Bill Shaikin: Dave Roberts proves the doubters wrong with Dodgers’ Game 2 lineup changes
SAN FRANCISCO — Ask a player about the postseason experience, and the adjective that inevitably is used is this: magnified.
Every pitch is magnified. Every plate appearance. Every inning. Every game.
An error that goes relatively unnoticed in May attracts a national spotlight in October. And the glare that players draw pales in comparison to the one that falls upon the managers, who sit at a news conference before and after every game to explain why they do not believe they are the idiots that loud segments of their fan base can make them out to be.
On Saturday, for Dave Roberts, it was a good day.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ lineup decisions in the first two games of the National League Division Series baffled some fans, angered others. The angst was washed away in a flood of runs, with the Dodgers routing the San Francisco Giants 9-2 to tie the NLDS at one game apiece.
No man in major league history has managed as many games as Roberts and posted a higher winning percentage.
No matter. Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock in the starting lineup? What were Roberts and the Dodgers thinking? And why pull an effective starting pitcher so early in the game?
Pollock entered play Saturday with no hits in six postseason at-bats, and three strikeouts. His career postseason batting average was .162. Bellinger had one hit in five postseason at-bats, with three strikeouts, coming off a final month in which he batted .130.
Chris Taylor was an option. He batted .121 in the final month of the regular season, but he hit the walk-off home run in the wild-card game.
Gavin Lux was an option too. He batted .360 in the final month of the regular season.
“I think Gavin swung the bat really well and picked us up big for two weeks,” Roberts said before the game. “There’s also ... the season AJ had and the experience that he’s had. So, to kind of just default to a two-week sample, I just don’t. I just felt that the body of work should win out.”
Pollock doubled, singled, walked and scored two runs. He also drove in the final two runs in the Dodgers’ four-run sixth inning, giving his team a 6-1 lead, and its first breathing room of the series.
Before the series, Roberts emphasized the importance of Bellinger’s defensive ability in the spacious Oracle Park outfield. On Saturday, the Dodgers nonetheless played Bellinger at first base, with Taylor in center field.
“I wanted to bet on four good at-bats and the person I know that, results withstanding, (the) recency, I’ll bet on Chris,” Roberts said. “And so, my early thought was, yeah, build around getting Cody in center field but then ... it changed.
“Read and react. You have to be able do that, and I’m not going to be set in my ways.”
Taylor doubled, singled, walked and scored twice. Bellinger struck out three times, but he also doubled home two runs.
The decision to remove Julio Urías after five innings appeared curious. He had made 72 pitches, a number he had exceeded in every one of his 32 starts this season. He had retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced.
Roberts said the five innings were nonetheless “stressful.”
The Dodgers already had the option to consider starting Walker Buehler on short rest in Game 4 and Urías on regular rest in Game 5. The relatively short work day for Urías gives the Dodgers another, and perhaps more attractive, option: use Urías for a group of crucial innings in Game 4, and start Buehler on extra rest in Game 5. Buehler threw a career-high 208 innings this season.
Roberts would not lay out a plan but said of Urías: “He’ll be alive late in the series.”
The decisions about position players are more difficult than last year, with proven depth in short supply.
The Dodgers included 14 position players on their division series roster last year. They did the same this year.
The six position players who did not take the field for Game 1 of last year’s division series: Kiké Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Matt Beaty, Lux, Austin Barnes and pinch-runner Terrance Gore.
The six position players who did not take the field on Saturday: Beaty, Lux, Barnes, Billy McKinney, Steven Souza Jr. and Albert Pujols.
There will be more choices come Game 3. For the first time in this series, the Giants are scheduled to start a left-handed pitcher.
But, as the Dodgers got set for a happy flight home, what Roberts said about how the series had changed Saturday could just as well apply to how management reputation had changed for a day.
“It’s interesting,” he said, “how the narrative changes from game to game.”
On Monday, he’ll hear about it again.