Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw; Photo via Arturo Pardavila III
The Los Angeles Dodgers entered the 2022 MLB Postseason with 111 wins under their belt and World Championship favoritism behind them. 4 games later, the Dodgers are watching the NLCS from home. But how was it possible for a juggernaut like this Los Angeles squad to be dispatched so quickly? How was it possible for what looked like the league’s best team to be sent packing?
The Dodgers of the regular season were a force to be reckoned with at the dish, batting .257 as a team, which was good for second in the National League. They blasted 212 home runs, ranking third in the NL. Los Angeles scored 847 runs, the most in all of baseball by 40 runs, and also led the league in doubles, walks, on-base percentage, and OPS. Strikeouts were relatively benign for the regular season Dodgers, as they K’ed the 8th most in the National League. They were equally dominant on the mound during the regular season, posting a 2.80 ERA, tops in the National League. Dodgers hurlers struck out the fourth-most batters while also posting a strong 1.05 WHIP and .209 batting average against. They also issued the fewest walks in the NL. Dodgers fielders did not keep pace with their offense and pitchers, but they did post a .986 fielding percentage, which was slightly above average for the league. They also did a fine job controlling opposing running games, allowing stolen base success at 78.2%.
Unfortunately for Dodgers fans, regular season success followed by postseason heartbreak has become a familiar story. The Dodgers have reached the postseason every year over the past 10 seasons. They have one ring to show for it. One ring in a 60-game, COVID-shortened season. When asked about the asterisk next to his 2020 World Championship, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “Yeah, there’s certainly fans that are going to think it was a wasted season. I don’t think there’s anybody in our clubhouse, in uniform or with the Dodgers, that feels that way.”
While the Dodgers’ singular 21st Century triumph should be taken seriously, the epic collapses of the franchise must also be discussed. In the last ten years, Dodgers fans have watched as their club was sent to the offseason by the St. Louis Cardinals twice, the New York Mets, the Chicago Cubs, the Houston Astros, the Boston Red Sox, the Washington Nationals, and the Atlanta Braves.
But 2022 was supposed to be different. The Dodgers added MVP first baseman Freddie Freeman to an already loaded lineup with Mookie Betts and Trea Turner. The Dodgers entered play with baseball’s fourth-highest payroll at $124,600,000. Confidence in Los Angeles was so high that in March, Dave Roberts called his shot, telling Dan Patrick, “We are winning the World Series this year, put in on record.”
Even if the 2022 Dodgers were always meant to meet their playoff demise, the grim reaper was never supposed to be the San Diego Padres. In the regular season, the Dodgers handled their business against their rivals from down south, defeating the Padres in all six series. Yet the Dodgers now find themselves willing to trade all six for the one they lost when it mattered. In four games against the Padres, the Dodgers were decidedly similar to their opponents, hitting .227 to the Padres’ .239. Both offenses blasted four home runs. Both stole two bases. The Dodgers reached base at a .302 clip, while the Padres posted a .299 on-base percentage. The Padres had 32 hits to the Dodgers’ 30. The Dodgers walked 14 times while issuing 12 free passes to the Padres. San Diego batters fanned 45 times to LA’s 44 Ks. Each team made one error in the field. So how did the Padres score three more runs than the Dodgers throughout the series? Timely hitting.
In their three postseason losses, the Dodgers went 2 for 26 with runners in scoring position. “It ended up costing us. There was an opportunity to tack on, and we couldn’t do that, and you saw their guys kind of being able to get hits with guys in scoring position to kind of scratch and claw back into the game and tack on. We just couldn’t do that,” said Roberts. Mookie Betts added, “They came through. We had our chances, we just never got that hit.”
Another issue that must be addressed by Dodgers brass is the breakdown of communication late in Game 4. While deadlocked at 3-3 in the 7th Inning with Juan Soto and Ha-Seong Kim aboard, the Dodgers had left-hander Alex Vesia warming in the bullpen to relieve Yency Almonte and face lefty Jake Cronenworth. Roberts, wanting to give Vesia a few more pitches in the bullpen, called on Almonte to make a pickoff attempt at Soto on first base. Instead of picking off and giving Vesia a clean count against Cronenworth, Almonte went home and pitched ball one. Vesia entered with a 1-0 count and surrendered a 2-2 double to Cronenworth that plated two runs and won the game for San Diego. “Somehow the sign didn’t get there. I don’t know if I messed it up. I don’t know if the bench messed it up. Who knows? But that’s not why we lost the game,” said catcher Will Smith. Smith is probably right that this exchange did not cause Vesia to surrender the double to Cronenworth. However, it speaks to a large issue that the Dodgers lacked attention to detail in a big moment.
But perhaps no one summed up the woes of the Dodgers better than Freddie Freeman, “I’m sure there was a three-game span during the course of the regular season when we didn’t do so well, either. It’s just unfortunate that it happened in October, and, unfortunately, this is what happens when that happens.” Freeman is correct that in this case, timing was everything. The Dodgers’ bats went cold at the worst possible time. But that’s the reality of baseball in October and a reality that has become all too familiar for Dodgers fans.