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Dodgers must figure out why regular season was so right and World Series went so wrong

Dodgers must figure out why regular season was so right and World Series went so wrong
David Freese, a veteran who the Dodgers added to their roster late in the season, celebrates in the dugout after hitting a home run to lead off the first inning. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Andrew Friedman stood in a hallway outside the Dodgers’ clubhouse late Sunday night, spinning a baseball in his hand. It had been more than an hour since the Dodgers’ season ended, and he had made his way through the clubhouse, shaking hands and extending hugs. The clubhouse door was locked, the players had left for the winter, and the pride in guiding the Dodgers to their first back-to-back World Series appearances in 40 years had been eclipsed by the pain in losing both of them.

The Dodgers never have played in the World Series in three consecutive years — not in Los Angeles, not Brooklyn, not ever. For the fans, wait ’til next year. For Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, next year started Sunday.

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The hallway was quiet. The wounds of the game, and the series, still were fresh. The autopsy of October has yet to start.

The Dodgers need to consider whether the plans they employ with such great success in the regular season might not work so well in the World Series. For now, all Friedman wanted to say for sure was that his team picked a bad time to have a bad week.

The Boston Red Sox beat the Dodgers in five games. The Red Sox finished the season with 119 victories, including the postseason. The Dodgers won 100.

“They’re obviously a great team,” Friedman said. “We felt we were a great team as well.”

But, as he continued to spin the baseball, he did offer one observation.

“Our approach was off from last year,” Friedman said. “There was much more of a relentless approach last year that we did not have this year. I think it made it much more difficult. We had very little margin for error.”

The Red Sox pitching staff starts with David Price and Chris Sale, who have combined for one Cy Young Award and 12 All-Star appearances. But the pitching staff of the Houston Astros last year started with Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, who have combined for two Cy Youngs and nine All-Star appearances.

When each team played the Dodgers in the World Series, each liberally deployed starters in the bullpen. The Astros arguably had a deeper staff.

So what exactly did Friedman mean by “more of a relentless approach” last fall?

“The quality of at-bat we had last October felt like a much higher quality than this October,” he said. “You’re always facing great pitching in October.”

The Dodgers hit 10 home runs in the World Series last October, six this October. The strikeout percentage was about the same.

But the overreliance on home runs this year was reflected this way: the Dodgers had 22 extra-base hits in 229 at-bats in last year’s World Series, 10 extra-base hits in 189 at-bats this year. The Dodgers batted .180 this year, with an on-base average of .249.

The Dodgers will start to explore why, and one question they ought to ask is whether the high volume of platoon changes combined with all the extra off days in October makes it more difficult for hitters to maintain their timing.

In hindsight, Friedman said, the Dodgers did not regret not adding another reliever at the trade deadlines.

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“Our relievers were why we won the division series and the championship series,” he said. “We struggled in the World Series. But, getting back to our offense, we had zero margin for error. That magnified it, as opposed to being able to tack on runs.

“We were both great teams. We each won our respective leagues. They had a better five games than we did. I think, from our standpoint, we made adjustments during the year and acquired key players that really helped us as well.”

The winter work starts Monday. The Dodgers have 72 hours to work out a new contract with Clayton Kershaw, or he can opt out and negotiate with all 30 teams, including the Dodgers.

“I think we’ll have some conversations, for sure,” Kershaw said.

“He says he wants to be a Dodger. We want him to be a Dodger,” Friedman said. “That’s all I really know at this point.”

Friedman also said the Dodgers intend to complete a long-term contract extension for manager Dave Roberts.

In the end, the World Series could have turned on two factors: first,the Red Sox owners agreed to pay the luxury tax this season, and the Dodgers owners did not; and, the Red Sox agreed to trade the best prospect in the minor leagues.

Alex Verdugo is a pretty good prospect. The Dodgers have held on to him for two years now, when they could have traded him to help the major league team. It is not at all clear that Verdugo has a place on next year’s team, particularly if Cody Bellinger remains in the outfield and Max Muncy plays first base.

The Dodgers have held tight to their elite prospects, and they have proudly deployed them: Corey Seager and Bellinger, consecutive National League rookies of the year; and Walker Buehler.

The Red Sox traded infielder Yoan Moncada, then the best prospect in baseball, in a package for Sale. The guy who threw the final pitch of the World Series, the one that sent the Dodgers home without a parade yet again, was Sale.

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