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Column: Dave Roberts still backs his World Series guarantee despite Dodgers pitching issues

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts during a baseball game.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is shown during a game against the Giants in San Francisco on Sept. 17.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Dave Roberts had enough.

“This will be the last I’ll talk about this …” he said.

And who could blame him, Roberts talking about his October pitching plans sort of like the captain of the Titanic discussing the final stretch of the ocean liner’s voyage.

The Dodgers won their 106th game Sunday to equal a franchise record and secure home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series, but there are treacherous waters ahead.

They won’t have Walker Buehler and probably won’t have Blake Treinen.

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They won’t have a closer, as Craig Kimbrel was demoted to mop-up duty earlier in the weekend.

In a season full of noteworthy accomplishments, the Dodgers become the first team in MLB history to win 106 games in three consecutive full-length seasons.

They also might not have Dustin May, who was placed on the injured list the previous night with an unspecified back problem, or Tony Gonsolin, who won’t be able to take on a starter’s workload even if he returns.

The Dodgers could still win a World Series but suddenly look just as capable of a three-and-out postseason. Consider their recent history of thriving in the regular season and bombing in the playoffs, and it’s entirely reasonable to expect the worst.

Roberts put on a brave face before his team’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, but the optimism he tried to convey in words was betrayed by the tenor of his voice and absence of his trademark smile.

When the seventh-year manager guaranteed a World Series victory on a national radio program in spring training, he made the promise conditional on the health of his pitchers.

Asked if his pitching staff had been depleted to where his guarantee was now voided, Roberts replied, “I’m not voiding it. I still believe that regardless of what’s transpired this year with our pitching, we have enough talent to prevent runs.”

He added, “Thank you for asking.”

The last time I heard a manager or coach say something like that, Clay Helton was responding to a reporter who asked him why USC should continue to employ him as its football coach.

Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday. Urias has made 29 starts for the Dodgers this season.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

So, yeah, that’s how well things are around here.

The Dodgers have dependable 1-2 starters in Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw, but plenty of questions after that.

Roberts answered one of them, revealing that Tyler Anderson will be part of the postseason rotation.

“He deserves it,” Roberts said.

The claim is more than supported by Anderson’s numbers — a 15-4 record and 2.52 earned-run average.

But starting Anderson in a National League Division Series game isn’t what the Dodgers wanted. Anderson was behind the erratic May in the front office’s pecking order, which explains why Roberts waited until May was injured to say anything about Anderson starting when the games really counted.

A day after Craig Kimbrel lost his job as the Dodgers’ closer, the team put Dustin May on the injured list because of a strained muscle in his lower back.

Roberts said he didn’t envision Urias or Kershaw pitching on three days’ rest in the postseason, meaning that if the NLDS extends beyond three games, the Dodgers are likely to turn to an assembly line of pitchers to register 27 outs required to win Game 4. May could be part of such a game, as could Gonsolin and Andrew Heaney.

But May isn’t playing catch and Roberts said he didn’t know when he would return. May declined to comment.

As for Gonsolin, considering where he is in his recovery, Roberts said the best-case scenario would be for him to be able to pitch four innings in a game.

The Dodgers will also have to find someone to pitch the ninth inning. They have four dependable high-leverage relievers but none of them have extensive experience as a closer: Evan Phillips (three career saves), Tommy Kahnle (four), Alex Vesia (two) and Chris Martin (nine).

A look at the potential closer candidates for the Dodgers as the playoffs approach after the demotion of former All-Star reliever Craig Kimbrel.

Roberts discounted the possibility of Urias or Kershaw pitching in relief instead of throwing a between-starts bullpen session.

“This will be the last I’ll talk about this, but if you get to Game 5 [of the NLDS], that’s where all hands on deck, but before that, you still have many, many viable options before that point,” he said.

Roberts sounded annoyed. He sounded as if he recognized the problems. He sounded as if he knew that after a grueling six-month schedule, the real season was about to start.


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