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Despite their money and analytics, Dodgers keep disappointing in playoffs

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts returns to the dugout as Clayton Kershaw sits on the bench moments after being pulled.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts returns to the dugout as Clayton Kershaw sits on the bench moments after being pulled in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Billy Beane might be done with baseball.

He is the most celebrated man in a front office since Branch Rickey. Michael Lewis wrote a bestselling book about Beane. Brad Pitt played Beane in the movie.

The title of both — “Moneyball” — transcended sports to become a buzzword in popular culture.

It was Beane who famously called the playoffs a crapshoot. The Dodgers are one loss from muttering that same noun, again.

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Beane was the face for a new generation of executives who outsmarted their predecessors.

In an era when payroll had been ordained as destiny, Beane upended destiny with analytics.

He has run the Oakland Athletics every year this century, assembling a playoff team more often than not. However, in 11 trips to the postseason, Beane’s A’s never won the World Series. They never even got there.

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He might leave, without a ring, as the Wall Street Journal reported he has joined an investment group trying to buy into the company that owns the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool of the English Premier League.

The Dodgers have all the advantages Beane does not.

The Dodgers boast first-rate analytics, but they also have twice the payroll, a lavish commitment to scouting and player development, and a beautiful stadium upgraded with every amenity a player could desire.

They have won the National League West in every year under current ownership, eight straight. They have not won the World Series since 1988. This was supposed to be the year.

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“Top to bottom, it’s the best team we’ve had,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the playoffs started.

The Dodgers posted the best record in the major leagues this season, and the best winning percentage in the history of their 137-year-old franchise.

They had finally made the “all-in” move for which fans had clamored, trading for outfielder Mookie Betts and then committing almost $400 million to him.

The Dodgers did not need Betts to win the division. They needed him to win the World Series.

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They might not even get there. The Atlanta Braves thumped the Dodgers on Thursday, 10-2, taking a three games to one lead in the National League Championship Series.

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts expresses frustration after lining out to right field.
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts expresses frustration after lining out to right field in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood once played for Atlanta, where fans are painfully aware that the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles but only one World Series championship.

Now he plays for the Dodgers, whose fans are even more painfully aware that their team could win eight consecutive division titles but no World Series championship.

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“I don’t know if I would describe it as a crapshoot,” Wood said. “I think that getting hot at the right time [helps].

“I think there’s things you can do to set yourself up for success, but definitely, there’s a lot of chance in the postseason, for sure. We’ve seen it. And I think people forget: winning a World Series is really, really hard. It’s not easy to do. To be in the conversation every season is a privilege, and now I’m hoping we get over that hump and can bring a title back to L.A.”

In the American League Championship Series, the Houston Astros have won two elimination games.

If the Dodgers can do the same, they can force a Game 7 against the Braves. They could.

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The Braves are running a bullpen game on Friday, and the Dodgers would be happy to take their chances with Walker Buehler and Tony Gonsolin lined up for Games 6 and 7.

Photos from Game 4 of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

In “Moneyball,” Lewis is a narrator sympathetic to Beane.

In juxtaposing the skill needed to build a winner for the regular season with the luck inherent in a short series, Lewis wrote: “The baseball season is structured to mock reason.” Lewis also quoted Beane, who made the same point memorably and succinctly: “My [crap] doesn’t work in the playoffs.”

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At the end of the book, Lewis all but put his arm around Beane’s shoulder.

“No one cared if you found radically better ways to run a big league baseball team,” Lewis wrote. “All anyone cared about was how you fared in the postseason crapshoot.”

Well, yeah.

The Tampa Bay Rays have found radically better ways to run their team. They are also one victory from the World Series, and the Dodgers are one defeat from a long winter.

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Shaikin reported from Los Angeles.


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