The Dodgers went out with a whimper in their season finale, losing Game 5 to the Phillies 10-4. This will no doubt give ammunition to the Dodger doubters who for months have said they were not built for the playoffs (a series sweep of the Cardinals, notwithstanding).
I've always believed the playoffs to be something of a crapshoot, but that's certainly no excuse for them losing this series. The bottom line is, the bullpen which had been their strength all season, fell apart when the Dodgers needed it most. George Sherrill had barely given up any runs in Dodger blue, but his three-run homer allowed in Game 1, and sloppy pitching in Game 4 were real killers. And of course, Jonathan Broxton's fear of pitching to Matt Stairs and sudden loss of command at the end of Game 4 was crushing.
Much has been made of the fact that the Dodgers didn't have an ace. But in truth, aces don't grow on trees, and the Dodgers did have the pitching talent to win the series. For all the hoopla about Cliff Lee, he only won one game in the NLCS... a game the Phillies could have probably won with Chad Durbin going a full 9 innings. Cole Hamels was hardly stellar in his outings, and Joe Blanton didn't do much either. The only other Phillies pitcher with a dominant outing was Pedro Martinez, pitching in a game the Dodgers won.
Still, Chad Billingsley's sudden second half slide (after an All-Star first half) deprived the Dodgers of a much-needed arm starting an NLCS game. I'm disappointed in the Dodger training staff and Joe Torre for thinking that Hiroki Kuroda was healthy enough to pitch in Game 3. He clearly wasn't ready to come back then. And sometimes managers overrate the small sample size of postseason games, which probably led Torre to think that Vicente Padilla was an ace based on just two good starts.
The Dodgers lineup wasn't bad in this series, but they did leave a lot of runners on base and didn't come through quite as often as they needed to. Conversely, you have to give the Phllies credit for getting their lineup together, especially Ryan Howard, who raised his game to a whole new level.
This season is not a failure, although many will call it that. The Dodgers finished 2009 with the best record in the National League, they won a playoff series, and their kids officially grew up. They will enter 2010 with their nucleus in tact, and have a talent base good enough to contend for a World Series. Obviously, they will need to explore options for starting pitchers, as John Lackey will be a free agent they could sign and Roy Halladay could be on the trade block.
Until then, as the old Dodger saying goes: "Just wait 'till next year!"