If it happens three times in a row, maybe it’s not such a fluke after all. The Los Angeles Dodgers won 100 games this year, waltzing to an NL West crown and the two seed in the NL playoff bracket. Just about everybody expected them to have very little problem against a Diamondbacks team that wasn’t even supposed to be here, and that finished 16 games behind L.A. in the regular-season standings.
But that gaudy record masked some serious flaws in Los Angeles’ roster — particularly in the rotation, which was running on fumes due to injury (and suspension) by the end of September. Those flaws reared their heads at the worst possible time, and now the Dodgers are going home in the Divisional round for the second straight year after falling, 4-2, to Arizona in Game 3 on Wednesday night.
This is for you, Arizona. pic.twitter.com/77d7cbLAsu— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) October 12, 2023
The scene may have shifted to Chase Field, but the script stayed much the same. After L.A. starting pitching managed two innings combined over the first two games of this series, Lance Lynn didn’t fare much better in Game 3, chased after giving up four solo home runs in the third inning — the first time in postseason history that a team has gone deep four times in the same frame.
The fact that Dave Roberts had little choice but to start Lynn in this spot said all you need to know about what went wrong for the Dodgers this season. Lynn had given up the most homers of any pitcher in baseball when he was acquired at the trade deadline, brought to L.A. as insurance more than anything. But then the proposed deal for Eduardo Rodriguez fell through, and Tony Gonsolin joined Dustin May with a season-ending injury, and Walker Buehler wasn’t able to make it back from Tommy John rehab in time, and Julio Urias faced a new round of domestic violence allegations. Suddenly, the Dodger rotation was a diminished Clayton Kershaw and not a whole lot else, and Los Angeles felt the sting of that all series — Game 3 included.
Much like Games 1 and 2, sketchy pitching put the Dodgers in an early hole. And much like Games 1 and 2, the offense — particularly the star-studded top of the order — that was supposed to be the backbone of this team failed utterly to get them out of it. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman went a combined 0-for-8 on Wednesday, running their series tally to 1-for-21 with three walks and four strikeouts. L.A. was stymied by Arizona rookie Brandon Pfaadt for 4.1 scoreless innings, failing to even put a runner into scoring position until the fifth.
The Dodgers finally showed signs of life in the seventh, with four consecutive two-out hits driving in two runs to cut Arizona’s lead in half. But again, flaws in roster construction put the team behind the 8-ball: With two on and David Peralta set to bat, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo opted for lefty reliever Andrew Saalfrank. Dave Roberts’ options were 1) stick with Peralta, who’s struggled the whole second half and has been particularly bad against lefties this year or 2) pinch-hit backup catcher Austin Barnes, who put up a .498 OPS during the regular season but was the lone righty on the bench. Roberts opted for the latter, and Barnes promptly grounded out on the first pitch he saw.
From there, the rest was just a formality. L.A. put the leadoff man on in the eighth, but Kevin Ginkel struck out both Betts and Freeman swinging to extinguish any hint of a threat — a tidy metaphor for this series as a whole. Kevin Ginkel slammed the door in the ninth, and the Diamondbacks were on to the NLCS for the first time since 2007.
It’s always pool party season in AZ. pic.twitter.com/iERXHWE3Uq— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) October 12, 2023
Arizona deserves all the credit here; they have two legit arms in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, with an opportunistic offense and a sneaky solid bullpen that Lovullo has played to perfection in October. But most of the attention, understandably, will fall on the Dodgers, who failed to get out of the NLDS despite 100+ wins for the second year in a row. It’s easy to point at all the injury misfortune that L.A. dealt with this season and insist that this loss was merely another in a long line of postseason flukes. That lets Andrew Friedman and Co. off the hook a bit, though: The Dodgers entered this month as a flawed and vulnerable roster, in desperate need of starting pitching and heavily reliant on the stars at the top of its lineup — playing the platoons with guys like Peralta, Jason Heyward and Chris Taylor is a great way to rack up regular-season wins, but the fact is that despite its record, Los Angeles didn’t have nearly the talent this year that they’ve enjoyed in past seasons.
Now they’ll be faced with another long winter to try and figure out what went wrong, while another division rival moves on.