And the drought will now extend to 31 years and counting. For the second-straight year, the Los Angeles Dodgers came up short again in the World Series, leaving them trophyless since 1988. They faced adversity all regular and postseason long, but the 108-win Boston Red Sox was a mountain too high to climb.
The championship window is nowhere close to closing, but the upcoming offseason is a vital one for the future of the club. They have decisions to make, and tough ones at that, which can shape the future of the ballclub beyond just next year.
But, at the same time, this is a ‘win-now’ squad, and the Dodgers need to come back strong in 2019 to contend for another title. And, it goes beyond just personnel questions, starting first with who will lead the locker room in 2019?
The Dodgers have a one-year club option with Dave Roberts remaining which he has not heard from management about. Reports are that the club intends to give him an extension, but all eyes are still on this decision because Roberts has come under immense fire after his disastrous showing in the 2018 World Series. The Red Sox were the better team, but Roberts helped them as he made a complete mess of series. And decisions in the World Series are going to be scrutinized like no other (fair or not) because it’s the biggest stage and all eyes are on you.
Roberts continuously went to Ryan Madson in high-leverage situations, and each time, the move did not work out and changed the dynamic and momentum of the game. Cases where he had other arms that were hotter and better-suited to handle, such as Pedro Baez. Speaking of which, he mismanaged Pedro Baez this series by either taking him out too early and having that come back to bite the team or choosing to bring in a struggling veteran over him, which also came back to bite them.
Roberts also brought in Kenley Jansen for two six-out save opportunities in back-to-back games, and in both situations, the 31-year-old blew it. But maybe we never get to that situation, at least in Game 4, if Roberts didn’t mismanage the seventh inning.
He pulled Rich Hill, who was rolling after 6.1 innings, with a four-run cushion. And pulled him out because of a miscommunication. Then makes two questionable choices in relievers (Scott Alexander and Ryan Madson) who didn’t do their jobs. If they had brought in a hot Pedro Baez, Roberts would not have had to bring in his closer to face the middle of Boston’s lineup in the eighth. And this comes on the heels after having some head-scratching decisions in 2017.
But, at the same time, he has made the NLCS in all three years as the skipper, while making back-to-back World Series trips, including 104 wins in 2017. He is among the best managers in the game, and the success has shown that. But, it’s resume vs. ‘heat of the moment,’ and his resume says he deserves to be back but, also has not been good enough to get the job done, which then bring us to the players.
The manager isn’t the one going up to the plate and hitting, or in the Dodgers’ case, failing to get hits. The one thing you can hold a manager accountable is his bullpen management, but when you are in cahoots with the front office and understand your responsibility is to play the numbers and matchups as they want, there’s only so much you can do.
And the bottom line is that the Dodgers just couldn’t hit. They struggled with hitting in the first two rounds, and their lack of being able to not only hit but merely put the ball in play with men in scoring position, was the reason it took seven games to get past the Milwaukee Brewers. And the Dodgers hit a measly .180/.249/.302 in five games against the Red Sox.
The ‘three true outcomes’ approach (home runs, walks, and strikeouts) was their formula all season long, and when they can’t hit home runs, they never score. And this is a squad that already struggled with hitting lefties again, which was exposed in the playoffs, which made them a flawed lineup.
The Red Sox showed that there are better offensive approaches, especially in October. You don’t always have to swing for the fences and shouldn’t simply rely on the long ball because it has proven to be a streaky formula. When you have that approach when facing the game’s best pitching as you do in the playoffs, it’s more-than-likely that it will be mostly ineffective.
The offense might need to be reshaped, and it starts with free agency. Do they let Manny Machado walk? He is in line for a huge payday, but the Dodgers already have shortstop locked up with Corey Seager coming back. Do they move Seager to second to make space for Machado? Will Seager even be willing to do so?
Or does Max Muncy get second base, although he’s a better fit for first? Keeping him at first means keeping Cody Bellinger in center field, adding again to the outfield logjam. Speaking of which, do they use Machado’s money to go after Bryce Harper? Signing Harper would allow for Los Angeles to move some of the outfielders they already have and clear up the logjam because Harper is not a platoon player. He is a superstar talent that is going to get everyday playing time like Machado, Justin Turner, and Corey Seager.
Should the team change their offensive approach and look to put the ball in play more and focus on driving in guys on base instead of going “all-or-nothing”? Do they bring in new players for that or have their current guys change? They have a lot of quality players but not enough positions for it. They have dealt with depth like this in the last two seasons, but it gets harder each year, especially when some of the guys that should be starting every day aren’t doing so.
Should the Dodgers use the plethora of position players to bolster a bullpen that was not up to the challenge? The relievers were a big culprit in the World Series, and Dave Roberts didn’t help them much either. The front office’s lack of going after an elite high-leverage reliever came back to haunt them. Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, and Craig Kimbrel are free agents this offseason who would be perfect fits with the Dodgers.
But the most significant decision for the team will be surrounding ace Clayton Kershaw. Including Monday, Kershaw has three days to decide whether he is going to opt-out of his final two years left on his contract. He will meet with the Dodger front office and take it from there.
If he does opt-out, will a front office, that has shown not to overpay for aging pitchers with mileage on their arms, dish out a huge payday. Kershaw has dealt with injuries the last three season and saw a significant drop in his fastball velocity which is the ultimate “no-no” for this new management. But, Clayton Kershaw is synonymous with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
To what extent are Andrew Friedman & Co. willing to go to keep the lifelong Dodger in blue? Does he even want to stay? Or, could they add on two or three years to the two years he has left? Does signing him mean they are out on other A-level free agents?
There are lots of questions to be answered, setting up the 2018 winter as a busy one for the Dodgers. As bad as they looked in the World Series, they just ran into an all-time great team that the American League’s elites couldn’t deal with either. This is still a team that is the cream of the National League and are in good position going forward.
The Dodgers have some flaws to shore up if they want a chance to end the title drought finally, but the core is excellent. It’s now just filling out around them and making sure to choose the right guys.