In the end, it all came down to this: the Cardinals stepped up and delivered the most in the late innings, and the Dodgers were scrambling from the very beginning.
Once again the seventh inning was the difference, as the Cardinals used a three-run homer from Matt Adams to go up 3-2, and they held on to end the Dodgers' season in Game 4 of the NLDS. The best road team in baseball (record wise) was unable to muster a win in St. Louis.
Say what you want about Clayton Kershaw failing to hold another lead in the seventh, but this game was much different than Game 1. Kershaw was the only one at fault for blowing it last Friday, but I don't feel the same about this one. After watching the bullpen bumble away one lead after another, Don Mattingly rode Kershaw's tiring left arm to the 100-pitch mark.
And just like the rest of this series, it was a decision towards the end of the game that didn't work.
Kershaw had used his breaking stuff very effectively all game, but a big, fat, hanging curveball was all Adams needed to see, who then whacked a 383-foot shot just over the wall in right. Game. Set. Match.
Kershaw will get plenty of flak for giving up 11 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings this series, and it's understandable to a point considering he's the top dog. But a couple of other things also did the Dodgers in as the series progressed. The major one was middle relief, and the other one was the fading offense.
Like I've said pretty much all season long, the arms before Kenley Jansen were just brutal. Everyone from J.P. Howell to Scott Elbert to Brian Wilson were terrible in this series. There simply were not any good options to turn to, and that's why Mattingly rolled the dice with Kershaw. It obviously didn't work, but I'm not sure it would've been much different if the 'pen was summoned earlier. Pedro Baez and Brandon League did combine for two shutout innings, but that was in much less pressure with the Cardinals now in the lead.
The offense was the other culprit. They put up a nine-spot in Game 1, then had a huge game-winning two-run shot by Matt Kemp to win Game 2. But in Games 2-4, they only scored six runs, which is a couple a game. It's hard to beat any playoff team with outputs like that.
And so it ends for the 2014 Dodgers, as the regular season closed with so much promise by beating the Giants to take the NL West, only to take a big step back in the NLDS. That's what a good team like the Cardinals can do to you - pounce on a weakness (bullpen) of the other team to win.
This offseason will undoubtedly bring changes to that beleaguered bullpen, if only for fresh arms and a fresh look after it ended so poorly. Then there's the question of re-signing Hanley Ramirez. It will be interesting to see how that goes.
On a personal note, this wraps up my seventh year blogging about the Dodgers. My readership went way up this year, and I thank everyone out there for making that happen. As I said before, this offseason will be a fun one to watch, and I'll be on here covering all the moves every step of the way.
Thanks again, and let's go Dodgers... in 2015!