Scherzer watches, Buehler struggles as Dodgers’ season ends

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ATLANTA (AP) — Baseball’s biggest payroll couldn’t buy the Los Angeles Dodgers another championship.

Certainly not with so many high-priced expenditures stuck on the bench when it mattered most.

The defending World Series champion Dodgers couldn’t pull off a repeat. Saturday night’s 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series ended the Dodgers’ streak of seven consecutive postseason wins in elimination games.

Max Scherzer watched helplessly from the dugout, unable to go in Game 6 as planned because of lingering fatigue in his powerful right arm. Clayton Kershaw, Max Muncy and Justin Turner were also spectators due to injuries, a combined 12 All-Star Games between them.

When elimination came for the 106-win Dodgers, it was especially painful. High expectations come with splashy spending. That included hope the roster had enough depth to overcome injuries that might’ve overwhelmed lesser teams.

“I’ve said it before, I know we have a high payroll, but that’s what you get when you pay for players,” second baseman Trea Turner said before Saturday’s game. “You get talent. You get a lot of depth.”

Scherzer, a candidate to win his fourth Cy Young Award, was expected to be the foundation of the postseason rotation. Instead, he started Game 2 of the NLCS on just two days’ rest after a 13-pitch save in the clincher of the Division Series. His arm never recovered.

The second-guessing of manager Dave Roberts’ decision to use Scherzer as a closer could continue through the offseason. Roberts second-guessed himself on that call after Saturday night’s game.

“Well in retrospect and if you could guarantee that we could win Game 5 with someone else, I would have used someone else different,” Roberts said of the deciding game in the Division Series against San Francisco.

“I just think in the moment, talking to coaches, staff, and in particular Max, and having done that, and a veteran player who I trust, there’s a point that you just got to trust the player, and I trusted Max.”

Roberts added the strategy “just didn’t work out” and said “we were kind of behind it and fighting an uphill battle this entire series.”

The wild-card Dodgers hoped Scherzer would be ready to start a Game 7 on Sunday. Instead, it’s not clear where the free agent-to-be will make his next appearance.

The payroll, which reached $261 million, couldn’t overcome repeated hits to the rotation. Trevor Bauer, Dustin May and Kershaw began the season in the rotation but didn’t make it to the team’s fifth NLCS in the last six years. May and Kershaw were injured, and Bauer has been on paid administrative leave since July 2 under MLB’s joint domestic violence and sexual assault policy.

Instead, from the rotation which opened the season, only Walker Buehler and Julio Urías survived to the end. The patchwork rotation became an even greater liability when Roberts used Scherzer — a mid-year acquisition from Washington — and Urías in October relief roles.

There were also hits to the lineup, which lost first baseman Muncy to a dislocated left elbow at the end of the regular season and Turner to a hamstring injury in Game 5 against the Braves.

Chris Taylor, who took over for Turner at third base, said playing without Muncy for the postseason was “obviously a huge loss.” Taylor added the Braves were without star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.

“I don’t think we can use that as an excuse,” Taylor said. “Every team is going to have injuries over the course of a season and postseason.”

The disappointing end is hardly unfamiliar. The Dodgers experienced seven straight October failures — including consecutive defeats in the 2017 and ’18 World Series — before finally earning a championship last year.

When they finally broke through, the 2020 Dodgers felt cheated by the pandemic. No buzzing sellouts at Dodger Stadium, no parade, hardly any of the pomp that usually accompanies such a feat. It became a source of motivation that — along with a heaping load of talent — was supposed to push them back up the mountain this year.

“In some ways, we feel like we kind of half-won the thing,” Buehler said this spring of the 2020 title.

The Dodgers were hoping to celebrate again, this time with their fans. They showed sufficient resiliency to survive Thursday’s Game 5 elimination game, hitting five homers in an 11-2 win, including three by Chris Taylor.

With Buehler pitching on three days of rest for the second time in the postseason, the NLCS comeback ended. Buehler gave up four runs in four innings, leaving his ERA for the series at 7.04.

Roberts said Saturday that Scherzer and Buehler “are both aces.” With one top starter forced to pitch on short rest and the other ace sidelined with a dead arm, the aces were in no position to save the Dodgers’ season.

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