Dodgers' 2016 recipe abandons them at the worst possible time

CHICAGO -- There were always a few truths with the Los Angeles Dodgers during an obstacle course of a season: Clayton Kershaw was nails when healthy, the defense would catch what it could reach, and the club could somehow always find a way to win.

None of that recipe came together Saturday as the Dodgers crashed out of the postseason with a 5-0 defeat to a Chicago Cubs team on a mission.

While revelry exploded outside on the streets of Chicago, the Dodgers packed up in their clubhouse at Wrigley Field determined to be even better next season. Presumably, that meant healthier as well.

The Dodgers went through 28 players on the disabled list and used 55 players total to match a franchise single-season high. When the worst injury news of all came in late June with Kershaw going on the disabled list with a back injury, the team managed to get better.

Eight games back in the National League West when Kershaw's back quit on him, the Dodgers staged a fierce rally when the bullpen emerged, the offense took off and the defense settled in for the long haul. They managed to clinch their fourth consecutive NL West title with a week to play in the regular season.

The riddle they could not solve was the upstart Cubs, who overwhelmed whatever plan of attack the Dodgers could muster. Leading 2-1 in the National League Championship Series, with two home games still to play, the Dodgers watched the Cubs' bulldozer rapidly pick up speed.

The Dodgers were thoroughly dominated over the final three games of the series, losing by a combined score of 23-6. Kershaw was far from his best in Game 6, but it hardly would have mattered. Cubs pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman held the Dodgers to two hits, as they combined to face the minimum 27 batters. The season ended on Yasiel Puig's double-play grounder.

"Tonight was certainly not the prototypical 2016 Dodgers game," president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "But it happens. It certainly wasn't from a lack of desire or preparedness or want. It just sometimes happens, and that's baseball."

Trouble arrived early, with Kershaw bobbing and weaving from the outset, starting his October narrative anew. Again, it was a lack of run support in addition to a poor defensive play, with rookie left fielder Andrew Toles dropping a fly ball in the gap, that led to an early Cubs run.

With no curveball to speak of and less than his plus-slider, Kershaw tried to rely mostly on his fastball, but the Cubs were on to him. Kershaw gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits in just five innings of work. He has now pitched in a Dodgers elimination game five times in his career, giving up at least five runs in three of those outings.

Kershaw hung his head often on the mound as the season started to slip away, falling to his knees at one point, looking as if he was summoning extra gravity, when Anthony Rizzo's fifth-inning home run raced toward the bleachers.

"I think I threw one curveball for a strike throughout the game, so it basically eliminated that pitch," Kershaw said. "Pitching with two pitches, just the command wasn't quite as it was (in Game 2). You get out of that first inning and you give up two, you feel like you have a chance, maybe. They just kept tacking up runs. I gave up two-out hits, some homers, some two-strike hits, just a lot of things that you can't do in a game like this."

Two victories from a spot in the World Series sounds close, but this is the fourth consecutive season the Dodgers won their division and not only failed to win a title but failed to get to the ultimate series.

"This definitely stinks, man," said closer Kenley Jansen, who followed Kershaw with three scoreless innings on 30 pitches and was the Dodgers' most consistent performer in the postseason. "At some point one of those teams will see their season end, and you hope it's not us. It happened again. We just have to keep our head up.

"When you saw how we started this year, nobody even thought we would make the playoffs, and for us to just come here and battle against the guys, after going through a lot of stuff in the season, we just have to be proud of ourselves and what we accomplished. At the same time, we all wanted to win a championship."

Now the Dodgers have decisions to make. Will Jansen be back as he heads into free agency? Justin Turner, too? The Dodgers have no clear-cut candidates to take over at either spot.

"You talk about the baserunning and the defense we played all year long, it was off the charts," Turner said. "There were a couple of baserunning mistakes, myself included, a couple of (pitcher's fielding) plays, we might be in a different situation right now. But you can't look back and try to point fingers at what went wrong.

"We all played our asses off all season long and throughout the series. I don't think anyone gave us a chance in this series, and we played some pretty good baseball against a pretty good team over there."

Dave Roberts is headed toward a probable NL Manager of the Year award, but there was nothing he could concoct to derail the Cubs, who have now reached the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

In fact, the strategy to bunt and dance off the bases in Game 5 against Cubs starter Jon Lester only seemed to distract the Dodgers. And plugging Toles into the leadoff spot for the first time all season in Game 6 did not spark the offense.

"I just think that there was a lot of growth, and I think that how we came together as a team, not only the 25 guys in the clubhouse but guys that helped us get to where we're at tonight, just the way we played the game every night, with certain adversities, that our guys were accountable, made no excuses all year long," Roberts said.

"And I think with that, for me, that's something that's a silver lining. Going forward, the groundwork of how we play the game -- we came up short, but the result on how we played, there's a lot to be said for that."

Another postseason award is expected to be headed Corey Seager's way as the runaway favorite for NL Rookie of the Year. But the tall shortstop looked physically drained at the end, although he still managed to go 6-for-21 in the NLCS.

"Really it wasn't anything, it was just fatigue from a long year," Seager said, when asked if he had been dealing with any ailments late in the season. "Next year will be better just because you know what to expect. That's really all it was."

The Dodgers just seemed to run out of gas as a group against the young and energetic Cubs.

"There is a lot to be really proud of with this group," Friedman said. "Obviously it's going to take some time to get over this. The experience from this postseason will serve our guys really well going forward. It hurts to say that, but that is the silver lining in it. This has been a very resilient group all year, and in the postgame embraces, there was a lot of talk among the group of how we will be back next year. I think that is motivation for all of us."