LOS ANGELES (AP) — Another early playoff exit by the Los Angeles Dodgers assures their absence from the World Series for 28 years.
The franchise that boasts six world championships — two each in the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s — and that had baseball's highest payroll of $289.6 million managed just two playoff victories before losing 3-2 to the New York Mets in a decisive Game 5 of their NL Division Series on Thursday night.
Who's to blame? The players are adamant it's not manager Don Mattingly.
"He had nothing to do with this," left fielder Kike Hernandez said. "It's not even a question. Donnie is our manager."
Veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said, "He's our guy and I believe in him."
Mattingly is under contract for one more season, but the Dodgers could decide to put their massive payroll in the hands of someone new.
He was in no mood to consider his status after the season abruptly ended, testily dismissing a question about it and urging the moderator at a postgame news conference to move on.
Mattingly is 446-363 in five years at the helm, having led the club to a winning record in each of his five seasons, including three consecutive NL West titles. The 54-year-old former Yankees star ranks sixth all-time among winningest Dodgers managers.
The Dodgers have reached the playoffs three times during Mattingly's tenure, but they have won just one postseason series, beating Atlanta in the division series two years ago, while losing three. They haven't reached the World Series since 1988, when they won their last championship.
Mattingly is a holdover from the previous front office regime, having been manager Joe Torre's hand-picked successor in 2010 after he coached under the Hall of Famer for seven seasons.
He worked this season under the new tandem of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi, who had greater hands-on management of the team than what Mattingly was used to under former GM Ned Colletti.
Between Zaidi's expertise in advanced analytics and Friedman's reputation for building a roster by crunching numbers, Mattingly had a plethora of data at his disposal this season.
But the end result was still the same.
"You come to spring training, you work all winter, you scratch, you fight, all year long to get into this situation and you have a chance. It comes to a crash," Mattingly said. "I don't think there's any way to soften that blow."
Los Angeles doesn't have any titles to show for more than $780 million in payroll over the last three seasons. In addition to this year's payroll, the Dodgers will owe about $40 million more in luxury tax.
Zack Greinke, who gave up a go-ahead home run to Daniel Murphy on Thursday, may have thrown his last pitch for the Dodgers. The right-hander, who turns 32 next week, has the option of voiding the last three years of his contract — worth $71 million — and becoming a free agent.
"It would be nice to be back," he said after the game. "There wasn't any drama compared to the last couple years. Everyone got along pretty well. We played well together. This was a really deep team. We got a great situation here."
Clayton Kershaw and Greinke managed two wins in their four playoff starts, hardly reflective of their success during the regular season. Kershaw was the major league strikeout leader with 301 and Greinke's 1.66 ERA led the majors, making both leading contenders for the NL Cy Young Award.
There were other bright spots, too.
The Dodgers' 187 home runs led the National League for the first time since 1983, with rookies contributing 51 of those. Joc Pederson hit 26 homers, second-most by a rookie in franchise history.
Rookie Corey Seager hit .337, with eight homers and 17 RBIs, in 27 games after being called up from the minors early last month.
Veteran Justin Turner won the starting spot at third base during the season, and he came up big in the playoffs. His 10 hits were the most by a Dodgers player in a division series, and his six doubles set a franchise record.
Beyond Kershaw and Greinke, the starting rotation struggled with the absence of No. 3 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, whose ailing left shoulder cost him the season. The bullpen rode a roller coaster of success and failure, and mercurial outfielder Yasiel Puig was limited to 72 games because of hamstring issues in both legs.
Still, Gonzalez believes the current roster and manager have what it takes to eventually win it all.
"We just need to keep working at it," he said. "If the guys here this year are all back next year, we'll have the guys."