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Sports Medley: World Series Heroes and Goats 30 Oct 17

by Tony Medley

This column is being written on Monday after the fifth game of the World Series, so by the time it is published, the Series could be over, or the 7th game looming. However, the comments are valid regardless of who wins.

Heroes: It has been a pleasure to see so many of the young, untested Dodgers come through in extremely high pressure, clutch situations. Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernandez, Charlie Culbertson, Yasiel Puig, and Austin Barnes all came up with key hits in tense, pressurized situations with the game on the line and the entire world looking on. One never knows how one is going to respond when the world is on your shoulders. All of these young players came through with flying colors.

Goats: Of course the first name here is manager Dave Roberts. His specious views on pitching have been catalogued enough here so they do not need to be repeated. In the second game he pulled his starting pitcher, Rich Hill, who was in total control. In four innings with the Dodgers trailing 1-0, Hill had allowed only three hits, one run, had walked three and struck out seven. Nonetheless Roberts pulled him (Hill was furious and justifiably so), ostensibly because the next five hitters coming up for Houston were right-handed and Hill is left-handed. If this is a reason to pull him in the top of the fifth inning, then it was a reason not to ever start him. Roberts makes decisions on pitchers that are simply without any rational basis and this call probably cost them the game and a 2-0 lead in the series, because Hill’s replacements were bombed for 10 hits and 6 runs.

While Roberts babies his starting pitchers, allowing them only so many throws, he destroys his bullpen by pitching the same players day after day after day, which has resulted in a bullpen with weak arms. This was exemplified in Game 5 when he inserted Brandon Morrow in for the fifth time in six games and Morrow produced the worst relief performance in the history of the World Series, facing four batters allowing a home run, a single, a run scoring double, throwing a wild pitch, and allowing another home run. Four batters, four runs.

I have chronicled the number of times that Roberts has pulled a pitcher only to have the relief pitcher allow a home run to the next batter. He went over the top in the fifth game of the series by doing this twice.

But Roberts’ ineptitude doesn’t stop with pitching. With the game tied 7-7 in the top of the seventh inning of the fifth game, Justin Turner led off with a double, bringing up cleanup batter Kiké Hernandez with nobody out. Mystifyingly Roberts ordered a sacrifice bunt…by his cleanup hitter…with nobody out…and a runner in scoring position! Fourteen runs had already been scored in the game, both starting pitchers had been knocked out, and it was incomprehensible to play for just one run in this high scoring situation. But that’s what Roberts did. To call this decision idiotic does not do it justice.

But Roberts is not alone in the goat category. Poor Clayton Kershaw just cannot stand the pressure. Even though my pitching experience is limited basically to high school and a little college, there isn’t any difference in the basics of pitching regardless of the level. The idea is to get the ball over the plate. I rarely walked anybody. I could throw the ball where I wanted to throw it.

If I could do that as a teenager, Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, can do it also. His problem, in my judgment, is that when the going gets tough at the end of the season in playoffs and World Series games, Kershaw tries to pitch too perfectly. Instead of trusting his stuff and throwing pitches over the plate, challenging the batters to hit them, he changes to pitching too fine and gets behind on the count which is death for a pitcher, even one as good as Kershaw. Kershaw has the best control of any pitcher in baseball today, witness his amazing strikeout/walk ratio. So it’s not plausible to think that he simply loses his control in these pressure situations. Pressure gets to him and it affects his choice of where to throw the ball. It’s a conscious decision.

Then there’s Kenley Jansen, the alleged “super closer.” With two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning of the fifth game and the score tied 12-12, Jansen, who also is known for his control, hits catcher Brian McCann on a 2-2 count! He compounds this felony by walking George Springer, only throwing one strike out of five pitches, putting the winning run on second. He then surrenders the game losing single, a line drive by Alex Bregman.

Kershaw and Jansen suffer from the same problem, they can’t stand the pressure, unlike their teammates mentioned above, who rise to the occasion. When you see pitchers known for their control start walking people in high pressure situations, it’s mental, not physical.