The Los Angeles Dodgers are well on their way to the playoffs as the top seed in the National League with a first-round bye until the NLDS. With a 19.5-game lead over the San Diego Padres and a nine-game lead over the next best team in the NL, that is a guarantee.
As Dodgers fans well know, records are wiped away in the playoffs, and it does not matter how many games you won in the regular season. It is a clean slate, and the most talented team does not always win. Instead, the hottest team that makes the best decisions does.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has been scrutinized for his playoff decisions in the past. Some are justified, but some are merely fans having to blame someone. Those same fans don’t give Roberts enough credit for how he masterfully navigated the 2020 playoff run, and in particular, Game 6 of the World Series.
Before that managerial masterclass, though, Roberts made a pretty big mistake in his second trip to the World Series in 2018. Roberts trusted someone who has not pitched in the league since, Ryan Madson, with some of the biggest spots of the World Series.
This year, Roberts could make the same mistake with similar relievers on the team in the likes of Chris Martin and Heath Hembree. Hopefully, he learns from his mistakes.
Dave Roberts making the same mistake could cost the Dodgers another World Series.
The Dodgers traded for Ryan Madson at the now-defunct waiver trade deadline on August 31, 2018. Madson appeared in just nine games for the Dodgers and sported a 6.48 ERA. However, the bullpen was short-manned and Madson got the playoff roster nod.
Madson then started to get hot. He had two scoreless innings in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves and then was called upon much more in the NLCS. Madson suddenly became the Dodgers’ go-to high-leverage reliever, as he made five appearances in the NLCS and allowed just one run. He was the winning pitcher in the series-clinching Game 7 in Milwaukee.
A guy that was on the team for a little bit over a month was suddenly the team’s most important high-leverage reliever not named Kenley Jansen. Madson earned this role with seven strong innings pitched, despite the fact he struggled immensely in September and had an overall ERA of 5.47 in the regular season.
As bad, over-the-hill pitchers often do, Madson regressed back to where he truly was as a pitcher in the World Series. Madson pitched in Games 1-4 in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, and if the Dodgers had someone better in his role, the team may have shocked Boston and won the World Series.
In Game 1, Madson came into the game in the fifth inning after Clayton Kershaw allowed the first two batters to reach. Madson did not do his job, allowing both runners to eventually score. A 3-3 tie for the Dodgers when Madson came in turned into a 3-5 deficit for LA. They lost 4-8.
After retiring the first two batters of the inning, Hyun-Jin Ryu loaded the bases in the fifth inning of Game 2 in Boston. Roberts called on his trusted high-leverage reliever in Madson, who promptly walked in a run (on five pitches) and then allowed a two-run single to make it 4-2.
The Dodgers allowed just one more hit the rest of the game, an inconsequential double to future Dodger Mookie Betts. Ryu was credited as the losing pitcher, as those were his runs, but Madson ultimately lost the game.
Fast forward to Game 4. With Kobe Bryant in attendance, Yasiel Puig hit the most important home run of his MLB career to turn a 1-0 game into a 4-0 game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Boston’s starting pitching was depleted, and if the Dodgers won Game 4 it could have been a huge shift in the series as a whole, evening things at two games apiece.
That is when Dave Roberts made the worst decision of his managerial career, pulling Rich Hill with one out in the seventh inning only to put in a different southpaw in Scott Alexander to face back-to-back lefties. Alexander walked Brock Holt and got Jackie Bradley Jr. to pop out.
Madson was then brought into the game and the Red Sox countered with Mitch Moreland. In his first pitch out of the bullpen, Madson let up a towering three-run home run to put Boston within one and give the Red Sox the momentum. They went on to win that game and win the World Series in five.
If Dave Roberts did not blindly trust his new reliever who’d gotten hot for one playoff series then maybe, just maybe, the Dodgers would be eight-time World Series Champions. Roberts must do everything he can to escape the same fate this go around.
As good as some of these new arms might look in limited sample sizes, Roberts needs to trust the arms that got the team in this position to begin with. That is what he did in 2020 with Julio Urías, and he must do so again in 2022 with a new supporting cast.
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