Dodgers 6 Nationals 5: Utley Saves Season, Roberts

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Oct 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (26) drives in a run with a single in the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals during game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (26) drives in a run with a single in the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals during game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Dodgers made it more stressful than it needed to be, but survived to play another game.

That was almost a stupidly predictable way to end the season. However, the Dodgers earned a split and will fly to D.C. to play a winner-take-all game five on Thursday.

Dodgers Starter

Clayton Kershaw had a laborious first inning, but got out of it only allowing a single run. He needed almost 30 pitches to escape, which definitely wasn’t promising with six innings of work out of the bullpen yesterday. However, Kershaw recovered nicely.

After a quick second inning, he allowed another run on a sac fly in the third. He shoved through six innings, only allowing the two runs and six hits through six frames. He was around 90 pitches and due up second in the bottom of the sixth. Easy decision, take him out with a lead and let the bullpen get nine outs to force game five.

Kershaw hit for himself and remained in the game. The first pitch he threw in the seventh was lined into left field. Dave Roberts kept Kershaw in. Kershaw responded by getting two outs to turn the lineup over. Roberts kept Kershaw in. Trea Turner hit a grounder to Corey Seager, whose flip to second was late. Roberts kept Kershaw in. Kershaw walked Bryce Harper to load the bases. Roberts pulled Kershaw.

There will be more on this in the bullpen section of this recap. Kershaw tossed six innings of two-run ball on short rest. Then, he tossed 6.2 innings of five-run ball. I disagreed with starting Kershaw in this game in the first place. Six innings of two-run ball? Great, get him out. Getting through the bottom part of the order? Awesome, pull him before having to face the top of the order for the fourth time. I love  Roberts, but this was just brutal decision-making. This should completely erase any narrative of “Roberts is a puppet for the front office”, as there’s nothing logical about leaving Kershaw out to dry. It was all-too familiar, and turned an incredible Kershaw start into another “postseason choke”.

Dodgers Offense

For the first time this series, Seager didn’t kick off the scoring in the first inning. He and Chase Utley were retired, but Justin Turner was hit by a pitch. Adrian Gonzalez followed that up with a bomb to right to give the Dodgers an early 2-1 lead. Gonzo had been awful in this series, so to see him drive a ball was great.

After the Nats tied it in the third, the Dodgers grabbed the lead back. It started with Kershaw, who poked a two-strike pitch to left for a double. After a pair of outs, Turner lined a single to center to cash in Kershaw’s double. Joe Ross lost control at this point, walking Gonzalez and Josh Reddick to load the bases. The Dodgers finally sorta did a thing with the bases loaded, as Joc Pederson was hit by a pitch to bring in a run. Dusty Baker, who is known for leaving pitchers in too long, pulled Ross. Oliver Perez got Yasmani Grandal to ground out to end the inning.

The Dodgers added some insurance in the fifth, which started with a single by Reddick. Joc Pederson hit a drive to left and bat-flipped a double, but it was enough to score the run.

The Dodgers lost the lead, but got it back in the eighth. Andrew Toles started the rally by taking a pitch off his foot. Andre Ethier got his first plate appearance of the season and chopped a single through the infield. Utley came up after an awful game at the plate and fell behind in the count, but knocked a single to bring home Toles for the go-ahead run.

Dodgers Bullpen

The bullpen should have started the seventh, but instead they inherited the bases loaded with two outs and a 5-2 lead. Pedro Baez came in to that situation, and very efficiently hit Jayson Werth with his first pitch to bring in a run.

Luis Avilan also had an efficient outing, as he allowed a single on his second pitch to Daniel Murphy to tie the game. Joe Blanton relieved Avilan and got a strikeout to escape the jam.

In a perfect world, Baez starts the inning and probably fares better than he did with the bases loaded. Given how the inning started, I’m perplexed why Joe Blanton wasn’t the choice. Blanton went on to throw a perfect eighth, so I don’t get why he wasn’t used in the higher-leverage spot. My dream is that a manager would use their closer in the highest leverage spot regardless of what inning that is, but that’ll never happen.

Everything about that seventh was awful on Roberts’ part. Kershaw had been getting hit harder in the sixth, but he turned in six quality innings. Why risk him going through those same seventh inning struggles? It was all too familiar, and he clearly didn’t take noted from Don Mattingly‘s errors of past postseasons.

It didn’t end up meaning anything, as the Dodgers took the lead. Kenley Jansen, who imploded in a non-save situation yesterday, struck out two and got a groundout to end the game and send the Dodgers back to D.C.

Other Stuff

This part of the postseason went according to plan. The Dodgers got the win with Kershaw starting and forced the decisive game five in Washington. Now is where it gets tricky, as they need to beat Max Scherzer to advance to the NLDS.

There’s no difference between losing in four and losing in five, which is why I was against starting Kershaw today. He pitched much better than his final line and deserved a lot better. The Dodgers were supposed to win today, it just ended up being way more dramatic than it needed to be.

This is where it gets tricky, as they need a pitcher to keep them in the game against Scherzer. Julio Urias seems like a likely candidate with Rich Hill throwing behind him, or Hill starting with Urias behind him. Hill has never worked on short rest before and Urias is young, so it’ll be tough. If the bats play to their potential, that would help a lot.

See you all on Thursday.

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