I followed the last few innings of Game 5 of the NLDS using a computer in the study hall at school. An illegal live stream was out of the question, so I settled for MLB.com’s Gameday. Without live pictures, there wasn’t much I could make out of the live pitch-tracker graphic other than pitch location, speed, whether or not it was hit for an out, etc.
I left home with the Dodgers in the lead 2-1 after the 3rd inning. By the time I finished a quick quiz in my first class and sprinted to the study hall, the score was 3-2 in favor of New York.
The Mets brought in their closer Jeurys Familia at start of the 8th inning to attempt a lofty 6-out save. I thought for sure the Dodgers could somehow muster up a couple of hits and produce the tying run, so I sat back and patiently waited for that to happen.
It never did. Groundout, flyout, lineout, strikeout–all six Dodgers hitters that came up to get a piece of Familia went down. I noticed that on the final at-bat, Howie Kendrick struck out on three straight pitches, all swinging and missing. Three red dots represented that on the Gameday graphic. The final out was recorded at the exact same time the school bell rang for my next class. I looked down at my blue t-shirt that proudly proclaimed “Los Angeles Dodgers” on top of the “LA” logo.
I went to my remaining classes, met up with friends, went home, read a book, watched TV. In the midst of all that, I’ve forgotten that the Dodgers just lost Game 5 and were eliminated. I haven’t even seen video of the moment the last out was made and it was when I clicked on a Deadspin article about Kendrick’s pathetic at-bat that I finally got to visualize the events.
Howie swinging at a slider spiked to the opposite batter’s box. Howie missing on a vulnerable slider hung right down the middle. Howie waving, missing at the final pitch and the subsequent celebration of Familia, arms thrown up, hopping up and down in front of the pitching mound as his teammates rush over to him. The crowd at Dodger Stadium, amped up while they willed Kendrick to get a hit, was immediately silenced.
The sight of the Mets celebrating on Dodgers home turf and of Kendrick walking away from the camera shot brought it all home to me. It sunk in. For the third straight year, the Dodgers were advancing no further in the playoffs. A return to the World Series would have to wait for another year.
Actually, I already had concerns about the Dodgers for this year’s postseason. While I had no complaints at all about their adequate offense and reliable defense, it was the lack of pitching depth that limited my hope at World Series glory. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are two of the best starting pitchers in baseball nowadays but if it’s Brett Anderson and Alex Wood or Mike Bolsinger following them in the postseason rotation, there’s not much to hope for, at least in my opinion.
Anderson had some brilliant performances in the regular season but he was still prone to those really bad outings that average pitchers tend to scatter arbitrarily throughout their season. That bad outing came up in Game 3 where he gave up four runs immediately after the Dodgers gave him a three-run lead. Because of that, Kershaw was summoned on short rest to pitch Game 4, which he dominated. Greinke started Game 5 on regular rest, pitched effectively, but was out-dueled by the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, who can now claim to have beaten two of baseball’s best pitchers in the same postseason series. Kudos to the talented young pitcher.
The Dodgers couldn’t go deep into a postseason pennant race for three years now because of a lack of pitching depth. Having the two best pitchers at the top of the rotation just isn’t enough anymore. Ryu Hyun-jin was out for the year with injury and his presence in the rotation as the number-three guy was surely missed. Even in the previous years when the Dodgers used Ryu as their Game 3 starter, they’d still throw in Kershaw for Game 4 on short rest.
As much as the Dodgers have money, they have consistently stayed away from signing that big fish pitcher that occupies the free agent or trade market. Over the years, they traded for Joe Blanton, signed an aging Josh Beckett, an injury-prone Brandon McCarthy, and Anderson. They took Alex Wood and Mat Latos before the trade deadline this year, the latter of which turned out to be a disastrous signing. I really don’t think the Dodgers can go far into a playoff run if they keep signing average pitchers to follow Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu.
For strong postseason teams, there’s no room for hit-or-miss starting pitchers occupying the middle of the rotation. I’m hoping Greinke signs back and Ryu makes a healthy return next season. As for the possible number-four starter, I have hopes for Brandon Beachy getting back to his once dominating form and emerge as a key piece in the rotation. If not, I’ll wait for McCarthy to return from injury or for Wood and Bolsinger to develop into effective pitchers. Ultimately, I’m hoping that by next year, I’ll have supreme confidence in a stable Dodgers pitching rotation.
I now have an almost one-year wait for a retake of the postseason and a shot at the World Series. Until then, I can’t wait to watch an exciting fight for the title this year between the remaining four promising teams.