The MLB playoffs can get pretty muddled between decisions and results. Rarely do they line up because... y’know, baseball. It doesn’t cooperate. Right decisions, wrong results, vice versa, the throughline is rarely consistent. But Dave Roberts has been at this for years now, so he certainly makes for an easier target.
There’s always been a suspicion that Roberts has been along for the ride, benefitting from the super-loaded roster that the richest and smartest organization in the sport provided. That gets to be a harder conclusion to stick to when he guided this team to 106 wins, even though Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Cory Seager, Cody Bellinger all missed serious time, and the time Bellinger was around he was doing a great impression of Ken Oberkfell. There was also the whole Trevor Bauer thing, whether that thing was everyone in the clubhouse wanting to knife him from the moment he walked in, or turning out to be a possible sex criminal. Then again, Roberts did have a multi-Cy Young winner and an MVP candidate just dropped onto him in the middle of the season. You can see whatever you want.
But one thing Roberts has not been able to keep himself from doing is trying to demonstrate how smart and daring he is by bringing in a starter out of the pen whenever he can. In years past it was Clayton Kershaw, and then we’d all have to engage in the tired argument of whether Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, was a playoff choker or not because he didn’t throw 20 shutout innings in one series. At the end of a long season, Roberts would consistently put Kershaw out of the rhythm he’d been in for seven or eight months, and then sit there with that confused gape.
But again, it’s not hard to see why Roberts is still so tempted. He watched the 2017 Astros beat him by recycling Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers at him. The 2018 Red Sox had Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale coming out of the pen too. The 2019 Nationals used Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer in relief. You can see the appeal.
The difference is that those three teams were short in the pen. They only had two or three guys they could trust and needed the buffeting from their starters. These Dodgers most certainly do not. There’s at least six he should feel fine going to, seven if you want to throw Tony Gonsolin onto that list. They won 106 games playing a certain way. Is this the time to get cute?
But this is the jam Roberts got himself into when he had to use Max Scherzer to close out the Division Series. It worked, the Dodgers won, and he didn’t know at the time if there would be a tomorrow. But Scherzer wasn’t able to recharge to get through five innings tonight. That was after a bullpen game in Game 1 where he used just about everyone, especially not using Gonsolin for more than 1.2 innings. Kenley Jansen was good enough to get the last three outs for six months and 106 wins. Suddenly he’s not last Thursday?
It was Julio Urías tonight, playing the role of Kershaw of years past. If it wasn’t tonight the Braves got to him, it might have been farther down the line. With an off-day tomorrow, the pen was open. It was then bringing in Kenley Jansen in the middle of an inning.
The Dodgers can still get out of this, of course. They’ll have Walker Buehler on full rest for Game 3. But has Roberts poisoned Urías’ Game 4 start like he did Scherzer’s?
The thing is, we might not even be talking about this if the Braves didn’t get away with two awful coaching decisions themselves. Both of Ron Washington’s sends in the 8th, of Ozzie Albies and Eddie Rosario, were bad calls. They worked because the Dodgers came up with bad throws to home. Or…
Decisions, results, they rarely line up in October.
The NHL has a bubbling problem, it’s had one, and we know that they’re not smart or savvy enough to keep it from boiling over. Jimmy Hayes’ family revealed he died with fentanyl in his system this summer. His father said that he had become addicted to painkillers while recovering from an injury. This comes on the heels of Robin Lehner’s accusations that the Flyers and other teams were stuffing players with painkillers to get them on the ice.
It won’t be a surprise to find out that players are abusing or are hooked on painkillers distributed from trainers to get through the absolute meat grinder that is an NHL season. We knew this was a problem with the deaths of Rick Rypien or Derek Boogaard. The NHL probably hoped that most of the hockey world would dismiss those as the problems of a vanishing breed of player, the goon/enforcer. That those kinds of problems weren’t rampant amongst its players, they hoped.
But now we have Lehner’s outburst and Hayes’s death. How deep this rabbit hole goes is anyone’s guess, but it goes much deeper than we know now, and the league is not going to be able to squash it much longer.
Hayes’s family went public in the hopes that they can prevent the next one, to let any other players know that they aren’t unique or alone. Will the NHL allow that to happen and make itself look bad in the process? Not really their M.O., is it?
The NHL has made one move in that it was the first of the big four to relax its testing for marijuana among players. That’s what the younger generation of players probably go to for their pain problems. But what of the older generation? The ones in Hayes’s, who was only 31 when he passed? Questions it will need to answer.