May 19, 2024

Mookie Betts did not hit. Freddie Freeman did not hit. Clayton Kershaw did not get out of the first inning. Bobby Miller did not get out of the second inning.

Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, did not properly fortify the roster at the trade deadline. Dave Roberts, who had pledged to manage Wednesday’s game as if it were a Game 7, left a pitcher prone to giving up home runs in the game long enough to give up four in one inning.

You can spin the wheel of blame for the Dodgers’ playoff disaster, and those six options are not the only reasonable ones. The all-too-popular talking point this week is not.

The playoff format is not to blame. Five days off did not defeat the Dodgers.

In the immediate aftermath, the Dodgers struggled to make sense of their failure. They soared for six months, they sat for five days, they went home for the winter five days later.

“Look, it’s hard,” Kershaw said. “Pitching, maybe not so much. But obviously, offensively, these guys are so used to playing every day.

“I get it — extra teams, more money, all that stuff. I get it. But I do think — I’m not a hitter, but it does seem like it’s a bit of a challenge. It’s not an excuse, though.”

It’s not a mystery: More teams in the postseason means more television money. The players did not agree to a 12-team playoff field until the owners dropped their demand for a 14-team field.

Under the expanded postseason format introduced last year, the teams with the two best records in each league get a first-round bye. The other eight teams face the wild-card scramble, in which two losses bring your season to a crashing halt.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw watches from the dugout during a 4-2 season-ending loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw watches from the dugout during a 4-2 season-ending loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 3 of the NLDS on Wednesday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers earned a bye, and the five days off that come with it, last year and this year. They won 100 games this season, a franchise-record 111 last season. They finished 22 games ahead of the San Diego Padres last year, 16 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks this year.

No matter. The Padres took out the Dodgers in four games. The Diamondbacks needed just three.

And it’s not just the Dodgers. The Baltimore Orioles, with the best record in the American League, went out in three games. The Atlanta Braves, with the best record in the National League, could go out in four.

Does the league need to reconsider this format?

“No comment,” Betts said.

“I hate to say that this break got us swept,” Kiké Hernández said. “It’s just, everything aside, we just didn’t play good baseball. I’m not worried about what the Orioles did, or what the other NLDS series is looking like. … I’m here. I live here. I’m with my guys. We didn’t play good baseball. There’s no other way to put it. They played better, and this happened.”

Chris Taylor said the extended break may have played a factor in the series.

“It could,” Taylor said. “That’s still not an excuse. We’ve still got to be ready to go. We’ve got to be better prepared. If it did affect us, we can’t let that happen.”

The Dodgers batted .177 in the series, with one home run to the Diamondbacks’ nine. The Dodgers scored six runs in the series, as many as Arizona scored in the first inning of the first game.

“We weren’t swinging the bat great at the end of the season,” Max Muncy said. “We get a week off, and we clearly weren’t able to get hot again.

“I don’t know if it’s five days off, or if it’s not. All I know is, we didn’t get big hits in big situations, and that’s really all it boils down to.”

If five days off caused a mortal wound, the Houston Astros would be affected as well. The Astros got the bye last year. They got the bye this year. They breezed through the division series both times.

And the possibility of a long layoff is nothing new to the playoffs. Even before the format change, a team could sweep its league championship series and face a long layoff before the World Series, against a team that did not have all those days off.

The Astros swept the ALCS last year, sat for four days, then won the World Series. In 2019, the Washington Nationals swept the NLCS, sat for six days, then won the World Series.

It has been two decades since Billy Beane famously branded the playoffs a crapshoot. This is a tournament. It is not supposed to be fair.

The Dodgers have won the majority of their seven World Series championships under the original postseason format, in which the NL team with the best record and the AL team with the best record automatically advanced to the World Series.

No divisions, no wild cards, and no chance for teams to excite their cities with a slightly-better-than .500 team that might sneak into the playoffs and take off from there. The Philadelphia Phillies finished 14 games out of first place, but their September was packed with excitement because of the expanded playoffs.

This is what baseball wants. This is what every sport wants. This is the world to which the Dodgers must adapt.

There will be talk about how to fix what might appear to be a broken system. Perhaps the wild-card round could be a single day, with the team with the worse record needing to win two games in a day and the team with the better record needing to win just one. Perhaps we await expansion, with two more teams in the majors and two more teams in the playoffs, making for a 16-team bracket with no byes.

Or perhaps there is not a problem. If the Astros can solve this, so can the Dodgers.

The Dodgers have one World Series championship to show for their 11 consecutive playoff appearances, one postseason victory to show for their 211 regular-season victories over the past two years. The Dodgers have to figure out why they solve the summer so brilliantly while they flounder in the fall.

At Chase Field, the Diamondbacks prominently commemorate their wild-card appearances. At Coors Field, the Colorado Rockies do the same.

The Dodgers have championship standards. More power to them. The road to the World Series might contain no days off, or five. If it’s about the destination, solve the journey.

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