only sees 12 Jansens down there.
This was the story last night, this has been the story for years. Roberts has treated Kershaw like he’s an indestructible cyborg. He’s pitched out of the pen, on short rest, and sometimes both of those back-to-back. And he doesn’t always come through, as just about any pitcher wouldn’t against what are the best lineups, which is why they’re in the playoffs. But then isn’t Kershaw supposed to come through like no one else can, when he’s been doing that in the regular season for a decade?
And then there’s the factor that Kershaw’s teammates are never at his level at this time of year. They had scored one run before he was pulled. Brusdar Graterol comes in with a gas can and a lighter in his back pocket. If Graterol gets out of it, and Kershaw’s line looks reasonable, what’s the discussion? If Roberts is a little more aggressive, what is it? If Max Muncy had more range at first than a distracted sloth on Freeman’s grounder, what is everyone saying?
Cody Bellinger, between bong rips, is hitting .212 outside of Game 3’s orgy of exit velocity for the Dodgers. Max Muncy is hitting .214. Will Smith is at .212 as well. Justin Turner is slugging .235. Feels like the Dodgers lineup that had been celestial all season is now just pedestrian-plus. Must be Kershaw’s fault.
Again, you can thread this however you want. And in this choose-your-own-narrative, there is no wrong answer. That’s the beauty of art.
Meanwhile, like any true villain, the Astros won’t die on the first attempt. Jon Snow couldn’t punch Ramsay Bolton to death, and eventually had to have his own dogs sicced on him. J.J. Abrams wouldn’t let The Emperor die without cashing another check on him. You have to hit The Undertaker with his finisher before hitting your own, this is how it goes.
What is striking is that in a dueling-bullpens game, the Rays were supposed to be at an advantage. It took seven pitchers, but the Astros outlasted them last night to get the series to 3-2 (advantage Rays), and now get a Game 6 with Blake Snell starting, and he hasn’t seen the 8th inning since the start of 2019 or even the 7th inning this year. That’s with the Rays having used all their bullets out of the pen either in Game 5 or 4. I’m not saying, I’m just saying…