By many measures, the Dodgers were an outstanding team last season.
They won their sixth straight NL West title. They made it to the World Series for the second year in a row. Their hitters led the majors in park-adjusted offense, while their starting rotation ranked in the top three by both park-adjusted ERA and fielding-independent metrics. They scored 194 more runs than their opponents, by far the best run differential in the majors — a number so impressive, their expected record would have produced 103 wins.
And yet, the 2018 season felt disappointing, for multiple reasons. The Dodgers won 11 fewer games than you'd expect when glancing at their run differential, eking out that NL West crown only by beating the Rockies in a one-game playoff. They were haunted by some of the same bugaboos that have plagued the team for much of this six-year run, with a 22-22 record in one-run games highlighting their struggles in high-leverage situations.
So what went wrong? The answer lies in a combination of bad luck and flawed roster building that got exposed at the worst possible times.
Relief pitching has been the team's Achilles' heel for much of this close-but-no-cigar era. While Kenley Jansen has held down the fort as one of the best closers in the league, his bullpen running mates have frequently ranged from mediocre to downright flammable. That wasn't the case in 2018. While the Dodgers' pen wasn't elite last season, it did finish 13th in the majors in park-adjusted ERA. When you've got the best offense in baseball, a top-three rotation, a deep bench, and a pen that's a tick better than league average, you'd typically expect great things to happen.