Looking back at Don Mattingly’s Game 4 decisions
I’m not going to blame Don Mattingly for Tuesday’s loss and the Dodgers’ elimination in the NLDS. I certainly wasn’t thrilled with how he managed the game, but his three real calls didn’t work out that badly.
Call No. 1 - The lineup: Mattingly tried to shake things up by starting Andre Ethier over Yasiel Puig in center field, rather than a more obvious move of starting Justin Turner over Dee Gordon at second base.
Result: Ethier got on base twice via the walk, and the downgrade in center field defense was a complete non-factor in the game. The big problem was Ethier getting picked off third base to end the top of the sixth. As for Gordon, he reached base twice as well, walking in the seventh and singling in the ninth. In all, Mattingly’s picks did fine. We’ll never know what the alternatives would have done.
Call No. 2 - The eighth-inning bullpen choice: Down 3-2 with top of the Cardinals’ order up, Mattingly should have gone to closer Kenley Jansen, who had the best chance of anyone of keeping it a 3-2 game headed to the ninth. Instead, Mattingly stuck with Pedro Baez, who finished the seventh.
Result: No harm, no foul. Baez and Brandon League combined on a perfect eighth, saving Jansen for an opportunity that never came.
Call No. 3 - Approaching the ninth with the bottom of the order due up. Mattingly still had his entire bench, most notably Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner and Scott Van Slyke, available with Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis and the pitcher’s spot due up. Complicating things was that Ellis, once an obvious choice to be removed, was hitting .538 in the series.
Result: After Uribe grounded out, Mattingly chose to let Ellis hit with one out and then replaced him with Puig once he walked. Turner struck out as a pinch-hitter, Gordon singled and Carl Crawford grounded out to end the game. Under the circumstances, I’d say Mattingly handled it correctly. An alternative was sending Turner up for Ellis and Puig for the pitcher, but letting Ellis bat against a wild pitcher made a lot of sense. Ellis may not be much of a hitter, but he certainly knows how not to swing. And once Ellis reached, Puig was the best option to run. It still hurt to give up his bat in such a situation, but I don’t think there was any other choice. Puig wasn’t going to hit for anyone later in the inning anyway.
Not a call: Leaving Clayton Kershaw in for the seventh after six scoreless innings.
Result: Kershaw gave up a three-run homer to Matt Adams before being lifted. Still, no manager in baseball takes Kershaw out after six, even at 94 pitches. Yes, it should have been obvious that Kershaw could lose it quickly while working on three days’ rest, but he showed no signs of fatigue through six. And while it was certainly time to start thinking about going to the pen after the first two batters reached in the seventh, there was no way Kershaw was getting pulled until after he faced the left-handed Adams. It’s a non-starter. In theory, you can argue that Jansen should have been in the game at that point. In practice, it’s absolutely never going to happen.
Personally, I think Mattingly is a lousy tactical manager, and it’s one of the reasons the Dodgers didn’t advance in October. I also thought benching Puig was absolutely the wrong call. Game 4, though, wasn’t lost by the Dodgers; it was won by the Cardinals.