LOS ANGELES — Winter here could start as soon as Thursday. Not because Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made a series of ill-fated pitching decisions. Not because president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman failed to construct a bullpen his skipper could trust. Not because fielders have lost some balls in the sun and let others glance off their gloves.
After a 9–2 rout in Game 4, Atlanta leads the National League Championship Series three games to one, with a chance to win the pennant at Dodger Stadium. If the Dodgers indeed finish snuffing out their 106-win season Thursday, the scene of the crime will be the batter’s box.
Braves outfielder Eddie Rosario had four hits in Game 4. So did the Dodgers.
Roberts sounded exhausted after yet another three and a half hours of watching his hitters trudge back to the dugout. “I know it’s not from lack of work and preparation, so the last part of it and most important is execution,” he said. “I don’t have an answer. Every time I write the lineup out I feel very good about our club and how we match up and track records and what we’re going to do that particular night, but it just hasn’t been as consistent as, I don’t think, anyone expected. … I wish I had an answer. Believe me, I do.”
If the hitters do, they did not share it Wednesday; the Dodgers did not make Justin Turner, Mookie Betts or Corey Seager available. Outfielder AJ Pollock, who came off the bench to provide the Dodgers’ only hit with runners in scoring position, blamed execution, too. He did not deny that the last few weeks have been exhausting—a fight through Game 162 for the division, a tight wild-card game, an intense five-game NLDS—but insisted that fatigue was not the problem. “We just gotta execute,” he said. “You can be tired and execute.”
For the most part, the lineup has not. Los Angeles is hitting .221 with runners in scoring position this postseason and .231 overall. It has left 72 runners on base in 10 games. On Wednesday, the top three in the lineup went 0-for-11 with a walk to continue a miserable NLCS for them: Betts is hitting .214. Seager is hitting .200. Trea Turner is hitting .167.
Every few days, the Dodgers seem to break through, shortening their strokes and shrinking the strike zone. They begin to resemble the team that led the National League in runs, scoring 5.12 per game. They put together competitive at bats and strike devastating blows, as Cody Bellinger did with a three-run bomb to bring his team back to life in Game 3. But every time, by morning, the magic is gone.
To be sure, the pitching shortfalls have not helped. Roberts has only three viable starters—Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías—and because he does not fully trust his bullpen, he has used them all in new roles this October. In the NLDS against the Giants, Buehler made his first career start on short rest. Scherzer and Urías have each pitched four times in a 12-day stretch. All three pitched poorly in their most recent outings, and Scherzer acknowledged that the extra work had deadened his arm.
Wednesday it was Urías’s turn. He allowed five runs in as many innings and seemed at times overwhelmed with frustration, slapping his glove on the mound and throwing up his hands. Roberts and Urías both insisted that the pitcher was not tired, that the Atlanta lineup had simply taken good swings.
In any case, the 2021 Dodgers should be able to overcome a five-run deficit. Instead, they were no-hit through four innings by the Braves’ bullpen, then went down in order over the last two frames. They swung at and missed 11 balls. They put another three in play for outs.
“If we’re going to chase, then there’s no reason for them to throw the ball in the strike zone,” Roberts said before Game 3. “So I think that we’ve got to kind of lock in more in the strike zone and when we do that we’ll have more success.” He said that was “absolutely” the difference between the 2020 team and the ’21 iteration.
There has been a lot of talk about that 2020 club. That group, too, lost Games 1 and 2 to Atlanta, then won Game 3 and lost Game 4. Those Dodgers won the next three games and then the World Series.
These are not those Dodgers. Ace Clayton Kershaw injured his left elbow in his final regular-season start and will watch the playoffs from the dugout. Two days later, first baseman Max Muncy dislocated his left elbow; he will need a miracle to make it back before the World Series. And Wednesday, Justin Turner pulled up lame trying to beat out a double-play grounder in the seventh. Roberts said the team believes that he has suffered a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring and that he is done for the postseason.
If something doesn’t change soon, his teammates will be, too.
More MLB Coverage:
• Valdez’s Sinkers Push Boston to the Brink
• The Rebirth of Cody Bellinger Resuscitates Los Angeles
• Altuve’s Mid-Game Tweak Sparks Houston’s Series-Tying Rally
• The Strike Zone Isn’t the Problem