Betts and Freeman are the two best players on the Dodgers. They’re two of the faces of Major League Baseball. When National League Most Valuable Player voting becomes public next month, both former MVPs should finish in the top four.
But as the Dodgers’ 100-win season ended with a shocking sweep against the D-backs in the National League Division Series, it was Betts and Freeman going a combined 1-for-21 that helped doom Los Angeles to a third NLDS exit in five seasons.
“Obviously super frustrating,” Betts said. “There’s no real known cause for it. They played better. We didn’t do much. I can’t speak for all of us, but I know for sure I did absolutely nothing to help us win. There’s no words for it.”
In Game 2, Betts and Freeman had an opportunity to get the Dodgers back in the game. The Dodgers had two on with one out in the fifth inning. Betts, however, swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded into a fielder’s choice. Freeman then followed by taking a 3-2 curveball from Zac Gallen that stranded a pair of runners, a sequence exemplary of a tough loss that sent the Dodgers into an insurmountable 0-2 series hole.
Coming into Wednesday’s 4-2 loss in Game 3 at a rowdy Chase Field, the key to success was simple. If Betts and Freeman returned to their MVP form, the Dodgers were likely going to force a Game 4 on Thursday.
That opportunity presented itself once again. With the Dodgers trailing 4-2 in the eighth, Kolten Wong drew a leadoff walk, bringing up Betts as the potential tying run, with Freeman waiting in the wings behind him. Both stars were one swing away from erasing their early-series struggles.
Betts, however, struck out on a Kevin Ginkel slider that was off the plate. The 2018 AL MVP expanded his approach, reaching out of the strike zone all series long. It’s the first time Betts was held hitless in a postseason in his career.
“I didn’t do very much toward the end of the season, but I mean it doesn’t matter if it’s frustrating or not, man. You gotta get the job done,” Betts said. “What was going on, at the end of the day ... when this postseason starts, you gotta get the job done.”
Freeman followed Betts and suffered the same fate, striking out against Ginkel for the second out of the inning.
“It’s hard to find words right now,” Freeman said. “Me and a lot of us didn’t play the way we wanted to. They just came out swinging in all three games and beat us. … I had pitches to hit all night and kept rolling them over, just like I’ve been doing for five weeks.”
Baseball can be a cruel game. Without Betts and Freeman atop the Dodgers’ lineup, there’s no way the club wins 100 games for a third consecutive season. But with a quiet October, the Dodgers were left searching for answers as to why their two biggest stars struggled when it mattered most.
“You know what,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts after taking a deep breath. “I know that those guys are prepared. Those are our guys, two great players. It’s one of the things that baseball ... I don’t have an answer. I really don’t.”
Betts and Freeman were hardly the only ones that struggled against the D-backs. The starting rotation didn’t give the club much of a chance, putting them in deep holes in all three games. J.D. Martinez and Max Muncy, who also drove in more than 100 runs this season, also had their struggles.
But all season long, the Dodgers were banking on Betts and Freeman to get hot at the right time. Regardless of the pitching plans and the platoon advantages, they knew their best path to a World Series was for their two superstars to play as such. It just never came together.
“We didn’t do it for three days,” Freeman said. “Not good by us.”