Sarah's Take: After heartbreak, Dodgers look for answers
A seventh-inning, three-run homer by the Cardinals' Matt Adams in Game 4 of the National League Division Series broke the hearts of Dodgers fans on Tuesday. Although Clayton Kershaw allowed the home run, he answered all of the questions about whether he could rebound from adversity. The reluctance to go to the bullpen and the inability of the offense to hit with runners in scoring position caused this disappointing series loss.
On short rest, Kershaw did everything that the Dodgers could have hoped for. He has never performed his best against the Cardinals.
After having one of the best seasons of in Major League history, Kershaw had to face his nemesis in the NLDS. He was the only starter to appear twice in the series. Both times he pitched brilliantly for the first six innings, and then he ran into trouble in the seventh inning. On Tuesday, he should have been removed after two hits to open the inning, but at no time during the series did manager Don Mattingly trust his bullpen. Kershaw faced Adams and couldn't keep the ball inside Busch Stadium, essentially ending the Dodgers' season.
For the first six innings, Kershaw was awesome. He used his offspeed pitches effectively to keep the hot-hitting Cardinals off balance. For the first time during the series, the Dodgers kept Matt Carpenter quiet. But Kershaw suddenly ran out of gas in the seventh and was charged with the loss.
For the first time during the series, even though Mattingly didn't use an established reliever to pick up for a weary Kershaw, the Dodgers' bullpen was flawless. If Pedro Baez had come on at the start of the seventh inning, the Dodgers might have been playing Thursday in front of a sea of blue and a friendly sellout crowd in Los Angeles. Baseball always has been full of might-haves, should-haves, and ought-haves. This will drive the Dodgers crazy during the offseason if they think about what happened during the NLDS.
Since the first game of the series when Adam Wainwright hit Yasiel Puig in the arm, Puig slumped. Striking out eight times during the NLDS frustrated Mattingly, so he sat down Puig in Game 4 despite him having a .250 batting average during the series. Sitting Puig didn't help the offensive production. Many other Dodgers didn't hit well during the NLDS.
With Puig on the bench, the seldom-used Andre Ethier played. His defense didn't hurt the Dodgers, but he made a baserunning blunder that killed a rally after the Dodgers had already scored twice. They never again came close to getting another run.
For the second consecutive season, the Cardinals ruined the postseason for the Dodgers. They have a knack of exposing the Dodgers' weaknesses. This time they scored 15 out of their 18 runs in the series in either the seventh or eighth innings.
During the offseason, general manager Ned Colletti needs to evaluate everything to figure out what the Dodgers need to go to the World Series. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is a free agent, so the Dodgers need to figure out whether they want the injury-prone shortstop. He might have been a top offensive producer, but often he is a defensive liability.
Replacing Ramirez's offensive production would be difficult, but either Miguel Rojas or Erisbel Arruebarrena could play shortstop and save many runs from scoring. Playing great defense is more important than having an excellent offense. Both Rojas and Arruebarrena are much less expensive than Ramirez.
The Dodgers must acquire two quality starters, and this will be difficult. Even though Dan Haren will return to Los Angeles in 2015, he has demonstrated that his age is catching up with him, so he might be better in the bullpen. To go with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers need a sinkerball pitcher and a finesse pitcher. Although the Dodgers might have starters in the Minor Leagues who can do the job, they didn't bring them up in September even when they needed a starter badly.
Everyone who has followed the Dodgers knows that they need to rebuild their bullpen. They need a combination of right-handed and left-handed relievers with different pitching styles. One of the problems with the pitching staff has been that most of the pitchers have the same repertoire.
The Dodgers also need a better bench. Other than Justin Turner and Ethier, they didn't have a reliable pinch-hitter. Yes, Scott Van Slyke usually delivered in a starting role. The Dodgers should keep Ethier.
It will be interesting to see what the Dodgers will do to improve themselves during the offseason.