2019 NLDS: Dave Roberts Comfortable Facing Criticism Over Bullpen Usage With Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda & Joe Kelly In Dodgers’ Game 5 Loss To Nationals
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts removes Clayton Kershaw from Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers won a franchise-record 106 games during the regular season, but that wasn’t enough to break their 31-year World Series drought as they were defeated by the Washington Nationals in five games in the National League Division Series.

Everything seemed to be going to plan for the Dodgers in the decisive Game 5 at Dodger Stadium. The offense scored three early runs off Stephen Strasburg on home runs by Max Muncy and Kiké Hernandez, and Walker Buehler tossed another gem, leaving with a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning.

With the Dodgers obviously needing to win the game, it was an ‘all hands on deck’ type of night with the bullpen, and that meant Clayton Kershaw was available.

Kershaw was the first reliever out of the bullpen to face Adam Eaton with two on and two outs in the seventh, and he got a big strikeout to escape the jam and maintain the lead.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided to press his luck by sending Kershaw back out for the eighth, and that’s when things backfired. Just three pitches into the inning, Kershaw had given up back-to-back home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, and in the blink of an eye, the game was tied.

“I felt good about Clayton right there,” Roberts said. “Eaton and when you got Rendon and Soto, so I felt that I liked Clayton. He threw, I don’t know what it was, a couple pitches and we had Clayton ready for whatever today. So for Maeda to go through Soto, Kenta in this role, we really liked him against the right-hander.

“And the success that Clayton’s had against Soto with the two-run lead, I’ll take Clayton any day in that situation. I just think it’s one of those where it was easy for me to get Clayton, with the low pitches to get Rendon and to go out there and get Soto. And to have Kenta behind him. That was my thought, and not have Kenta go through Soto.

“So there’s always going to be second-guessing when things don’t work out, but I’ll take my chances any day on Clayton, and it just didn’t work out right there.”

When asked another question about his bullpen usage, Roberts emphasized he did not want KEnta Maeda facing a tough lefty like Soto. “I wanted to keep Kenta away from Soto,” he said.

“So you look at what Kenta has done, he’s been a righty killer and he has been throughout his career. So, yeah, there’s a Rendon situation, but then there’s also Soto behind there. So I just felt that the way Clayton was efficient, I feel great about running Clayton back out there for two hitters.”

While that may have been a big mistake on Roberts’ part, the game was still tied so Los Angeles had an opportunity to come out with a win.

Roberts went to Joe Kelly in the ninth inning and he looked as dominant as ever, retiring the side in order on just 10 pitches. Kelly had rarely pitched multiple innings throughout the course of the season though, so it was a bit surprising to see Roberts send him back out there for the 10th after the Dodgers failed to score in the bottom of the ninth.

That was another decision that backfired as Kelly issued a leadoff walk before a double by Rendon and then an intentional walk to load the bases with no outs. Still, Roberts left Kelly in to try and get out of it. He ended up giving up a back-breaking grand slam to Howie Kendrick.

“Yeah, obviously, Kelly you’re looking at obviously a tie ball game, and Kelly goes in there, throws 10 pitches, and he’s throwing the baseball really well,” Roberts explained. “He’s arguably our most rested reliever, and the way he was throwing the baseball, so I felt it was pretty easy. Don’t have a lot of guys as far as behind Kenley.

“I liked Joe right there in that spot, I really did. After 10 pitches there was no stress. Ball coming out well. So for him to go out there and take down that inning and to have Kenley take down the other part of the order, I felt really good about it.

“And as far as that second and third, nobody out, you’re in a tie ball game, yeah, you could go to Kolarek, infield is going to be in, hope for a punch, but I just felt that Joe had a good chance to put Howie on the ground and potentially then get Kenley on Zimmerman. And so my thought was to try to get a ground ball right there.”

There is plenty of blame to go around for the disappointing end to the Dodgers’ season and Roberts will get a share of it, as will Kershaw and Kelly. The trio are all under contract for at least two more seasons though, so it will be interesting to see if the Dodgers make any wholesale changes this winter.