A few weeks ago, on Diamond Digest’s very own ‘This Week In Baseball’ podcast, I said that I had grown numb to teams winning 100+ games. It came off as a remark from a Dodgers fan spoiled by the recent success the team had enjoyed in the past few seasons. However, the reality of being a Dodgers fan is that there are only 11 wins that matter, and the other ones just don’t matter. A season without a World Series title is a failure for an organization that routinely runs the highest payrolls in the sport and boasts the talent they do year in and year out.
The 2022 Los Angeles Dodgers won a franchise record 111 games, the most in the National League in over a century. The NL West was clinched in the middle of September before any other teams had secured a playoff berth. Heading into the NLDS, the 22-win gap between them and the Padres was the largest ever for a postseason series, and they posted a 14-5 record against San Diego.
None of that matters now.
The Padres vanquished their hated rival in a cathartic four-game series, and now are preparing for the NLCS while the Dodgers are making plans for the offseason earlier than anticipated. The differences between the two teams could not be more different. Los Angeles had coasted into the postseason, and San Diego had to scratch and crawl their way into a wild card series, then had to defeat two Hall of Fame starting pitchers in a hostile Citi Field crowd in a best-of-three series. It was all set up for the Dodgers to win, since the Padres were seemingly exhausted from trying to make it this far. Yet, for anyone who watched that series, the opposite seemed to be true.
The turning point for this series was the seventh inning of game four. Heading into the inning, the Dodgers had a 2-0 lead and needed insurance runs. The top of the lineup came up to bat, and the trio of Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman all reached base to give Will Smith a bases-loaded, no-outs opportunity. Smith hit a sac fly, bringing Betts home for a three-run lead. Turner and Freeman executed a double steal to give Max Muncy runners on second and third with one out. Muncy struck out, and Justin Turner followed that with a groundout to end the inning.
Nine outs away from a winner-take-all game in Los Angeles, Dave Roberts trusted Tommy Kahnle against the bottom of the lineup of the Padres. Kahnle faced three batters, all three reached base (walk, single, infield single), and he left the game promptly, the Dodgers leading by two. The top of the order was up, and Evan Phillips, the best reliever for the Dodgers all year, was nowhere to be found. Instead, Roberts opted for Yency Almonte. Ha-Seong Kim hit a double to left field, making it 3-2 Dodgers. Juan Soto was up to bat, and hit a single to tie the game. Almonte retired the next two batters, but the inning from hell was far from over for the Dodgers.
The game was still on the line, and Roberts went to pull Almonte mid-at-bat against Jake Cronenworth, and Alex Vesia entered the game. Evan Phillips was still nowhere to be found. Soto ‘stole’ second (even though it was definitely defensive indifference), and then it happened: the floodgates opened for the Padres as Cronenworth smacked a double, scoring Kim and Soto, and gave the Padres a 5-3 lead. Myers walked before Profar struck out, and the inning was over. Even though the game was not over, the opportunity to win had passed.
The Padres in this series outscored the Dodgers by three runs. This was a close series, a very winnable series for both sides. What will stand out this winter is how the Dodgers did with runners in scoring position. They were anemic in the final three games, going a combined 2-for-26 in that time with runners in scoring position. The Padres, on the other hand, went 4-for-9 in Game 4 alone. They rose to the occasion and delivered, and now we will have an NLCS that does not feature a division champion for the first time ever.
This team should not have lost. If you were to stack up the rosters on paper and compare them, the Dodgers are head and shoulders above San Diego. Yet, they are sitting at home now, with another wasted season. Los Angeles was complacent at the trade deadline, choosing only to add Chris Martin (a fine middle reliever), and Joey Gallo (who didn’t even have an at-bat in the series). San Diego, on the other hand, added Juan Soto (who starred in the critical seventh inning), Josh Hader (who saved all three wins and posted 6 strikeouts in 3.1 IP), and Josh Bell (who was crucial in their victory over the Mets). The Dodgers were complacent in the series, playing as if their talent would just win out, while the Padres played aggressively, and it worked.
The lack of aggression was one part of the collapse, but it doesn’t tell the full story. For years I have defended Dave Roberts, saying that he does a good job managing a team full of superstars since big-time players mean big-time egos. There are no excuses now for Roberts. Year after year, the Dodgers give themselves the best opportunities to win, and they manage to blow it. Look at 2018, when he pulled Rich Hill in game four, and then the bullpen blew a game that they had a 95% chance to win at one point (per Baseball-Reference). Look at 2019, when he left Clayton Kershaw in to face Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, who both hit home runs off him, and game 5 of the NLDS was suddenly tied. Look at this year, when he didn’t put in Evan Phillips until the eighth inning, well after they needed him to perform.
There is a common link here, and something needs to change. The Dodgers have been too talented in Roberts’ tenure as manager to only have one World Series to show for it. Although Roberts will be returning for 2023, the questions surrounding his lack of postseason success are only going to keep growing.
Changes are coming for the Dodgers. Trea Turner is an impending free agent, and I personally don’t think that he will be back. Tyler Anderson, Clayton Kershaw, and Andrew Heaney all need new contracts. Justin Turner has a $16 million club option and is 37. David Price is likely to retire. Cody Bellinger is probably going to be finding a new team this winter after two years of subpar play. There is a need for a closer already, and that doesn’t take into consideration Craig Kimbrel’s status.
After the biggest choke job in franchise history, something’s gotta give. There likely won’t be another 111-win season coming. Will they be a playoff team in 2023? Absolutely, but given the state of the roster right now, it’s hard to call them anything else. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but this is a team that has won 67% of their regular season games over the last four years and somehow only has one World Series to show for it and multiple losses in the NLDS. Like I said earlier, a hundred wins don’t matter if you don’t get the 11 that do, and that is now the story for the 2022 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Follow us @Diamond_Digest for more!
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Contract Information courtesy of Spotrac, and Image courtesy of The Orange County Register