Dodgers’ ‘super cool’ regular season canceled by another postseason failure

SAN DIEGO – What does a historic regular season mean without a World Series title?

The question was asked hypothetically of the Dodgers in the days leading up to the postseason. It is not hypothetical anymore.

“I don’t think anybody’s gonna care, you know?” Clayton Kershaw said as he and his teammates packed up in a somber postgame clubhouse Saturday night. “It’s just another good regular season.”

It was historically good – one of the five winningest regular seasons in major-league history. Two of those five teams failed to reach the World Series – the 116-win Seattle Mariners of 2001 and the 111-win Dodgers of 2022.

But even those Mariners managed to win a round in the postseason before losing in the AL Championship Series. These Dodgers made history – never before have so many wins been canceled so quickly.

“It was super cool to win that many games,” Mookie Betts said quietly. “But it means absolutely nothing if you lose in the postseason.”

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman does not agree. Asked about the concept of “World Series or bust” – expectations that he has created in Los Angeles – he would not accept that postseason failure invalidates the regular season.

“I can’t live life, I can’t do what I do on a daily basis with there being one success each year and 29 failures. I just can’t live that way,” he said. “It doesn’t change the burning desire to win a World Series every year. But I think it’s important for those of us who pour ourselves into it to be able to compartmentalize, appreciate certain successes, learn from certain failures and figure out how to get back and put us in the best position to win a World Series the next year.”

One lesson they might learn from this year’s failure is that it doesn’t pay to be as good as the Dodgers were this season.

The Dodgers won 95 games by multiple runs (the most in MLB history), 60 by four runs or more. They played the fewest one-run games (31) in the majors this season and, honestly, didn’t play a game with real downside if they lost for months before facing the Padres – who won the most one-run games in baseball this season, had to play well enough down the stretch to hold onto a wild-card playoff spot and then win a series on the road against another 100-win team in the New York Mets to get their shot at the Dodgers.

After a five-day break, the intensity of postseason at-bats seemed to be a shock to the Dodgers’ system.

“Not for me,” Freddie Freeman said to that and he did go 5 for 14 with three doubles and a home run in the series.

But the Dodgers were largely ineffective in situational hitting and dominated by the Padres’ bullpen in their NLDS defeat.

They aren’t alone. Of the four teams that were rewarded with a first-round bye in MLB’s new postseason format, the Dodgers and Braves were beaten in four games and the Yankees were facing elimination Sunday. Only the Astros have advanced.

“I think that’s something that we could probably debate,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But I think leading up to it, even right now, it’s not something that we want to look at as an excuse. That’s kind of the format the way it is, and you do the best you can in the regular season to put yourself in a position to get home-field advantage, to get the bye in the wild-card round, and it’s up to us to kind of prepare ourselves the best way we can to get through a Division Series – and we didn’t.”

More tangible questions have to be answered this winter.

Shortstop Trea Turner is a free agent with visions of a $300 million contract dancing in his head. Are the Dodgers ready to sign off on another one of those? If not, who plays shortstop for them next year? Gavin Lux grew into a good hitter this year but his defense at shortstop would leave much to be desired.

Clayton Kershaw is a free agent again this offseason after signing a one-year deal with the Dodgers last winter and saying he had reached the point in his career where continuing to play would be a year-to-year decision.

“Yeah, I think so. But – no buts, I think so,” Kershaw said of that after the game Saturday. “We’ll see what happens. Going home (for the winter) and being around and being a full-time dad changes your perspective on things. But as of right now, I would say I’ll play again.”

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Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney were cheap, one-year additions to flesh out the starting pitching depth. Anderson will not be so cheap this winter after going 15-5 with a 2.57 ERA and could look to cash in elsewhere.

With Walker Buehler out until 2024 (don’t be fooled by the optimistic talk of a late 2023 return), depth will be needed again. It’s questionable whether Heaney should be part of it.

Cody Bellinger’s regression from the NL MVP of 2019 continued this season, despite his being a year removed from shoulder surgery. The Dodgers could decide they can no longer afford to absorb his shrunken offense for $18 million (or so) in 2023. He is a potential non-tender free agent.

And the Dodgers will have a decision to make regarding Justin Turner, so much the backbone of the Dodgers teams of this era. They have a $16 million option for 2023 on Turner who will turn 38 next month. He looked his age at times this season.

“I don’t know. It’s hard,” Freeman said, assessing the wreckage of soaring expectations dashed on the rocks of October. “This was a really good team – a really, really good team. October baseball can be brutal and it happened for us. It doesn’t take away the fact that this was a really good baseball team. We just didn’t win the World Series this year.

“I don’t know (what that dichotomy means). That’s up to you guys and what you want to write. But this was a really good baseball team that just came up short in October.”

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