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    Alexander: Who is to blame for yet another Dodgers playoff failure?
    • October 12, 2023

    So, Dodger fans, who do you blame?

    It has become an ugly October ritual in L.A., one that’s been avoided only once over the last 11 years. A team whose goal is, and should be, a World Series championship falls short, and the finger-pointing begins.

    Most of those fingers, at least from the fan base, will be aimed squarely at Dave Roberts, as usual. And if one move in Wednesday night’s National League Division Series sweep-clinching victory by the Arizona Diamondbacks encapsulated the fans’ problem with the manager, it was the sight of Roberts perfectly still along the dugout railing while Lance Lynn dug a hole his team could not escape.

    It’s such an easy second-guess that even I’ll pile on. Didn’t the manager see anything after the second of the D-Backs’ record four homers in an inning, Ketel Marte’s 428-foot bomb that made it 2-0, that would have prodded him to make a change? Especially when Roberts had talked going in about treating this as a Game 7? Three of the four home run pitches were right around the heart of the hitting zone, none were above 91.7 mph, all were straight, and shouldn’t that have been enough of a tipoff?

    Middle/middle is no way to succeed.

    — Jim_Alexander (@Jim_Alexander) October 12, 2023

    But we need to go way deeper than the “blame the manager” reflex.

    Lynn, the major leagues’ regular season leader in home runs allowed, was pitching Wednesday night because he was the guy management settled for at the trade deadline in what should have been a desperate quest for starting pitching. Major injuries (Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin) created that desperation, and a horrible, horrible life decision (Julio Urías) after the deadline had passed exacerbated it. The two guys they wound up with when the smoke cleared on Aug. 1 were Lynn and Ryan Yarbrough, a starter-bulk guy who was effective in both roles during the season but for some reason wasn’t included on the postseason roster.

    So yes, point some fingers directly at President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and General Manager Brandon Gomes. And let it be noted that when so many other pursuits for pitching fell through at the deadline, I noted at the time: “The first report card will come sometime in October.”

    It was a resounding F.

    How else should we divide the blame pie? Do we point fingers at hitting coaches Robert Van Scoyoc and Aaron Bates? The slumps that enveloped Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman at the worst possible time (a combined 1 for 21) had a devastating effect on a team that averaged 5.59 runs in the regular season but scored two per game when it mattered most.

    And does pitching coach Mark Prior get the blame for the inability of starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Bobby Miller and Lynn to get through as many as three innings? That was jaw-dropping, and it was a total switch – the starters letting down the bullpen, instead of the reverse.

    (Those are facetious suggestions, of course. The guys who play can’t get it done, and the coaches and managers ultimately get the blame. That’s baseball.)

    So who bears the responsibility for the roster composition? The Dodgers carried 13 position players for the NLDS but left right-handed hitting Amed Rosario off the roster in favor of lefty Kolten Wong. Wong was 0 for 2 with a walk in the series, and a serious right-handed bat was unavailable with the bases loaded and a 4-2 score in the seventh inning on Wednesday night, the game there for the taking against incoming reliever Andrew Saalfrank. Instead, light-hitting (and right-handed) Austin Barnes grounded out on one pitch to end the threat and, ultimately, the season.

    All of these little moments added up to one big frustrating trend, again. This is now three times in the last five years that 100-plus victory Dodger seasons have ended in the NLDS.

    Of course, if you want to elevate the postseason at the expense of the regular season, then we should hear no more about the 60-game sprint in 2020 leading to a cheap championship, especially since the Dodgers went through four playoff rounds, the last three in a COVID-19 bubble.

    Oh, and has anyone seen Corey Seager lately? He has a shot at another ring with the Texas Rangers, playing in the same park where he hit seven home runs while earning NLCS and World Series MVP honors in ’20. Letting him walk was a mistake.

    It’s easy to forget that this was considered a transition year of sorts for the Dodgers going in. Even before projected shortstop Gavin Lux wrecked his knee in a spring training game, it was apparent with a series of offseason moves obviously made to trim payroll and hoard its resources, the better to make a run at a certain left-handed hitting pitcher/DH who will be a free agent this winter. (And if Shohei Ohtani does choose the Dodgers, given that he won’t be able to pitch until 2025 while recovering from elbow surgery, why, he’ll fit right in.)

    The tattered remnants of this year’s pitching rotation made it easy to forget that when the Dodgers were knocked out by San Diego in four games last October their rotation was likewise in flux, though nowhere near as ragged as this year’s. When your starters give up almost as many runs (13) as they record outs (14), as they did against the D-Backs, that’s failure of historic proportions.

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    And maybe this, from last year’s playoff postmortem, bears repeating: “The old adage is that you can never have enough pitching. Maybe old adages should still have a place amid today’s analytics-fueled, executive-dominant baseball.”

    We heard it so often during the season, how harmonious a clubhouse the Dodgers had, how guys got along and played for each other, etc. But the fist pumps at first base and (as colleague Mirjam Swanson wonderfully described them) Inflatable Man dances at second base seem hollow when things go south. There are enough veterans in that clubhouse for someone to stand up and inspire or hold others accountable. Did anybody do so in this case?

    Maybe it’s time for someone at the top of the organization to speak out, be it team president Stan Kasten or chairman and controlling owner Mark Walter. And this should be the message: Going out in the first round is unacceptable, so either fix it or there will be changes … and they won’t begin and end in the manager’s office.

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    Dodgers manager Dave Roberts looks on from the dugout during the first inning of Game 3 of their National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night in Phoenix. Roberts allowing starting pitcher Lance Lynn to remain in the game long enough to allow four solo home runs – all of them coming in the third inning – was being called managerial malpractice by some Dodgers fans the day after another 100-win season was followed by an early playoff exit. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

    ​ Orange County Register