Let’s face it. Dave Roberts’s job is pretty simple, while also being impossible. In normal times, he doesn’t really have to do much over six months. The roster is turn-key, and as long as he or someone else doesn’t sneak peyote into his coffee before the game, he can’t really abuse it in any way to keep it from 100 wins. Don’t overuse a couple of relievers, keep everyone healthy, watch along with the rest of us, cash the check.
At the same time, he’s judged only by what happens in the matter of a few weeks, or even a few days, in the fall. When any slice of rotten luck (or just a single player filling his pants at the biggest moment) renders everything he’s done, or not done, meaningless. If the Dodgers can’t find two wins in the next three games, Roberts will almost certainly be relieved of this burden, and someone else will be brought it simply to make two or three decisions over seven months per season differently than Roberts. On such margins…
Should he be updating the resume in the coming week, Roberts will probably look at Game 4 and begin to shake uncontrollably. And yet, you can squint and see the logic behind all of his decisions.
The true silliness began in the 5th inning, when Roberts pulled Julio Urias with two outs. It made some sense. At first glance, Urias was only at 80 pitches, and he’d thrown more than that a few times during the season. But he started Game 5 against Atlanta and then closed out Game 7, and even though he’d had five days rest, this has been a bugaboo of Roberts before,- using players as if they were simply their stats and attributes. Yandy Diaz was up, seeing Urias for the third time, and any slip up there means Randy “Eater Of Worlds” Arozarena is up with a man on. You’d rather he lead off an inning. So, clean enough, Blake Treinen gets Yandy Diaz and off we go.
The 6th is the descent into hell. Because no one can get Arozarena out these days and even the Lord himself would hold up four fingers, he singles, Treinen then walked Ji-Man Choi. This is where Roberts was caught cold, as Kevin Cash unloaded his left-handed bench. Treinen had already faced his minimum of batters, so all options were open to Roberts. And he just...kinda...sat there?
He allowed Treinen to face one lefty in Austin Meadows, whom he struck out. But then he didn’t want him facing another, so he brought in… another righty? Why have him face one lefty but not another?
The thing is, Pedro Baez has been better against lefties than Treinen all season. But why wasn’t Baez brought in for Meadows then? And where was Victor Gonzalez, an actual, y’know, lefty? After Brandon Lowe were two more righties waiting in Willy Adames and Hunter Renfroe, and that’s probably what Roberts was looking at, along with Baez’s effectiveness against left-handers.
Baez promptly gives up a three-run bomb to Lowe. In that run, Lowe is clearly the best hitter of the three of him, Adames, and Renfroe, and hence should have been countered by Kolarek or Gonzalez, with only needing to get the completely lost Adames to get out of the inning. But Roberts trusted one of his main guys.
Of course, when you say stuff like this after the game, you kind of tell the world you’re making it up as you go:
And then the ninth, an inning that could live in infamy forever in Dodgertown, or be resigned to a quirk much like Albert Pujols’s homer off Brad Lidge in 2005 (the Cardinals lost the series the next game). Roberts came into these playoffs very iffy on Kenley Jansen, and rightly so. He’s not what he was. In Game 2 against the Padres, Roberts pulled Jansen after three hits had made it a one-run game. He had watched Arozarena homer off Jansen in Game 3 the night before last. The surface evidence says there should have been a leash.
The deeper evidence was that Jansen hadn’t given up a hard hit ball, though his stuff was off. He threw one pitch over 93 MPH. Still, the worst possible hitter for the Rays was up. Even with Jansen’s diminished skills, he should be able to get Brett Phillips. He should have been able to get Bret Phillips throwing left-handed.
It also might have helped if Jansen didn’t spend the whole last play feeling sorry for himself. Likely, if Jansen had been backing up the plate as he should have, he would have been on the third-base side to back up a throw from Max Muncy, which wouldn’t have helped much as the ball deflected off Will Smith’s glove to the first base side. But it might have! And with Arozarena heading back to third after falling down, there was time! Is that Roberts’s fault?
Roberts will be saved with plus-starts from Kershaw and Beuhler, the former whom he’s resisted his natural urge to throw every chance he gets. Whatever Kershaw does, perhaps Roberts can duck under that much louder playoff narrative and slip out the side-door with no one noticing. However, he’s still going to have to get through a Game 6, which will involve a lot of bullpen decisions instead of letting Gonsolin or Wood simply go as far as they can, being starting pitchers and all. You can already hear Dodgers fans building forts behind their sofas for Tuesday night, whatever happens tonight.