Call this emotional. Call it recency bias. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t call it wrong.
Dave Roberts has been the Dodgers’ manager since 2016. Since then, they have won one World Series – the Covid-shortened 2020 season. This in spite of the fact that the team has wielded a star-studded roster with one of the game’s largest payrolls since then.
Sure, one championship is one more than most other teams have in that time frame. But considering the resources the team has, and how it has spent them over the years to make sure the team is competitive, just one title seems far short of what would be expected.
One could argue, it’s not all his fault. To a degree, they could support it. Sure, he hasn’t any idea how to manage a pitching staff, but he isn’t the one that assembled a roster that required the likes of Billy McKinney and the corpse of Albert Pujols getting key at bats. But at the end of the day, despite imperfections dotting the roster, it comes down to this. Did you win the whole thing? If not, well, why not?
Roberts isn’t without his redeeming qualities. He’s a nice fella. Keeps the clubhouse loose. Makes sure guys get enough playing time to stay involved. Faces the media.
But wow. A blind rhinoceros could handle a pitching staff, and especially a bullpen, better.
Over the 162 game slog of the regular season, his ineptness is generally obscured by a combination of indifference and success in spite of it. After all, about 100 of those games are coming against teams more interested in losing than they are in winning. If you make an absurd bullpen call against the Oakland A’s, it’s unlikely to cost you.
That luxury, however, doesn’t exist in the playoffs. There are no Oakland A’s, Colorado Rockies, et al in the postseason. Decisions matter. And while you can accuse me of cherry picking, the list is too long for that argument to hold water. Whether it’s leaving Kershaw in to die against the Astros when it was clear as day they knew what was coming; or going to Kershaw against the Nationals out of the bullpen, instead of Kenta Maeda who’d been dominant out of it, or Adam Kolarek who was acquired specifically to face hitters like Juan Soto; or leaving Joe Kelly in for a second inning when his ERA after one inning was somewhat close to a billion; or whether it was pulling a cruising and dominant Rich Hill against the Red Sox; or keeping a clearly injured Blake Treinen on the roster over battle-tested veteran Craig Kimbrel, who wasn’t nearly as bad during the season as Dodger fan casuals will have you believe, against the Padres. If there’s a big pitching decision to be made, he’s going to blow it. Every time.
But what about 2020, you say? If you need a reminder, this is the postseason where Julio Urias was utterly unhittable, and closed out the championship in style. Now, I have no firsthand knowledge of this, but I would bet my bottom dollar that there was a conversation had between Roberts and the front office that went something like this.
FO: Any big spot, you’re going to Julio
FO: No buts. You’re doing it.
DR: But Kenley… Kershaw can pitch in relief!!!!
FO: It’s Julio, or you’re fired.
So I digress, there is no need to belabor this point. But tonight, it came to a head.
No, it isn’t his fault that the front office has assembled a bullpen consisting of guys like Shelby Miller and Phil Bickford, while cycling through guys like Andre Jackson, Jake Reed, Dylan Covey, Zack Burdi, and Tayler Scott. It’s not his fault that instead of World Series hero Dylan Floro, they have Alex Vesia, who was so bad he was demoted to the minors a few weeks ago. It’s not his fault that Andrew Friedman got crunk as fuck one night and decided to make Noah Syndergaard an offer resembling one given to a pitcher who could get outs at the big league level. None of that is his fault.
What is his fault is not making the most of the resources he does have – primarily reclamation project turned top three reliever in baseball, Evan Phillips. Sure, there’s arguments to be made that your best reliever needs to be used to get the opposition’s toughest part of their lineup out. I get it. But in the playoffs last season, Phillips was used as early as the fifth inning. Good thing the opposition’s best hitters never come up again after the fifth inning, right?
Time and time again, he’s gone to Phillips way too early and left the likes of Brusdar Graterol to invariably fail in big situations.
Tonight it was the 8th inning, and it wasn’t even the Reds’ best hitters. Fortunately, he’d already used the calamitous Graterol earlier in the game, but going to Phillips in the 8th left Caleb Ferguson, who has struggled badly with his command, for the 9th. Even that is forgiveable, if he’d realized after the second of Ferguson’s four consecutive walk/HBPs, that he needed to make a change. Nope. About 15 pitches too late, he finally went to Shelby Miller, probably the third best option he had remaining at the time which is infuriating on its own level, to predictably give up the game-winning hit.
Back to the slog of the regular season. In years past, this gets papered over. It’s one game, and yes, Roberts is so bad at his job that he makes people yearn for the days of Don Mattingly, but this isn’t the same Dodger team as in recent years. Stars have departed, replaced by rookies who are going through their understandable ups and downs. This isn’t a team that is going to win 100+ games. This is a team that is, perhaps luckily, 9 games over .500 after 61 games. Not awful, perhaps even decent, but gone are the days of running away with the NL West. This team is nowhere near guaranteed to make the postseason, so these winnable games that are pissed away on an otherwise innocuous night in Ohio are going to matter.
Despite the tone of this article, I’m not even mad. I saw it coming as early as the 6th inning. I’m just realistic. I’m ok with this team being probably 25 games worse this season than last season, if it means making a run at Ohtani next offseason. But the trade off is, you have to win the games you have in the bag.
And the truth is, if you have a blithering idiot as your manager, it’s just not going to happen. For all of Roberts’ likability as a person, he’s an all-time bad manager. It’s time for the Dodgers to decide if they’re serious about winning, or if one title is enough for the next 20 plus years.