I had no words last night. Today, I have a few. 

Last year, I felt resignation that was easy to recover from. The much harder part was when I got hammered for three or four days on Twitter for what I felt was a benign tweet expressing my feelings about the previous 10 years as a Dodger fan. I had no idea the anger it would cause fans from other cities, which rolled over me in waves as one fan base after another discovered the tweet. But I recovered. It was an easy offseason. 

I’ll recover from this elmination too, but I’m shocked and depressed about it.

Tip of the cap to the Padres, who played a tremendous series. And I’m happy for their fans. I really am. 

It’s funny that Stanford beat Notre Dame in football Saturday night. I don’t know what’s going on at Notre Dame this year — even though I don’t watch football much anymore, more than once I’ve seen the agonized face of the new Notre Dame coach, and it kind of breaks my heart. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt bad for Notre Dame in anything. (We’re a long way from Digger Phelps, let me tell you.)

When I peeked at the game Saturday, I wished it weren’t Stanford that was inflicting the pain. And it was so strange. Stanford football is just terrible. I don’t really care all that much, to be honest — it’s more important to me that they fix the moribund basketball program. But I’m ride or die with David Shaw, who at least so far has recognized how good he has it at Stanford rather than getting suckered into the NFL, the best NFL future picks may be gotten at the Vertical 23 betting site.

Sports are weird, is my point. That’s the why for this digression.

So where was I with the Dodgers?

It’s no secret that I’m ride or die with Dave Roberts as well, not to mention Andrew Friedman and the front office, and I credit them for so many things. I especially credit Roberts for his skill behind the scenes that goes so unappreciated. But there’s no denying that in ride-or-die, there is die.

I don’t know why, in a 111-win season, things went wrong this week. Not surprisingly, as the manager, Roberts has a target on his back. As soon as Game 2, I noticed people going after him, though that game was more about the Dodgers hitting into bad luck than anything. 

Game 3 was different: The Dodgers didn’t hit well enough, and Game 4 was different: The Dodgers didn’t play hit enough for long enough. They had a chance to knock out Padres co-ace Joe Musgrove after using a patient approach to push him over 60 pitches in the first three innings, then they let him find his footing with 17 total pitches over the next two innings. Still, Tyler Anderson outpitched him.   

The Dodgers led 3-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh, of course, and I was wary and nervous as I always am when a playoff opponent comes to the plate, but I didn’t feel a Padres rally was the least bit inevitable. And then it happened. Tommy Kahnle walked the leadoff batter, and the boulder started rolling. Yency Almonte, who has been nails all season, couldn’t get strike three past a Padre. 

Even though I’ve mostly stayed offline since the end of the game Saturday, I get that there’s more criticism again for Roberts — the usual severe post-series criticism. I get where it’s coming from — if the best reliever on the team, Evan Phillips, is available, you put him in to stop the fire, right? And yet, Almonte had been nails all year, including striking out all five Padres he faced in the NLDS before Saturday. And Alex Vesia had a terrific year as well. That’s not exactly throwing in the towel. 

Is the most criticism for taking out Anderson after five innings? I get that too, though I don’t think it’s as big a deal as others. With the 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, I would have let him stick around for Ha-Seong Kim to face the second batter of the inning, fellow left-hander Juan Soto. And if he got both those guys, I’d have let him face Manny Machado (who had a tremendous series) with the bases empty. And go batter by batter from there. 

That said, there’s something to be said in baseball for taking your winnings from the table. I know there were plenty of people out there who didn’t want Anderson to start at all, instead hoping for Julio Urías on short rest — which would have been insanity to me. Getting five shutout innings out of Anderson was a huge triumph. But I firmly believe that a pitcher is only dealing until he isn’t. Like I said, I would have gone one hitter at a time with Anderson, but at 86 pitches, he wasn’t long for the game even by more generous standards. 

I thought the FS1 broadcast team of Adam Amin, A.J. Pierzynski and Tom Verducci did a better-than-average job on this series, compared with what Dodger fans have often been subjected to in the playoffs, but Pierzynski was obsessed with the Dodgers taking Anderson out after five, in a way that at least a little has added to the criticism of Roberts. But a major part of his rationale was that it was asking too much for the Dodger bullpen to go four innings. There was been nothing this season to justify that as a concern. 

The Dodgers had three relievers blow up in the same inning. That’s not something you predict in the slightest way in 2022. 

Roberts also got questioned in the booth and on Twitter for bringing in Vesia for Almonte for with a 1-0 count. That was silly — whether it was a result of a miscommunication or not (Almonte reportedly was supposed to stall with pickoff throws before throwing a pitch — a 1-0 count isn’t exactly a hardship when Vesia is going after a lefty. 

Moreover, Roberts took shots for warming up Brusdar Graterol behind Anderson in the bottom of the fifth, which was the silliest critique of all. It was plain for anyone to see that if Anderson got in trouble, you didn’t want him facing Machado. If have a criticism of the postseason managing over the past several years, it’s when the Dodgers don’t have a reliever ready for the moment they need him. Getting Graterol ready is what the Dodgers were supposed to do. 

Bottom line, despite the seventh inning, pitching wasn’t the story of the defeat. And despite Trea Turner’s struggles in the field, defense wasn’t the story of the defeat.  Graterol made a spectacular play fielding a bunt in Game 2, and Trayce Thompson made the catch of the series Saturday, the kind of catch that portends victory. 

Here’s the story. 

At the plate, the Dodgers had Mookie Betts, whose numbers were low but scorched the ball more than once. They had Trea Turner, who struggled mightily in the field but nevertheless hit. They had Freddie Freeman, who was as remarkable as you’d want him to be. And they had Max Muncy, whose four-month struggles in 2022 were a distant memory — although he also had the gaffe of the series, failing to get to second base on a drive off the wall that could have turned Game 2 around.

And then, the Dodgers seemingly had five No. 9 hitters.

Will Smith just disappeared in the cleanup spot, really the epitome of the Dodgers’ disastrous efforts with runners in scoring position (which, given that his wife had a baby Saturday morning and that he went back-and-forth between San Diego and Los Angeles during the day, is more understandable than I realized).

While they reached base here and there, Justin Turner and Thompson were overmatched, with identical lines of 2 for 13 with three walks and no extra-base hits. Gavin Lux wasn’t much better, with a .538 OPS.

Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger went a combined 1 for 9 with seven strikeouts, neither of them looking remotely like major-league hitters. Bellinger almost certainly will be gone in a matter of weeks or months, given that he could expect to earn in the neighborhood of $18 million in arbitration, closing one of the most Icarus-like eras for a Dodger player ever. Taylor, however, has three years remaining on his contract, and he’s got a lot of work to do. I don’t get obsessed with batters striking out, but Taylor has whiffed more times since the pandemic began in 2020 than Joe DiMaggio struck out in his entire career. 

And while the Dodgers didn’t have a Steven Souza Jr. walking through that door in critical situations — in the most inapproriate of moments, it was left to Freeman to make the final out — they didn’t have a David Freese, either. Austin Barnes did go 2 for 3 in brief action, looking more like a hitter than almost everyone else. Joey Gallo and Miguel Vargas didn’t play. That doesn’t surprise me, given the way the series unfolded and the impact of the designated hitter, but what it speaks to is that they weren’t an obvious solution. Maybe Gallo lucks into a homer against Robert Suarez, maybe the inexperienced rookie (who was on deck at the end of Game 3) surprises Josh Hader, but I’m not exactly betting that those things would have happened. 

The disappearance of Major League Baseball’s run-scoring leaders was borderline incomprehensible.

Despite their 111 wins, the Dodgers have holes to fill. Both left and center field are uncertain. Shortstop could be as well, if Trea Turner departs as a free agent, though many would predict Lux taking that spot. I’m not convinced he can be a quality defensive shortstop and would rather leave him at second base, but maybe I’m wrong, and you roll with him at short, Muncy at second and Freeman at first. 

If Vargas can slide in at third base, maybe Justin Turner can excel in the Freese role. Turner’s a free agent too, but with his roots so deep in Southern California, I can’t see him leaving. 

Similarly, in the starting rotation, I expect to see Clayton Kershaw back as well. (Man, I sure hope so.) He stopped short after Saturday’s game of committing to it, but his hesitation seemed mild. The guy had a bloody 2.28 ERA this year. Though he claims to not care about numbers, he is three wins from 200 and 193 strikeouts from 3,000. And there’s always the chance he gets to go out a World Series champion.

Anderson is also a free agent, but his return would make sense. Combine them with Urías, a healthy Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May, and the emergence of any one of the top Dodger pitching prospects, and the staff is good to go in my opinion, notwithstanding the possibility the Dodgers could shop for a different or additional front-line pitcher.   

Nevertheless, the Padres are clearly a force, much more likely to sustain their performance next year than the Giants were in 2022. It’s funny — in one sense, I whiffed on this tweet from February, but in another sense, I blasted it out of the park. 

Anyway, that’s baseball. 

I don’t know if it made you feel better reading this — for my part, I’ve avoided reading almost anything about the Dodgers today. But I feel better writing it. I do. I meant to write about 200 words, and I ended up writing about 2,000. Apparently, that’s what I needed to do. It has been cathartic, and catharsis matters. I hope you find it. As always, through good and bad, I’m happy to be part of the community of Dodger fans. 

Photo: Jon SooHoo