Six Dave Roberts moves in Game 5 that were head-scratching at best, malpractice at worst

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. But foresight is more valuable, especially for managers.

It’s always easy to second-guess MLB managers when things go wrong, especially in the postseason. Every move is clinically dissected. It’s a high-stakes game of Operation, except you’re playing on stilts, suspended above a shark tank, while millions of people breathe down your metaphorical neck.

FAGAN: Blame Dave Roberts for Clayton Kershaw’s latest October failure

But this time, in NLDS Game 5 between the Dodgers and Nationals, it was obvious. You could see it coming, like a freight train in a dark tunnel. When the Dodgers blew Game 5, it was painful to watch, but it was also predictable. But it started well before Clayton Kershaw was called upon to relieve Walker Buehler.

“I’m going to have a hard time taking the ball out of Walker’s hands,” Roberts said Tuesday, per the Los Angeles Times. “But knowing you got Clayton behind him, and a slew of other pitchers, is more my thought.”

Arguably, the first mistake was actually bringing Kershaw into the game to begin with. While his postseason relief numbers were actually pretty good entering Wednesday night, allowing three runs in seven relief appearances (9 2/3 innings pitched), almost everybody saw this coming. So we’ll call it the unofficial start to a string of questionable moves from Roberts.

Let’s go to the tape for the real mistakes:

Mistake No. 1: Leaving Kershaw in too long. 

There’s something about Clayton Kershaw and the postseason, and everyone knows it. His 4.43 ERA is nearly two runs higher than his career 2.43 ERA. Small sample sizes and all when it comes to postseason pitching, but this one was pretty obvious from the jump. Kershaw probably shouldn’t have seen the mound for Game 5, especially after Buehler’s lights-out performance, but he should have gotten the final out in the tough spot in the seventh and then sat for the eighth. It was clear as day.

Mistake No. 2: Not going to Maeda earlier. 

Maeda has been one of the best pitchers in baseball vs. right-handers all season, allowing a .158 batting average against with a .535 OPS in 312 plate appearances. It’s hard to blame Kershaw for that Anthony Rendon home run because it was actually a decent pitch that Rendon did work with, but wouldn’t you rather have a dominant righty in that situation?

Mistake No. 3: Joe Kelly for another inning.

It’s hard to argue against putting Joe Kelly in the game, considering he was one of LA’s best relievers over the last two months of the season. Joe Kelly has actually been a money pitcher in the postseason in his career. Before allowing the six runs in this year’s NLDS, he allowed one run in his past 14 postseason appearances. 

Although, allowing Kelly to pitch to anyone with the bases loaded in the 10th inning is a really dangerous game. Gutsy.

Mistake No. 4: Too little, too late for Jansen.

There’s some doubletalk coming from Roberts here:

It’s interesting to see Kershaw pegged as a guy he believes in while not even considering Jansen for a high-leverage spot earlier in the game, preferably when the bases were loaded and Howie Kendrick up. Kendrick, by the way, is hitless vs. Jansen in his career.

Jansen is as proven a postseason performer as it gets, pitching to a 2.01 ERA following last night’s apperance, if you believe in such things. So, he’s pretty good!

Mistake No. 5: Where’s Adam Kolarek?

Kolarek has done a sensational job of neutralizing lefty hitting all season, so it’s curious to walk Juan Soto and load the bases, putting the Dodgers in a really precarious spot, as opposed to putting in Kolarek to neutralize Soto. Or, let Kolarek face Soto after the Rendon home run. Really no excuse for Kolarek to not have been in the game for one of those two situations.

Mistake No. 6: Too much gut.

Maybe it was a front-office directive to put Kershaw in or devote to him earlier in the week. But if Roberts was full-on using his gut to make a move, then it was the wrong one.

In years past some criticism has been handed to Roberts that maybe he was too much on the side of the numbers, but if Game 5 was any indication, maybe Roberts doesn’t have the necessary feel for the game.

It all resulted in an all-too-familiar elimination-game feeling for LA. This team has been too talented for too long not to break through, and losing in five, at home, to the wild card winner after being up two runs in the eighth inning. 

What the future holds for Roberts in Dodger blue is murky. The team is still talented and will be for a long time, but with the rest of the NL catching up, you’d have to wonder whether the path to get to the Fall Classic is only going to get more difficult.

It’s hard defending canning a manager who you just extended before the season, and who went to the past two World Series and has won four straight division crowns, but they say the manager is usually the last part of a World Series-winning team. Whether Roberts is that guy is up in the air.

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