ARLINGTON, Texas – Settings change, circumstances change, but it seems to always come down to Clayton Kershaw stretching a little too far, a promising bullpen he didn’t pick up, a strong offense breaking a little, a good oil machine that destroys the worst possible time.
The backdrop for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ latest fall is Game 4 of the 2020 National League Championship Series, played under the howl of air in a neutral stadium that is only about a quarter full. It was, more precisely, under the sixth of Thursday, when the Atlanta Braves ’high-strength offense suddenly came to life and together formed the star-studded Dodgers.
The Braves held six runs in that half-inning, more than enough to cruise to a 10-2 victory that gave a top 3-1 series lead and, based on the history of the seven-game series in postseason, they were given an 85% chance of advancing to the World Series. The Dodgers, 43-17 with a plus-136 run practice in shortening the regular season, are a loss away from a stunning displacement.
The blame should not be singular.
You can point to their prestigious offense, with nothing managed except a solo home run in the first six innings against 22-year-old Bryse Wilson, and three hits for the entire game. You can point out their supposed deep bullpen, which gave 15 operations to 15⅔ innings in this series. You can point to Kershaw, who again did not do enough during the rage. And you can point out the manager, Dave Roberts, who may have stayed on his ace a bit longer than necessary.
“I just thought Kershaw really threw baseball, and for no reason,” Roberts said when asked about going to his bullpen a little earlier. “I feel so happy here.”
When Kershaw was jogging in the pile for the bottom of the sixth, he only gave one run and used only 71 on his pitches. The top order of the Braves is due. As Kershaw navigated his at-bat with leadoff hitter Ronald Acuna Jr., Brusdar Graterol began to warm up. By the time Acuna had leg out an infield single, and moved to the second base at a wrong throw, Graterol was almost ready. After Freddie Freeman laceed up an RBI double in the right field, away from a Mookie Betts shift, Graterol stared, waiting. After Marcell Ozuna lined up another double RBI in the space of the left center field, his second of four hits, it was too late.
Ozuna was homered the last time he faced Kershaw. Before the posteason began, he struggled with .356 / .463 / .867 with the lefties and .333 / .381 / .556 with the curveballs, the full-count pitch he finally opened to plate the Braves’ third run. of the game. It is best in a bad fit, worst an unexplained decision.
“I will not release Clayton after a weak ground ball and another ground ball from Freeman’s bat,” Roberts said, adding that Ozuna’s rock ball “was not too hit,” even though it traveled at 108 mph.
“I felt so good about Clayton at that point in time.”
The decision is a reminder of Roberts’ deep-rooted, perhaps unwelcome, trust in Kershaw, a trait that may have had a hand in removing the Dodgers from last year’s posteason. It also revealed that bullpen Roberts has been talking all summer with no more than three soothing ones he truly trusts in the line game, one of whom is no longer Kenley Jansen. In Dustin May saved for Game 5, and Walker Buehler is usually only available in relief if Kershaw’s back flares up again, Roberts’ choices are surprisingly thin.
It probably wouldn’t matter, as Graterol and Victor Gonzalez allowed five of the next six batters to reach the base and the offense only misled the late-inning comebacks afterwards. Roberts probably did nothing to keep the Dodgers from melting into their time on the sidelines.
And perhaps the narrative about Kershaw’s posteason struggles can never be defeated.
His career ERAs today are as follows: 2.43 in the regular season, 3.68 in the division series and wild-card round, 4.84 in the LCS, 5.40 in the World Series. His postseason ERA from the sixth inning was 7.31, the worst of any starter with a minimum of 20 entries in that scenario, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. Allowing his three go-ahead hits in the sixth inning or even earlier since 2013 the posteason tied Justin Verlander for the second stretch along that stretch.
Roberts cleared the thought of Kershaw coming up short as a big pitcher game, saying he had given his team a chance and his offense had not done enough.
“That narrative,” Roberts said, “is not far from the truth.”
Here’s what the truth is: If the Dodgers don’t put together three wins in a row, two of them against two starting pitchers who closed them earlier in this series, another of their dominant season will end bitterly. .
This may be their biggest disappointment.