From 106 wins to early defeat, Dodgers fall short again

Sports

Members of the Los Angeles Dodgers react to the team’s 7-3 loss to the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of a baseball National League Division Series on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — It’s back to the drawing board — again — for the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose World Series title drought now extends to 31 years.

This time, they didn’t even make it that far.

The Dodgers’ postseason fell apart in the NL Division Series with a 7-3 defeat to the Washington Nationals in Game 5, an inglorious ending for a team coming off back-to-back World Series appearances.

“This is not anything we were prepared for,” said reliever Joe Kelly, who gave up the tiebreaking grand slam to former Dodger Howie Kendrick in the 10th inning Wednesday night.

Indeed, the Dodgers made no secret that winning a record seventh straight NL West title while piling up 106 victories — second-most in the majors — was just a prelude to fulfilling their ultimate goal of earning the franchise’s first World Series title since 1988.

“We all knew we were better than what we showed out there,” said Max Muncy, whose two-run homer in the first provided an early lead. “Sometimes it’s not meant to be.”

The Dodgers now have all winter to contemplate what went wrong and how to fix it.

There are offseason decisions looming, starting with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. His contract expires at the end of this month.

Friedman has overseen the redevelopment of the farm system and it’s paid off with a pipeline full of prospects that have succeeded once they’ve reached the big-league level.

Rookie infielders Matt Beaty and Gavin Lux and catcher Will Smith all made starts this postseason. In his second season, right-hander Walker Buehler continued to show he’s a worthy successor to Clayton Kershaw as the team’s ace.

“We will have a lot more chances at it,” Buehler said of postseason success. “We are built to keep putting ourselves in this situation.”

The pitching corps could see some changes.

Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who led the majors in ERA, and 39-year-old lefty Rich Hill can become free agents. Closer Kenley Jansen, whose ERA was the worst of his career, can opt out of his contract.

Kershaw is heading into the second year of a $93 million, three-year deal he signed last November. The three-time Cy Young Award winner had a blown save in the decisive Game 5, giving up home runs on consecutive pitches that allowed Washington to tie the game.

“I’m not going to hang my head,” Kershaw said. “I will be here next year and try to do the same thing and try to do it every single year.”

Manager Dave Roberts signed a four-year contract extension in December. His in-game tactics came into question again in Game 5, similar to the way his pitching decisions were criticized in last year’s World Series — even by President Donald Trump.

Roberts tossed analytics out the window when he allowed Kershaw to return for the eighth inning after getting the final out of the seventh.

“I felt really good about that,” he said. “It’s a guy that I believe in, and I trust and it didn’t work out.”

Anthony Rendon homered leading off and Juan Soto followed with a game-tying solo shot.

“My job is to put guys in the best position to have success and if it doesn’t work out, there’s always going to be second-guessing,” Roberts said. “I got no problem bearing the brunt of that.”

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