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    Dodgers left to sift through wreckage of another postseason failure
    • October 13, 2023

    PHOENIX — After another shocking crash in October, the Dodgers are once again sifting through the wreckage, hoping to find a black box that will explain what went wrong.

    “How do I explain it?” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said, repeating a question about the Dodgers’ consecutive first-round failures in a somber post-game clubhouse at Chase Field on Wednesday night.

    “I can’t really explain it. Yeah – I’m not sure.”

    Self-reflection should cause the Dodgers to question their preparation and motivation and a flawed roster constructed by the front office. But there seems to be an impulse to save one finger to point at the playoff format adopted by MLB before the 2022 season.

    “For me, I’ve got to do a better job of figuring out a way to get our guys prepared for the postseason. I’ll own that,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, to his credit, after the team was swept in three games by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series. “I think we’ve got great players. I’ve got to figure out a way to get these guys prepared for whatever format, whatever series.

    “Yeah, the regular season, I think we do a great job. But the last couple of postseasons, it just hasn’t gone well for us and so I’ve got to figure it out.”

    Roberts has led his team to 100 wins five times in the past six full seasons. But 100 wins don’t seem to mean what they used to.

    In the first two years of the new format which awards the top two teams in each league a first-round bye, those teams have gone 12-16 (with the Atlanta Braves playing to avoid elimination on Thursday night). The Houston Astros have half of those 12 wins and seem immune, having won the World Series last year after long breaks before each round.

    “No comment,” Dodgers star Mookie Betts said when asked for his opinion of the postseason format.

    The Baltimore Orioles finished with the best record in the American League this season then were swept by the Texas Rangers in their American League Division Series. But the five-day break before the division series round seems to be particularly debilitating for NL teams.

    The Dodgers and Braves have finished with the NL’s two best records each of the past two regular seasons. Both were eliminated in the NLDS round last season, winning one game each.

    This year, the Dodgers were swept by the Diamondbacks while the Braves went into Game 4 on Thursday night trailing the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1.

    “Look, it’s hard,” Kershaw said of the unnatural – by baseball calendar standards – break before playing the most important games of the season. “I mean, pitching maybe not so much, but obviously offensively these guys are so used to playing every day. So I get it. Extra teams and more money, all that stuff. I get it.

    “But I do think that – I’m not a hitter, but it does seem like it’s a bit of a challenge for guys. It’s not an excuse, though.”

    The Dodgers’ offense has indeed been a no-show in each of their first-round failures.

    Last year, the Dodgers led the majors with 847 runs scored during the regular season but managed just 12 in four postseason games (five of them in the first three innings of Game 1 against the Padres). This year, they were even better in the regular season (906 runs scored) – and worse in the postseason (six runs in three games and a .177 team batting average).

    The Braves have had the same problem. They hit .180 in their first-round loss last season. One of the most productive lineups in baseball history this season, they were held to seven runs and a .184 average in the first three games of this year’s NLDS.

    “It felt like that throughout the series,” Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy said when asked if the Diamondbacks were the team with momentum in this year’s NLDS. “I don’t know if they got that from the (best-of-three) wild card (series) or not. But they were definitely the team that was getting the hits. They were the team that was making the pitches. They were making the plays. Just all across the board, they just dominated us, really. We just didn’t give ourself a chance at all.”

    Recent successes of wild-card teams in the playoffs provide anecdotal evidence that playing meaningful games down the stretch and rolling into the postseason without a long break might be advantageous. The Dodgers haven’t won a postseason series since 2021 after they finished second in the NL West and went into the playoffs as a wild card. They beat the first-place San Francisco Giants in the NLDS – a pattern that repeated in the next two postseasons with the Dodgers in the reverse role.

    “It’s a tough question, because I can’t answer it honestly, not having been on the other side of it, not having gone through the wild card and not having done that whole situation,” said Muncy, who suffered a severe elbow injury on the final day of the 2021 regular season and did not play in the postseason.

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    “I just know that from an offensive side, we weren’t swinging the bats great at the end of the season. And we get a week off and we clearly weren’t able to get hot again. So I don’t know if it’s five days off or if it’s not. All I know is we didn’t get hits in the big situations. And that’s really all it boils down to.”

    And that is a trend that predates this playoff format, the one thread that seems to tie the Dodgers’ postseason disappointments together.

    Starting with the 2018 World Series, the Dodgers have hit .190 (29 for 153) with runners in scoring position in their season-ending series – .212 (14 for 66) in the three first-round defeats (to the Washington Nationals in 2019, the Padres in 2022 and the Diamondbacks this year).

    “I don’t know if you can point to anything,” outfielder Chris Taylor said. “There is a bit of a break there for us. That could have played some part of it. But at the end of the day, we just didn’t play well.”

    ​ Orange County Register