Whether the Dodgers can make it back to the World Series for a second straight season, and whether they can flip last year's script and win it, will depend heavily on Manny Machado.
For Machado personally, this postseason could also have longer-term implications -- it's one last big showcase before the superstar shortstop hits free agency this winter, with the chance to command a massive deal as one of the two marquee names on the market, along with Bryce Harper.
Through three games of the National League Championship Series, Machado has played like a star. After a brief slow-ish start to the playoffs (which still included the decisive two-run homer in the Dodgers' Game 2 Division Series win over the Braves), Machado has posted three multihit efforts and a pair of home runs in his past four games. In the NLCS, Machado is 5-for-11 with a homer and a double.
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But his effort came into question after he didn't hustle on a groundout to shortstop in the fourth inning of Game 2. And in an interview with Ken Rosenthal for FS1, which will air prior to Game 4 tonight, Machado acknowledged that he had no excuse for not running hard, but also said that he isn't going to change the way he plays the game.
"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen," Machado said in the interview, which was published in The Athletic. "That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am.
"Should I have run on that pitch? Yeah … but I didn't and I gotta pay the consequences for it. It does look bad. It looks terrible. I look back at the video and I'm like, 'Whoa, what was I doing?'"
Before Game 4, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was jokingly asked about Machado's comments, particularly the last one.
"My cup of tea? A win tonight would be my cup of tea," Roberts said.
Machado said that it's not because he's hurt, he just hasn't always run hard on those plays.
"I've been thinking about it, and it happens every time. There's no excuse for it, honestly," Machado told Rosenthal. "I've never given excuses for not running. I'm not hurt, there's no excuse. But I've been the same player … I've been doing this for [seven] years, I'm in The Show for [seven] years, I've done the same thing for [seven] years, I've been the same player."
Roberts said that for all Machado does well offensively and defensively -- and at times exceptionally -- sometimes you just pick your battles.
"There's no perfect player," Roberts said. "A guy that posts every inning is hard to come by these days. For me, the net, it's not even close."
Machado said that he takes the blame for the lack of effort, but that he hasn't been able to change since he got to the Majors -- although he said one day he might "figure it out."
"Before I even step out of the box, I look to the shortstop, he has the ball in his hands and I'm like, 'I'm out.' … I mean, what am I going to do?" Machado said.
"Should I have given it a little more effort? One hundred percent. [It's] my fault like always, I mean that's just my mentality when I'm in the game. [There are] things that you learn, things that you gotta change. I've tried changing it for eight years, and I still can't figure it out but, one of these days I will."
Machado not running out every ground ball won't stop him from getting a blockbuster deal in free agency, and it may not cost the Dodgers significantly on the field, either. But it's drawn visibility on the postseason stage, as have a couple of questionable takeout slides into second base, including one that resulted in a double play in Game 3 due to a violation of MLB's slide rules.