World Series 2018: Dodgers’ Dave Roberts strays from formula at huge moment in Game 1

BOSTON — The Red Sox beat the Dodgers, 8-4, in Game 1 of the 2018 World Series. A late, pinch-hit Eduardo Nunez home run put things out of reach, but I’d like to focus on a possible pinch hitter that didn’t happen from the other dugout. 

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has been maximizing the talent of his incredibly deep cadre of position players throughout the postseason. It had gotten to the point of calling it a line change. He had some tandems. 

  • Max Muncy and David Freese, 1B
  • Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor, OF
  • Joc Pederson and either Matt Kemp or Yasiel Puig, OF

Sure, he’d strayed a few times and there’s some mixing and matching on the latter two, but for the most part, Roberts was aggressive in getting his lefties into the game once a left-handed starter was removed from the game. 

In the top of the fifth inning, Dodgers leadoff man Brian Dozier drew a walk and it chased lefty ace Chris Sale from the game. Justin Turner would single with Freese’s spot on deck. Surely, Roberts would stick with his formula and pinch hit Muncy for Freese, right? 

Nope. Freese took the at-bat against a right hander. 

Now, here are their regular-season splits: 

Freese vs. RHP: .273/.331/.455
Freese vs. LHP: .321/.387/.489

Muncy vs. RHP: .255/.361/.529
Muncy vs. LHP: .266/.401/.601

Muncy also hit 27 home runs in 293 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this season. Red Sox righty Matt Barnes is harder on right-handers than lefties, but it’s not a huge split. 

It was pretty out-of-character for Roberts to stray from his go-to formula in such a big spot. That’s as high leverage as it gets. They trailed by one run, there were two runners on base and no outs. A Muncy home run leading to a huge inning swings the entire game in favor of the Dodgers. Playing for the big inning had to be move with two on and nobody out, especially since the Dodgers were already into the Red Sox bullpen. 

Roberts explained his decision after the game: 

“At that point, you have three guys on the bench and you’ve got to figure out who — in the fifth inning to deplete your entire bench. I like David’s at-bats. You look at Barnes, he’s sort of neutral. He’s got a good fastball. He’s got a cutter that gets lefties out. So I just felt that first and second base, you’ve got [Manny] Machado behind him and you have a chance to hit for the next guy after that. But in the fifth inning you start hitting for guys, you’re going to have nobody left in the game.” 

It’s a fair point, but he had been doing this against the Brewers. Multiple games, he burned Freese with just a first-inning plate appearance. It’s odd that now  — without having a pitchers’ spot in the batting order to worry about — he’s changed his tune. 

It didn’t pay off. Freese struck out. The runners did move to second and third on a wild pitch and then Manny Machado plated a run with an RBI groundout, but the Dodgers only got one run to tie it. The Red Sox would score two in the bottom half to take the lead. 

Muncy, by the way, hit a line-drive single to start a one-out rally in the top of the seventh. The Dodgers would only get one run, though, cutting the Red Sox lead to 5-4 before Nunez cracked a three-run shot to break the game open in the bottom of the frame. 

Sure, it was a different pitcher and we obviously can’t assume that Muncy would have singled in the fifth. We also have no idea how the rest of the game would have transpired had Muncy been used. I get all that. I’m sure Dodgers fans would have loved to find out, though. It really seems like a big swing-and-miss from Roberts with a gut feeling instead of sticking with his familiar formula. 

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