While the top two seeds advanced to the championship series in the American League, the National League side of the bracket was full of upsets. All three teams that won 100 games were eliminated before the championship series. The Mets’ 101-win season came to an end in the wild card round at the hands of the Padres, while the Braves, also winners of 101 games, were stunned by the Phillies in the division series.
But the most shocking early exit was that of the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the acquisition of star first baseman Freddie Freeman in March, the Dodgers became the odds-on World Series favorites. Only a week later, manager Dave Roberts guaranteed the Dodgers would win the 2022 World Series on “The Dan Patrick Show.”
While they might have been overshadowed by the Yankees in the first half of the season, the Dodgers dominated all year, especially after the All-Star break, going 51–21 in that span. They won the National League West division by 22 games over the Padres and finished at 111–51, the best record in baseball. 111 regular-season wins is a number that has been bested by only three teams in baseball history — the 1906 Cubs, the 2001 Mariners and the 1998 Yankees.
And it’s not hard to see why the Dodgers were so good. They scored more runs and allowed fewer runs than any other team in the majors. Their offense was headlined by Mookie Betts, the best position player of his generation not named Mike Trout; Trea Turner, one of the game’s elite shortstops; and the aforementioned Freeman. Meanwhile, their starting rotation was led by usual suspects Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urías while also getting breakout years from Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson.
Not only did the Dodgers cruise for the regular season, they drew their best-case scenario division series opponent: the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers have always considered the Padres their little brother, and with good reason — they went 14–5 against their southern neighbor in the regular season. This was exactly the matchup the Dodgers wanted.
But the series didn’t go to plan for LA. Although they won game 1, they struggled to score for the rest of the series, as San Diego’s bullpen shut down their league-leading offense in the next three games. In game 4, Padres closer Josh Hader fittingly struck out Betts, Turner and Freeman in the ninth inning to secure the series for San Diego. And just like that, the Dodgers’ magical season was over. It marked the first time since 2014 that the Dodgers had failed to win at least two postseason games, and it happened in a year that saw them win 111 regular season games.
The answer as to what went wrong for the Dodgers lies in the nature of baseball itself. Over a 162-game regular season, baseball is relatively easy to predict because there’s such a large sample size. But on a game-to-game basis, baseball is a coin flip, especially in the playoffs. Unlike in basketball, for example, where LeBron can take as many shots as he wants, each baseball player is only one of nine spots in the batting order, and they only hit when it’s their turn. The talent of one or two individuals is far less influential to the outcome of a baseball game than it is in any other sport, and that’s why it’s so unpredictable. This isn’t to say the Dodgers got unlucky, rather the Dodger bats went quiet at the wrong time while San Diego’s bullpen stepped up. Even though Turner and Freeman raked in the series, the rest of the lineup struggled, and in a short series, all it takes is a brief slump to make a big difference. Two guys can’t carry the load themselves. That’s just baseball, and that’s what makes it so great.
But the frustration for the Dodgers lies less in this one early exit and more in the fact that it seems to keep happening in October. LA has made the playoffs every year since 2013 and has won over 100 games in four of their last five full seasons. Their only title in that span was in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, a title that will always have an asterisk attached to it. They’ve consistently been the most talented team in the league, but they keep managing to collapse in October. They keep managing to underperform at the wrong time.
The solution might not be firing Dave Roberts, but he certainly shouldn’t be free from criticism. He made a number of questionable calls in October, like sending in struggling relievers when the Dodgers had a lead in game 4 of the 2018 World Series and opting for Clayton Kershaw over a red-hot Kenta Maeda in game 5 of the 2019 division series. So far, though, the Dodgers’ front office seems reluctant to even consider the possibility that Roberts might not be the right man for the job. And he shouldn’t be immune from judgment just because he stole a base 18 years ago, no matter how important that stolen base was.