Monday, October 26, 2020

Post-World Series Game 5 Thread: Bent, But Not Broken

The baseball gods have frowned upon the Dodgers for a long time. Kershaw knows it.


This one, just like last night's Game 4 debacle, could have gone either way.

There were plenty of situations in this game where the momentum narratives could have crystallized. The Dodgers, after an inexplicable failure in Game 4, could come out flat. Clayton Kershaw would buckle in his second series start. Doc Roberts would make more foolish pitching change decisions. Dustin May isn't up to the big stage. Chris Taylor can't repair the hole in his glove's webbing (actually, this narrative unfortunately continued in Game 5, as he failed to catch an Austin Barnes throw to second, allowing an extra base). If Kenley Jansen can't close, no one else can, either.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, all (but one) of those narratives were rendered obsolete. But it wasn't easy, it was a gutty tightrope performance in which the final run scored in the top of the fifth (Max Muncy's moon shot), and it was edge-of-your-seat baseball from there on. Before moving on, here's Muncy's home run, another Muncy home run for the ages:

Just like this Muncy World Series home run highlight:

Or this Muncy home run highlight:

Okay I gotta calm down here. Kershaw was great--not as good as some of his other 2020 playoff starts, but 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB and 6 Ks was good enough for the Dodgers and also good enough to take first place in all-time postseason strikeouts, an impressive feat. Kershaw's 2.93 ERA over 30.2 IP in the 2020 postseason amassed 37 Ks--a heck of an improvement over the 4.42 ERA prior to this WS that harbors all the biases of leaving him in too long and making Kershaw do spot starts on short rest. Kershaw has the most postseason innings pitched of anyone who has not won a World Series. And in the 2020 World Series, Kershaw certainly did his part.

As did Dave Roberts, whose hook on Kershaw after two quick one-pitch outs in the sixth led many Dodger fans to go nuts. But it was the right decision, not only to go to Dustin May and restore the poor kid's confidence (May turned in a great performance, starting with a 101-mph strikeout of Tampa Bay cleanup hitter Manuel Margot, and continuing on into a scoreless seventh inning).

I was struggling with the decision to pull Kershaw then, but knew it was the right one, even at the time, with all the emotion flowing. I couldn't bear to see Kershaw make one bad pitch and lose a chance at the win. The sixth inning is widely known as Kershaw's postseason bugaboo; he has a 3.53 ERA in the first five innings, but a 7.09 ERA after that. Kershaw struggled through the third and fourth innings, until Margot made an ill-fated decision to try and steal home, and Kershaw threw to Barnes, who nabbed his ass at the plate for the third out..

Us Sons thought that Margot's brash move pissed Kershaw off, so much so that he came back in the fifth for a clean 1-2-3 inning (2 Ks), and then the two-pitch, two-out start to the sixth inning. But watching Kershaw earlier, he was really on fumes before the Margot CS. It was going to be a matter of time before the adrenaline wore off and he was just a bit more mortal again.

The Dodgers bullpen led by May, a fine clutch performance by Victor Gonzalez, and a strong ninth by Blake I'm-Not-Jansen Treinen, secured the victory for the Dodgers, as the Rays didn't score again after the third and didn't really have a threat after Margot's inning-ending CS. But the two-run lead was so precarious, you felt the pressure whenever the Rays got one on. Not to mention, the Rays bullpen did quick work on our offense and held us scoreless after Glasnow's departure: Will Smith and Chris Taylor again disappointed, this time with 0-for-4 performances each; Justin Turner had more defensive gems in Game 5, but also went 0-for-4 from the plate.

So the Dodgers take the 3-2 series lead by getting back to business, yet it still feels out of reach. Tony Gonsolin has had a poor World Series outing on top of a bad NLCS Game 7 experience. Sure, he could turn it around after Roberts' sit-down discussion with him and May (which apparently happened before Game 5). Or, strange things like Game 4 can happen, and we choke our way into a Game 7.

We haven't fared well in bullpen games. And we still aren't getting to Tampa Bay's bullpen, either. So let's see.