The question before the court: Why did the 2013 Dodgers not win the World Series? They were supposed to, you know.
The prosecution presents the following: Puig making wild throws Kershaw tired Cardinals know how to win runners in scoring position home crowd moving the runners over will to win clubhouse chemistry van slyke moved first
The defense counters with this: baseball.
Let's let the prosecution go first.
Yasiel Puig is insane
He is! But that isn't the reason the Dodgers didn't win the World Series. That's the reason the Dodgers almost got to the World Series. If I can plagiarize my own tweets for a minute, here goes:
The stupid things that Puig does are like a minute-long accordion solo in the middle of your favorite album. I chose OK Computer for the first example, but Pet Sounds is actually my favorite album. So picture it. Right in the middle.
I guess I just wasn't made for these herhrhhooowwww hehrhoooowh hrroowhroooo times.
Those are accordion sounds.
And after a minute, the accordion is gone. Everything else is perfect. The harmonies, the orchestration, the melodies … just perfect. You know you're thinking about A Rush of Blood to the Head, but that's okay, we're not here to judge.
Puig made some amazingly silly plays in the outfield in Game 6. In a scoreless game, he made a running, off-balance throw home when the runner was 40 feet from the plate. That allowed the runner at first to move into scoring position, and he eventually scored. The sequence was inexcusable. From a cold, intellectual perspective, it made absolutely no sense. The risk was the size of the moon. The reward was a peanut. It worked out as you'd expect.
But as the reason the Dodgers didn't advance to the World Series? No, no, no. You can make a pretty easy-to-read graph that showed where the Dodgers were before Puig showed up, and what happened after he showed up. Before? Bad. After? Historically good. And while causation isn't exactly correlation, it's hard to ignore just how much better the Dodgers got with Puig on the roster.
And you want to excoriate him for a few bad, brain-dead, gawdawful, nonononono throws? Well, maybe. But just for a second. Then remember that Puig was the whole point. That's why the Dodgers were so good in the first place.
Clayton Kershaw was awful
He wasn't at his best. He wasn't mixing and matching like a master craftsman, not like you'd expect. He hung a curveball or two, bringing his season total up to three or four. Three or four hanging curveballs.
But you saw how he was dinked and dunked, right? Next year, you'll watch a pitcher for your favorite team get through eight innings without allowing a run. You'll think, "Nice start! Even if there were some hard-hit balls, nice start!" That pitcher won't have pitched as well as Kershaw. He hung a couple of curves. He couldn't put Matt Carpenter away.
It's not like he was throwing 86-m.p.h. medium-balls over the middle of the plate, though. He still resembled the Kershaw who is going to win the Cy Young in a landslide. Just an imperfect version. Which is what happens to every pitcher. Except for Bob Gibson in 1968. That dude was crazy.
Don Mattingly panicked
Okay, I'll buy this, even if just a little. With the Dodgers ahead 2-1 in the NLDS, Mattingly brought back Kershaw on three day's rest for the first time in his career. Usually managers make the rash decisions when they're down. In this one, Mattingly was in the enviable position, and he still made the rash decision.
I didn't get it at the time. And I don't get it now. I guess avoiding Ricky Nolasco was an admirable goal. But the balance of risk v. reward wasn't there. And the thing that stuck with me was this tweet from Brandon McCarthy:
Tonight wouldn't be the concern for Kershaw. It's later in the postseason if they advance. Fatigue builds, so it's a risk to speed that up.— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) October 7, 2013
I'm just a dork on the Internet. That's a guy who knows pitching. And he was a little concerned about Kershaw coming back so soon. Not right away. But maybe, dunno, two starts later. When the Dodgers most needed it.
Maybe. Or maybe it was just one of those starts. Which happen to good pitchers, especially against good lineups.
The Cardinals were just better
Do you know what would happen if the Cardinals and Dodgers played a 162-game season against each other? Just them. No other teams. Do you know what would happen?
I have no idea.
And that's the point. Play these games over and over and over again, and maybe, just maybe, you'll divine the correct answer to the who's-better question. In a 300-game season, maybe one of them has a 151-win record to crow about.
If you're looking for specific reasons why the Dodgers lost, sure, you can find them. That pitch there, that hit there, that misplay there ... it's right in front of you.
But if you're looking for capital-letter Here's Why This Team Lost, nope. The defense had it all along. It's baseball. There were six games, and the Cardinals won four. That doesn't repudiate the entire Dodgers method, or Yasiel Puig's wild-horsery, or Don Mattingly's curious decisions. It just means the Dodgers just played six games against a good team and came up short.
There are reasons up there if you can't do without. They just aren't good reasons, at least not for an isolated series.