The Dodgers are staring dead-eyed at the possibility of yet another horribly disappointing end to a promising baseball season.
They’re not done yet, of course, but one more loss — they’re trailing the Braves 3-1 in the best-of-seven NLCS — and the “failure” tag will be permanently affixed to the 2020 baseball season for the Dodgers and their fans.
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If the Dodgers fail to pull off the baseball miracle — and that’s what it would take at this point, with the Braves set to have co-aces Max Fried and Ian Anderson ready to go on full rest in Games 6 and 7 (both if necessary) — and win three games in a row, hard questions will have to be asked and answered by the Los Angeles powers-that-be.
The most pressing is this: Do they bring back manager Dave Roberts?
It might be an easy answer if they fail to advance beyond the NLCS.
And, let’s say this up front: I hate that anyone has to ask that question. Roberts is a good man, a worthy baseball lifer who was a smart, solid choice by the Dodgers when they tabbed him to replace Don Mattingly after the 2015 season. His regular-season track record is beyond reproach — in his five years, his Dodgers have won five NL West titles, finished with MLB’s best record twice and compiled a .615 winning percentage.
Know how many managers in MLB history have a career winning percentage above .600?
Roberts’ Dodgers teams have been really, really good. Which is what makes the postseason failures so very, very disappointing. And it’s weird to say that now probably is the time for change. His decisions in October the past few years have been second-guessed to the nth degree, and with good reason. But this year? Not so much, partially because they haven’t been on the wrong side of close games (aside from their comeback attempt in Game 2 of the NLCS).
So why now? Why is now the time the Dodgers might move on from Roberts? Because his teams haven’t won the World Series, and that’s the bottom line.
For a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series since 1988, bringing a title home to Los Angeles is the only goal. For a franchise that’s won eight consecutive division titles and made the World Series twice, winning a championship is the only goal. Everything else is failure, for better or worse.
Mattingly, the guy Roberts replaced, was let go in part because his teams failed to get to the World Series in their three trips to the postseason, all three trips after regular-season division titles. Roberts has had five shots at winning it all, with five stacked teams. If his 2020 Dodgers lose to the Braves, it’s hard to see him steering the ship for the 2021 Dodgers.
Here’s another factor to consider, too: Though Roberts has done an excellent job during the regular season, it’s not like he’s pulling off smoke-and-mirrors tricks to get his Dodgers to win division titles. This isn’t Tony Pena damn near leading the 2003 Royals to the postseason, Mattingly leading the 2020 Marlins to the postseason despite their battle with COVID issues or even Joe Maddon skippering the 2008 Rays to a 31-win turnaround.
The Dodgers have been stacked. And they will continue to be stacked. This isn’t a franchise with a short window; it’s propped open with cement and steel rebar.
Would anyone be stunned to see the Dodgers stretch that run NL West titles to 12? To 15? And if the streak is snapped, it will almost certainly be because one of the other teams — probably the Padres — wins 100-plus games, not because the Dodgers drop to the .500 level. And even if they don’t win a division title, it’s hard to imagine LA missing out on what will certainly be an expanded playoff setup going forward.
The list of managers who could help the Dodgers into the postseason the next five years is long, and Roberts sits atop that list. What the Dodgers have to decide, though, is which potential manager could help the Dodgers win at least one World Series over the next five years. And on that list, a big ol’ 0-for-5 sits next to Roberts’ name.
With that in mind, if the Dodgers do indeed bow out of the 2020 playoffs shy of the World Series, it’s probably time for a change.