I’ve been one of the critics of many of the moves that Dave Roberts has made throughout his term as the manager of the Dodgers. His performances in the postseason from 2016 through 2019 were full of question marks. For example:
- 2016 – intentionally walking the bases loaded with the bad hitters Jason Heyward and Chris Coghlan
- 2017 – handling of the pitching staff in World Series games 2, 3, 5 and 7
- 2018 – pulling Rich Hill
- 2019 – pitching Clayton Kershaw in relief when better options were available
These are just an example of the many issues that are pretty well known about the track record of Dave Roberts. Now, let’s spread the credit around a bit bigger. It is well known that Doc does not run everything. There is a huge collaboration between the front office and the coaching staff for the lineups and the game plan, so not everything falls onto Doc.
The latest example that proves that Roberts does not pull all the strings comes via The Athletic from Andy McCullough’s article about how the Dodgers executed their game plan for game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants:
The execution of the plan, which called for relievers to open the proceedings rather than 20-game-winner Julio Urías, required an effort that spanned the organization. The front office of Andrew Friedman completed the research needed to sell Roberts’ staff. The coaches convinced the principals and rallied the clubhouse. The players performed at an elevated level against a high-quality opponent in a hostile environment.
What some of us are seeing is an improvement in how the Dodgers manage what happens during the game. Let’s take a look at some examples.
2020 Postseason Handling Of Kenley Jansen
During the 2020 postseason, Kenley Janson had some difficult moments. Sometimes he looked great and sometimes he looked shakey. In game four of the 2020 World Series, Jansen gave up the tying and winning runs on some soft contact off of pitches that missed their location by quite a bit. This was after pitching an inning the day before. For the last couple of seasons, Jansen had struggled in back-to-back games and he struggled in game 4. Of course, there were some defensive issues behind him which hurt also.
The next day was game five and the Dodgers went with Blake Treinen to close the game instead of automatically going with Kenley. It showed that lessons were FINALLY being learned and that there are other closer options. The good moves continued in the World Series game 6 as Julio Urias closed out the final game. Julio was cruising and Doc wisely let him finish the game.
2021 Postseason Bullpen Management
The 2021 postseason started with a Wild Card game against the Cardinals, starting Max Scherzer on the mound. Unexpectedly, Scherzer only went 4.1 innings which left at least 4.2 innings for the bullpen to cover. The coaching staff, lead by Dave Roberts, did an amazing job in bringing in the right bullpen pieces at the right time. Of course, the biggest credit goes to the guys actually playing but it is up to the manager to utilize players where they are most likely to be successful. The Dodgers ended up winning and the bullpen was spotless during that game.
Before game five of the NLDS against the Giants, the whole baseball world was shocked by this announcement.
Corey Knebel will start Game 5 tonight.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 14, 2021
It was fully expected that the Dodgers would start 20-game winner Julio Urias and that would be the most non-risky move that could be made. However, the Dodgers’ management team made a choice to try and see if this daring move would work. They had to convince everybody on the team that it was a good call and the team bought in.
Before the game I tweeted out the following:
From a strategic perspective:
1. If Knebel gives up 0 runs – W
2. If the Giants burn at least one bench piece also – WW
3. And if the Dodgers can use a PH in Knebel’s spot before Julio hits – WWW
No matter what, the biggest W is if the offense takes care of business.
— Tim Rogers (8 wins away) ?? (@SDDodger) October 14, 2021
As the game went on it all seemed to be working and the Dodgers ended up beating the Giants 2-1 to advance to the NLCS. After the game, I did a quick analysis of the big and seemingly risky move.
Taking a quick look at the strategy of the opener last night. Pretty much a WWW. No runs, burned LaStella, and used a PH for the pitcher. Every little extra edge mattered last night and management helped. Giants bench state left Flores to hit against Scherzer. Ball game! https://t.co/0m40gBk9EA
— Tim Rogers (8 wins away) ?? (@SDDodger) October 15, 2021
Don't forget to give credit to Dave Roberts and the Front Office for making those bold adjustments and moves last night! pic.twitter.com/ObjlCQtLuF
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) October 15, 2021
Sometimes the best teaching moments are from failure and the management team of the Dodgers has had a few of them. I think that the management team of the Dodgers during the NLDS game five out-managed the Giants. Some of this must be credited to having so much experience with so many post-season situations and learning from them. One of my previous concerns was that it seemed the same basic mistakes were being repeated. Now, it seems that Doc has stepped it up as a manager and is making some really good decisions. As the Dodgers continue their 2021 playoff run, this experience that the management team has gained could be invaluable.
From the playoff issues we’ve seen in the past, to the deft moves we see now, the on-field management team has clearly improved. As stated earlier, the experiences of the past have helped fuel the improvements. There is no doubt that there will be moves we will disagree with (I know I will) but I’m starting to see that the moves are a lot more visibly successful in the post-season. During the regular season, Dave Roberts is working through a long season where a lot of other things other than what is going on in one game of 162 are factored in. In the post-season, the Dodgers are being managed with a sense of urgency that seems to be missing during the regular season and that makes sense.
Let’s hope that the management staff continues to pull the right levers during the trek to the 2021 championship. The Dodgers truly have an advantage over most other remaining teams in the playoffs and it will help.