NLCS Game Two Deep Dive: We’ve Seen This Movie Before, Dodgers

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Dodgers

If you’ve followed the Dave Roberts-era of Dodgers baseball as closely as I have then you know what we witnessed in Game Two of the 2020 NLCS featured every painful thing about the last five postseasons. A heavily-favored Dodgers team underperforming on a big stage with bad managerial moves, good pitchers pitching poorly and an offense that provides just enough to give you false hope only to lose in the end.

As dramatic as that sounds, the Dodgers are not out of this series by any means. Despite being down 2-0, the comeback spirit the offense displayed in the ninth was a good sign if they are to turn things around. The offense is the key to the Dodgers’ success moving forward because I believe that’s where the momentum will come from. If pitchers know they will be getting some run support early on, that’ll give them more confidence on the mound. You don’t want your pitchers constantly having to walk a tightrope, worrying the game could be out of reach if they surrender one or two runs.

Keeping everything I just mentioned in mind, let’s take a deep dive shall we?

Dave Roberts, That’s The Headline

I’ll admit it: I am one of Dave Roberts’ most loyal critics. I think he is a terrific person, I loved watching him play for the Dodgers and I think the players truly respect him in the clubhouse. That’s half the battle. The other half is in-game managing and that’s where Roberts cannot be trusted to put his players in positions to succeed.

With the offense struggling, the top of the fifth inning was a spot where the Dodgers could ill-afford to let things get out of hand. After giving up his third run, Tony Gonsolin’s night was over. With a 3-0 deficit and runners on first and second, one out and Freddie Freeman coming up, Roberts decides to go with Pedro Baez. Here’s the thought process considering the three-batter minimum rule: Baez is a right-hander with reverse splits –  if he can get the lefty Freeman out, then he’ll face a righty in Marcell Ozuna and hopefully get him out as well.

None of that went according to plan as Baez gave up an RBI single to Freeman, walked Ozuna to load the bases, walked Travis d’Arnaud to score a run and gave up a sac fly to Ozzie Albies to make it 6-0, Braves. Then Roberts brings in Floro to close the barn door after the horses have left and he retires Dansby Swanson to end the inning. Never mind the fact that hitters are hitting .375 and slugging .500 against Baez with RISP this season, but after you see him struggling and after he’s faced three batters, don’t you bring in Floro or someone else then?

By the way, after the game Roberts said Brusdar Graterol was available for tonight’s game, but didn’t want to use a high-leverage reliever down three runs in the fifth. To me, you have to stop the bleeding there and Roberts threw in the towel far too early. Three runs is manageable, but six runs is a completely different story.

Personally, I think Victor Gonzalez is good enough to get any hitter out. If you don’t go with Graterol, wouldn’t you be somewhat comfortable to see Gonzalez face Freeman and the rest of Atlanta’s heart of the order instead of Baez who’s had a down year?

Then with the score  7-to-3, Braves,  Joe Kelly relieves Alex Wood with two out in the top of the eighth and gets Ozuna to fly out to end the inning. For some reason Roberts goes with lefty specialist Adam Kolarek to start the top of the ninth to face two righties and a switch-hitter. Now, Kelly had only thrown four pitches and could’ve conceivably pitched to more batters, but even if you don’t want to keep him in there, you could’ve brought in Graterol, Kenley Jansen or even Blake Treinen in that spot. Instead, Kolarek gives up a solo homer to the switch-hitting Albies (his second home run of the series off a lefty) to extend the Braves’ lead to 8-3.

To Roberts’ credit, he didn’t know the Dodgers were going to score four runs in the ninth and leave the tying run 90 feet away at third base, but his costly pitching changes added up and the deficit was too great for the offense to overcome.

Some of you might say that it’s his pitchers’ fault for not performing, which is true in some cases, but time and time again Roberts pulls the absolute wrong levers when better options always seem to be at his finger tips.

There Is A Silver Lining, Folks

Like I mentioned, the Dodgers are down, but not out. I really liked the life I saw in the bottom of the ninth inning and hopefully that spirit and momentum will carry over into Game Three. What we can’t have is six innings of absolute nothing offensively like we experienced tonight. The Dodgers’ offensive keys to success are: running up the pitch count, getting on base and, most importantly, cashing in on those opportunities. Will Smith alone left five runners on base, for example – that’s just unacceptable.

I’d also like to see us create some havoc on the bases. There was an opportunity for Mookie Betts to steal a bag in the bottom of the third. If he’s on second then Justin Turner’s single drives him in. We just can’t waste those scoring chances.

The news that Clayton Kershaw is likely to pitch in this series after all is encouraging. He was scratched before tonight’s game with back spasms.

Despite everything the Dodgers have done poorly in these last two games, it’s also worth noting how well the Braves are playing right now. The Braves are beating the Dodgers pretty handily and they’re forcing Los Angeles to prove they are as good as advertised.

Jake Reiner is a writer and reporter for Dodgers-LowDown and co-host of The Incline Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @QualityJakes