Column: At two critical moments, analytics failed the Dodgers. Now they face an 0-2 World Series deficit
Los Angeles Times sportswriter Andy McCullough talks with sports columnists Dylan Hernandez and Bill Plaschke as they break down the Dodgers’ World Series Game 2 loss.
Let’s preface this with a reminder that Dave Roberts’ decision-making process remains a mystery.
What’s known is that Roberts receives input from Andrew Friedman’s analytically inclined front office before games on the situations he might encounter and how he should respond. Less certain is the degree to which Roberts is expected to follow the blueprint.
Roberts says he has autonomy, but transparency is not a trademark of the Dodgers’ organization.
The point is that Roberts might not be entirely responsible for the choices he has made in this World Series, which the Dodgers trail two games to none. Maybe Friedman, general manager Farhan Zaidi and the army of number crunchers employed by the Dodgers are equally at fault.
Except the details have become insignificant. Regardless of how the decisions are being made, they’re not working.
The single-most important at-bat of the 4-2 defeat to the Boston Red Sox in Game 2 on Wednesday night was in the fifth inning, when starter Hyun-Jin Ryu departed with two outs and the bases loaded. The Dodgers had a 2-1 advantage at the time.
With Steve Pearce batting for the Red Sox, Roberts called on Ryan Madson, the team’s designated fireman.
“That was the difference in the game right there,” Roberts said.
Of the previous six runners Madson inherited, four of them scored, including the two who were on base when he replaced Clayton Kershaw in the Dodgers’ Game 1 loss. The 38-year-old right-hander also had shouldered a considerable workload this month, appearing in eight of the team’s previous 12 games this postseason.
And in Pedro Baez, the Dodgers had another hard-throwing right-hander, albeit one who wasn’t as tested with men on base. Baez has become the team’s best reliever, giving up only one earned run in 71/3 innings this postseason. He registered a 0.47 earned-run average over his last 18 regular-season appearances.
“Madson has been our guy for quite some time and he’s pitched out of big spots there,” Roberts said. “The usage right there, I’m not worried about that. He’s fresh. And I just really liked him against Pearce.”
Only Madson walked Pearce on five pitches to force in the run that leveled the score 2-2.
“The ball’s not going where I wanted,” Madson said. “Last night, the ball was pulling down and to the left. And tonight it was high and to the right. Just trying to put it in there, throw it for a strike and let him beat me that way.”
Red Sox’s Mookie Betts scores a run in the fifth inning of game two of the World Series against the Dodgers at Fenway Park.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
Dodgers players at the end of game two of the World Series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger strikes out in the eighth inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal chases after a wild pitch thrown by Scott Alexander in the seventh inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts takes out relief pitcher Kenta Maeda in the seventh inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez hits a single in the sixth inning to score a run.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi scores a run in the fifth inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger makes a leaping catch as teammates Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor get out of the way.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Red Sox’s Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi celebrate after both scored on a J.D. Martinez single in the fifth inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Red Sox Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts celebrate after Benintendi scored on a J.D. Martinez single in the fifth inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodger relief pitcher Ryan Madsen is disgusted after walking Red Sox Steve Pearce with the bases loaded.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu waits to be taken out after walking Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodger pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu steps on base ahead of Red Sox’s Ian Kinsler for an out.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Red Sox pitcher David Price reacts after allowing an RBI single to Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Red Sox Andrew Benintendi makes a leaping catch hit by Dodgers’ Brian Dozier.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig celebrates after hitting a single to score a run.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
As Red Sox pitcher David Price looks on, Dodgers Manny Machado scores on a single by Yasiel Puig.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Red Sox pitcher David Price grimaces as a run is scored on a Matt Kemp sacrifice fly to tie the game in the fourth inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
Dodgers’ Manny Machado gets the ball ahead of Red Sox Ian Kinsler to tag him out at third base.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
Dodgers’ Manny Machado tags out Red Sox Ian Kinsler at third base in the second inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu throws to first as Red Sox’s Mookiie Betts dives back.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers’ David Freese tries to catch a foul ball in the second inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles TImes)
Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts scores on a single by Ian Kinsler in the first inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers first baseman David Freese tags out Red Sox Mookie Betts in the first inning.(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers’ Manny Machado pops up in the first inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu throws in the first inning.(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Red Sox pitcher David Price throws in the first inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts hugs Kevin Millar in pregame ceremonies honoring the 2004 Red Sox championship.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers’ Matt Kemp is bundled up as he works out.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu shares the field with a band as he warms up.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Madson gave up a flare single to J.D. Martinez that dropped easily in shallow right field because Yasiel Puig was positioned deep. Two more runs scored and the Dodgers were suddenly down 4-2.
Roberts said he didn’t consider warming up another right-hander behind Madson in case he didn’t like what he saw in Pearce’s at-bat. The manager pointed to the veteran’s track record, which included two World Series appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies and one with the Kansas City Royals.
“If I had any thought to have Baez or somebody behind him, then he was the wrong guy,” Roberts said.
The decision to stick with Madson followed another pitching change gone wrong in Game 1, when Roberts replaced Baez with left-hander Alex Wood in the seventh inning and the Dodgers behind by a run. Baez has proved equally adept at retiring left-handers and right-handers. Wood has not pitched well since moving from the rotation to the bullpen in the middle of last month.
The pitching change prompted an offensive substitution by Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who batted Eduardo Nunez in place of left-handed-hitting Rafael Devers. With two on and two outs, Nunez blasted a home run to left field, extending the Red Sox’s lead to 8-4.
All that said, it’s only fair to point out the Dodgers didn’t drop the first two games of the Series because of Roberts.
The Dodgers were limited to three hits in Game 2. They didn’t have any after scoring their runs in the fourth inning.
In Game 1, they were behind 5-3 when they had the bases loaded with only one out in the seventh inning. They managed to score only one run and the Red Sox blew open the game in the bottom half of the inning.
But it’s precisely because the Dodgers aren’t hitting that Roberts has no margin for error. When a team barely scores, the manager can’t afford a misstep. So far in this World Series, he has made two significant ones.
Los Angeles Dodgers utility player Cody Bellinger discusses what the Dodgers need to do now that they head to Los Angeles down two games in the World Series.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez
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