Another dominant regular season ended with disappointment in the playoffs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers were the obvious favorite to represent the National League in their third straight World Series appearance this year, where they would be looking to finally take home the crown for the first time since 1988.
The Dodgers’ playoff disappointment has been a trend for a long time. They have won their division each of the last seven seasons and have failed to win a title.
After winning a team record of 106 games to secure the number one seed in the National League, the Dodgers seemed poised to accomplish what they had failed to do in their last two seasons: go to the World Series and win.
They have a very powerful lineup, led by standouts Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson, who combined to hit 83 home runs in the regular season.
Bellinger would be one prominent example of a key player who did not perform well in this series, hitting .211 with no home runs and only one extra base hit. Pederson faired a bit better, hitting .267 with a home run and two doubles.
Even so, the Nationals’ pitching staff — led by All-Star starters Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg — was able to limit the Dodgers’ offensive production pretty well in the series, as they held them to three runs or fewer in their three wins.
Probably the biggest story in this Dodgers letdown was the same one it has been in several past postseasons: Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers ace’s best years are definitely behind him. The velocity on his fastball has gone down a few miles per hour from its peak, and he’s no longer the quasi-unhittable force that he once was.
However, he is still one of the top fifteen or so starting pitchers in the major leagues, and he has vastly underperformed in the postseason throughout his career.
Kershaw’s career ERA in the playoffs is 4.43, including 4.61 in six NLCS appearances, 5.40 in World Series games and 5.77 in 11 elimination games.
These numbers must haunt him, and are very hard to figure out, as his career ERA for the regular season is 2.44, including three seasons in which he finished under 2.00.
This past history haunted the Dodgers yet again during the series-deciding game against the Nationals, who came in as heavy underdogs after beating Milwaukee in a thrilling wild card game.
With a 3-1 lead and two outs in the seventh inning, Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager, turned to his ace starter out of the bullpen to wrap things up — a decision he says he would make again.
“It’s a guy that I believe in and I trust, and it didn’t work out,” Roberts said postgame.
This appearance did not go as planned after a good start and after Kershaw got the third out in the third inning on a strikeout, stranding two runners that he inherited when he came in.
The eighth inning is when it all unraveled for Kershaw, as he surrendered back-to-back home runs to Washington’s best two hitters, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto.
Starter Kenta Maeda and reliever Joe Kelly were able to preserve the 3-3 tie to send the game into extra innings, after which Roberts left Kelly in for an uncharacteristic second inning of relief, which resulted in the eventual tenth inning grand slam that was the ultimate dagger that put an end to the Dodgers’ 2019 campaign.
Both the decision to use Kershaw in relief and choosing to leave Joe Kelly in the game for the tenth inning have been highly scrutinized in the aftermath of this game, but it is Kershaw’s continuous postseason struggles that will be remembered most when looking back on this series.
If the Nationals make the World Series it will be a huge upset, as they looked like a losing team for the first two months of the season. (They started the year at 19-31 after their first 50 games.)
They have an amazing trifecta of starting pitchers and a decently good, but not great, starting lineup. However, they also had the second worst bullpen ERA in MLB this season.
Still, somehow, they were able to outperform the 106 win Dodgers in an all too familiar postseason collapse for Los Angeles.
The nature of postseason baseball itself is much different than other major sports like the NFL or NBA playoffs, with upsets being much more common due to the unpredictable nature of any given baseball game.
For example, a five-game stretch in which Cody Bellinger hit only .211 with no home runs in the middle of a 162 game regular season would not be seen as a major slump of any kind.
In the postseason this five-game stretch is seen as a huge disappointment and a huge contributing factor in his team losing a series.
The ups and downs of a baseball season are unpredictable, and, in a five game series between playoff teams in baseball, anything can happen.
However, the Dodgers’ early playoff defeat to the dark-horse Washington Nationals after a historic 106 win season will be heavily scrutinized and will undoubtedly haunt Dave Roberts and Kershaw for years to come.
Janssen can be reached at [email protected]