The Dodgers won the World Series last year, followed up with a 106-win regular-season performance this year and, thanks to a 2-1 win on Thursday, reached the National League for the second year in a row.
Despite all that, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was widely questioned over a decision he and team executives made before Thursday’s decisive NLDS Game 5 against the Giants.
Roberts told reporters that reliever Corey Knebel would start the game. It’s something the Dodgers and Knebel did multiple times in the regular season. Julio Urias would follow him later.
The initial decision came “from the top of the organization down,” says Roberts. When asked if he gets more than one vote, he answers no, “I only get one vote” with a smile.
– Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) October 14, 2021
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Part of reason for using an opener was strategic and hand-based. Giants manager Gabe Kapler countered Roberts’s decision by adding a left-handed hitter to his Game 5 lineup (Tommy LaStella) and moving another left-handed swinger (Brandon Crawford) up to fourth place in order, potentially making things happen. more difficult for the right-handed Knebel. .
Knebel started four times in the regular season. In 5 2/3 innings, he allowed one run on six hits and struck out four. So there was a sample size to show that it could work. And yet Roberts was harshly criticized on Twitter by both fans and the media who questioned whether the decision was “too cute” or a product of overthinking.
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It was even all of the above, the fact is that the strategy worked and made history in the process.
Tonight the @Dodgers became the first team in MLB postseason history to have its relievers pitch more than 8.0 innings with more than 12 strikeouts and no walks in a game.
– Statistics by STATS (@StatsBySTATS) October 15, 2021
After Knebel came Brusdar Graterol, followed by Urias, Blake Treinen, Kenley Jansen and Max Scherzer, who posted his first career save. Those are all the pitchers fans can expect to see over the course of a must-win playoff game, albeit in a different order.
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Here’s how Roberts’ management of his pitching staff was shaken:
First entry: Corey Knebel; one hit allowed, one punch
As planned, Knebel came out to start the game. He retired the first two batters in just five pitches, but Buster Posey quickly made things interesting by hitting a double on the first pitch to right field.
Any problems Knebel might have been hit with ended quickly when he struck out Crawford to end a seven-pitch at-bat.
Second entry: Brusdar Graterol; two hits, one punch
Graterol got off to a rocky start in relief from Knebel, giving up a two-strike single to Kris Bryant to open the bottom of the second. He retired Mike Yastrzemski on a popout, but then Wilmer Flores followed up with a single to put another Giants running back in scoring position.
The right-hander came out of the bind by causing Evan Longoria to come out and pitcher Logan Webb to strike out. In all, Graterol threw 22 pitches in his inning.
From the third to the sixth entries: Julio Urias; three hits, one run (earned), five strikeouts
Urias was originally scheduled to start Game 5, but entered the third for his first relief outing of the season. Aside from a game-tying home run by Darin Ruf in the bottom of the sixth inning, Urias looked strong, throwing 41 of his 59 pitches for strikes and scoring two 1-2-3 innings.
Seventh inning: Blake Treinen; two strikeouts
Treinen has been a reliever for the Dodgers since joining them last year. He has closed games, organized them, and worked in minor relief roles. He was off in his inning Thursday, striking out Longoria and Alex Dickerson 1-2-3 to keep the game tied.
Eighth inning: Kenley Jansen; two strikeouts, win
Jansen has dominated this season as a closer for the Dodgers. He made 38 of 44 save opportunities and struck out 86 while shooting for a 2.22 ERA. Strikeouts and ERA were the best since 2017. But here he was asked to pitch as a setter and he excelled.
Donovan Solano, who had batted for LaStella in starting the third when Urias came in, shot third baseman Justin Turner for the first out before Jansen struck out Ruf and Posey to send the game into the still-tied ninth inning.
Max Scherzer: two strikeouts, save
Before Thursday, Scherzer had made four relief appearances in the postseason and history was not on his side.
Then Scherzer has made four career relief appearances in the postseason (2011, 2013, 2017 and 2019).
He’s allowed runs in three of those four; In 5 1/3 innings, he has a 6.75 ERA
– Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) October 15, 2021
Scherzer served first in the ninth, but then Bryant approached a Turner error, bringing the Giants to life. He struck out frequent hero at the end of the game LaMonte Wade Jr. to drive the Dodgers away.
Flores emerged as the Giants’ last hope of continuing their surprising season. Scherzer quickly beat him 0-2. On the next pitch, Flores received a questionable check-swing call from first base umpire Gabe Morales who ended the game and placed Morales under the microscope.
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The bold strategy had worked. Don’t be surprised if Roberts and the Dodgers hire him again at the NLCS, which begins Saturday in Atlanta (8:07 pm ET, TBS).
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.