Sometime between tonight and when children demand candy to avoid destruction of your property, baseball’s 2018 season will come to an end. As with any World Series, there is much to discuss and this year perhaps more than usual. It has been “one for the ages,” from game 3’s 18 inning, 7 hour and 20 minute odyssey to starters relieving and relievers blowing up at the darndest times. (Cue Bill Cosby, who ought to scare children by now, or at least their moms.)
Game 4 alone was ripe for analysis as the Dodgers suddenly broke open a scoreless game with 4 in the 6th only to watch the Red Sox score 9 unanswered runs in the tops of innings 7, 8, and 9. It might not have been the best showcase of Alex Cora’s and Dave Roberts’ tactical skills — both normally among the better tacticians in the game.
For Cora, you had to wonder about the wisdom of letting Eduardo Rodriguez face Yasiel Puig 90+ pitches into a start that followed a relief appearance (albeit one batter) the day before. Rodriguez began the 6th inning by hitting David Freese with a pitch and then struggled to a bases loaded jam that brought his pitch count upwards of 90.
If Cora was motivated by Puig’s “reverse splits,” a fresh lefty arm, such as David Price (who warmed up twice) was a better option, as were the likes of righties Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and Joe Kelly. It blew up big time when Puig launched a 3-run HR but all’s well that ends well and the scrutiny on that choice may be lessened by the fact that the Red Sox came back to win.
For Roberts it’s a different story. There must have been an outbreak of lice for all the heads that were being scratched the last 3 innings. It begins with removing Rich Hill — who, granted, is rarely allowed to throw more than the 91 pitches he tossed last night and who is often yanked after just a couple trips through the order — who was spinning a one-hit shutout for a team whose closer (Kenley Jansen) and set up man (Ryan Madson) have been shaky. Just as this was a time to pull Rodriguez as his pitch count crept into the 90s, this was a time to leave Hill alone at the same juncture.
Then came a series of puzzlers, with Alex Wood up but ignored as two LH pinch hitters were used back to back, first Rafael Devers and then Mitch Moreland. For the 8th, Jansen was summoned either to try again for a 6-out save or to navigate the heart of the order before turning it over to...um...Dylan Floro? That blew up when Jansen served up a game-tying HR in the 8th for the second consecutive night.
Tied going to the 9th with Jansen already in the game, the Dodgers’ closer was removed for what amounted to the biggest inning of the season given LA’s dire situation if they lost. That inning went to Floro, which is kind of like starting the wild card game with Liam Hendriks. Good arm, but is this who you want to turn to at this moment? In both cases the answer was a resounding “No,” because they are, well, Liam Hendriks and Dylan Floro.
It is worth noting that players tend to make managers look good or bad. Cora looks a lot better if Rodriguez doesn’t lop in a cutter down the middle in a 3-1 count (you can still argue that this relates to fatigue and is precisely why you need to pull him, but you would hope for a less awful pitch regardless). Madson was arguably the right call over Wood, regardless of Moreland being a LH batter and just made a bad pitch. Jansen is an excellent pitcher who could have thrown a scoreless inning or two, but didn’t.
Still plenty to parse and question, a reminder that however much you pull your hair over your manager’s decisions, other fans are pulling just as hard on their hair too. This scratching and pulling hair analysis has been brought to you to by Head & Shoulders shampoo.
My final World Series thought centers around tonight’s Dodgers SP, Clayton Kershaw. It has been mentioned often that Kershaw may opt out of his contract after this season, but few have suggested that this would be loco on his part — or at least on the part of any team that signs him to a bigger contract than he has now.
Without question Kershaw is one of the best pitchers of this generation, but his future team is not going to get credit for what he has accomplished so far in his career. Kershaw has been a truly elite pitcher with a 94 MPH fastball and sub 2.00 ERA. But now? Kershaw has already fallen to a pitcher whose ERA is up a full 1.00 and whose fastball has lost 3 MPH of velocity. He has made multiple trips to the DL for back problems and will be 31 when he throws his first pitch of the 2019 season.
That all is a recipe for disaster for a team that decides to do better than the gaudy $65M over 2 seasons that the Dodgers owe Kershaw if he stays. There are 30 teams that would love to have Kershaw in their rotation. But commit to over $35M a year, or upwards of $75-$100M total, to give Kershaw a better deal than he has now? To me that would be insane when you’re talking about a pitcher who has, in the past 3-4 seasons, seen his fastball velocity drop from 94.3 MPH to 91.4 MPH, seen his ERA rise from 1.77 to 2.73, battled back injuries and come out of it only a “very good pitcher,” no longer an elite one.
Perhaps there is a team out there prepared to offer Kershaw $40M/year or a 5 year, $120M deal. As great as the idea of having “the legendary Clayton Kershaw” sounds, though, that team has a great chance of deeply regretting such a commitment. If I were Kershaw I wouldn’t be too quick to opt out of guaranteed seasons of $32M and $33M, as teams may not be prepared to make such an absurd offer again.
Enjoy baseball while you still can!