Los Angeles is just one win away from its second pro sports title in the last two weeks, and the Dodgers are looking to close it out in tonight’s Game 6.
But … it doesn’t feel like manager Dave Roberts is looking to do the same.
Tony Gonsolin is expected to have the ball tonight for the Dodgers, and the Tampa Bay Rays will start former Cy Young award winner Blake Snell. Roberts will stick to the regular rotation rather than pitching Dodgers ace Walker Buehler on short rest in Game 6.
There are two ways to look at this decision, but the last couple of seasons have conditioned me to believe the correct decision is always the opposite of what Roberts chooses.
I’ll get into why I am so skeptical of the Dodgers’ skipper in a moment. But first, what a series this has been so far.
At the League Championship Series stage with four teams left, I wanted to see a Dodgers vs. Astros rematch, and I wasn’t that excited to watch the Rays in the World Series after they eliminated Houston in the ALCS. They’re a great team, but it didn’t feel like they were all that fun to watch. Well, I was wrong.
Game 4 was a roller coaster with one of the wildest finishes I’ve seen in a postseason game that baseball will remember for a long time.
Manuel Margot’s attempt to steal home in Game 5 was about two inches short of immortalizing him in World Series history. But, Clayton Kershaw still deserves some recognition for not panicking. Unable to see Margot breaking for home plate, it requires great veteran instincts to quickly step off the rubber and deliver an accurate throw home without balking.
Kershaw has been the biggest question mark for the Dodgers this postseason. Chalk it up to bad luck or say he can’t handle postseason pressure — it doesn’t matter. It’s undeniable that Kershaw isn’t the same guy in his postseason career as his dominant regular season self. His career regular season ERA of 2.43 is incredible. 4.19 in the postseason is not.
So, I was relieved to see Kershaw get through his Game 5 outing with success (and I’m not even a Dodgers fan. My team, the Texas Rangers, has plenty of time to reminisce about their American League-worst 22 wins while the World Series takes place in their brand new, billion-dollar stadium in Arlington).
Dodgers fans were loving a classic Kershaw performance when Roberts pulled him out of the game in the sixth inning. I’ve never seen a manager booed by his own fans in the World Series for pulling a pitcher who was doing well. Maybe that proves I’m not alone in my distrust of Roberts.
You don’t have to look far to find questionable decisions by Roberts. Taking out Blake Treinen in Game 4 in favor of Pedro Báez led to a go-ahead 3-run homer for Tampa Bay. And why was Bellinger not in center field? Chris Taylor isn’t the best defender on the team, and maybe Bellinger doesn’t boot that single in the bottom of the ninth. Taking out Dustin May in Game 5 for Victor González almost brought late-game trouble as well. These calls are all from the last two games.
This brings us back to Game 6. I understand why Roberts doesn’t want to use Buehler on short rest, especially considering the Dodgers have a lead in the series. Buehler should be more effective in Game 7 if needed and you don’t want to waste your one shot at pitching your ace.
However, pitching Gonsolin, who was good in the regular season but has seen a brutal stretch of appearances lately, against a pitcher like Snell almost feels like giving the Rays a win and rolling the dice on a Game 7. Gonsolin is a rookie and has given up 8 earned runs in 7.2 innings this postseason. He’s allowed more home runs in three games this postseason than he did all regular season.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on Roberts, but I still can’t understand why such a talented team consistently makes things interesting (in a bad way) in the playoffs. Typically when that happens, someone’s making the wrong decisions.
I would pitch Buehler in Game 6. Then, if you end up in a Game 7, Julio Urías will be good to go. He gave the Dodgers a quality start in Game 3 in the NLCS and then closed out Game 7 with three perfect innings. Buehler is their best guy, and he’s a competitor. He isn’t going to melt down because he didn’t get his full five days of rest; he wants to be out there and help bring home the trophy.
Roberts should go all in on Game 6 rather than give the Rays breathing room. Game 7s are risky, and Rays veteran Charlie Morton seems to pitch like Sandy Koufax in them.
Everything the Dodgers have worked for is right in front of them. They have all the talent to go take it — including one of the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. If this is the wrong decision and this team comes up short again, I highly doubt Roberts will be the manager of the Dodgers in 2021. I hope we don’t have to find out.
Wyatt Allsup is a junior writing about Los Angeles sports. His column, “Running the Break,” runs every other Tuesday.