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Column: Dave Roberts’ managing skills will be put to the test in Dodgers’ must-win Game 6 of World Series

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ strategies have been tested and questioned in the World Series.
(Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

For Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, running a game borders on a religious experience in that it’s an act of faith.

Faith in his players. Faith in the organization’s system.

His convictions have been tested a number of times this year. Roberts stayed the course, as he likes to say, and was rewarded with the organization’s first pennant in 29 years.

The ultimate test is coming up. Tuesday, the Dodgers host the Houston Astros in Game 6 of the World Series. The Dodgers are behind in the best-of-seven series, three games to two, and a loss here will crown their opponent as champion.

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Don’t expect any significant changes in lineup or in-game strategy. Don’t expect him to make a dramatic speech to his players before the game. That’s not what Roberts is about.

“You just can’t really get caught up in just chasing results,” Roberts said. “You have to kind of really believe in the process and I know I do.”

The depths of Roberts’ beliefs were measured over a 17-game stretch that started in late August and extended into mid-September. The Dodgers lost 16 times over that period, including 11 in a row.

Roberts initially pretended as if nothing was wrong, hoping whatever problem plagued the team would simply vanish. There were some team meetings, but he didn’t abandon what made the Dodgers the best team in baseball up to that point.

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The lineup didn’t drastically change. The starting pitchers continued to pitch twice through the order before handing the baseball to the team’s assembly line of relievers, whom Roberts strategically deployed according to where the opponents were in their lineup. How the bullpen would be used was something Roberts reviewed before the game with members of the team’s front office.

The consistency in approach was appreciated by the players.

“It comes down to the trust that Dave and the front office has in the guys in the clubhouse,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “And just because a guy has a bad game or two doesn’t mean you tear up the blueprint and start from scratch.”

The Dodgers emerged from their slump, won eight of their last 10 regular-season games and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in their National League division series. Their run continued through the NL Championship Series, which the Dodgers won over the Chicago Cubs, four games to one.

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Defeats to the Astros have again raised questions about the Dodgers’ methodology and Roberts has again stuck with what got his team here.

Take the example of Cody Bellinger. The rookie first baseman was 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts in the first three games of the World Series, prompting calls for him to be benched.

Roberts never wavered in his support of Bellinger. Not only did the manager not bench Bellinger, but he also continued to bat him cleanup.

Bellinger broke out in a Game 4 victory, doubling in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning. He tripled, homered and drove in four runs in a Game 5 defeat.

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“You look at the swings he’s taken over the last two games that have had an impact on our lineup, and that’s why you stay with it, and that’s why you trust the process, and that’s why you just keep moving forward and you keep getting to the next pitch or the next at-bat,” Turner said.

Roberts also has remained loyal to the organization’s philosophy on how to run a pitching staff. Instead of counting on relievers to extinguish fires, he calls on them to prevent fires from even starting. This translates to fewer innings by starting pitchers, who, with the exception of Clayton Kershaw, are typically allowed to pitch to the opposing lineup only twice.

“To try to be proactive and get ahead of something that potentially might happen and to go a direction that might increase your chances marginally,” Roberts explained.

The line of thinking came under fire in Game 2 when Roberts removed starter Rich Hill after only four innings. Hill allowed only one run and the Dodgers almost ran out of pitcher in the 11-inning defeat. The winning runs were given up by Brandon McCarthy, who wasn’t part of the team’s NLDS or NLCS rosters.

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“I would do it again,” Roberts said.

Over the remainder of this World Series, the challenge for Roberts will be to balance his philosophical beliefs and the physical realities that have taken hold of his team. His bullpen is exhausted, which showed as Kenley Jansen, Kenta Maeda and Brandon Morrow combusted spectacularly in a 10-inning, 13-12 loss in Game 5. Roberts acknowledged that would make him more inclined to give Hill a longer leash in Game 6.

Roberts referenced Alex Wood’s start in a Game 4 victory, which lasted 5 2/3 innings. The only hit Wood allowed was to the last batter he faced, a home run by George Springer in the sixth inning.

“That’s kind of the same blueprint, where you obviously have to watch the game and see how he’s throwing the ball,” Roberts said.

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In other words, he’ll manage similar to how he’s managed most other games.

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The Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series
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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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