The Dodgers are going to win the National League West, so don’t worry about that. But when they get to the playoffs, well, you might want to start worrying when that happens. What the Dodgers showed tonight, for the second time in three games in a series they hoped would see them raising a flag, is that they might not be quite ready for prime time.
And yeah, that includes the manager, who continues to expose his own weaknesses in ways that are at best concerning and at worst utterly mind-bogging.
Remember on that last homestand when Don Mattingly committed a Freudian slip and gave the umpire the name of a pitcher he didn’t intend to bring in, and so he wound up having to bring in that pitcher, J.P. Howell, when he wasn’t adequately warmed up? Well, there was another one of those tonight. In the bottom of the third inning, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt went to the mound to talk to an obviously struggling Stephen Fife, who was about to pitch to Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy with runners on first and second, one out and Arizona already leading 3-0. Two pitches later — one of which was a wild pitch that advanced the runners to second and third — it was 2-0 to McCarthy, and Mattingly began walking to the mound to make a change.
Except that he didn’t make it very far because plate umpire Joe West immediately stopped him, because you CAN’T DO THAT. A pitcher has to complete one full batter faced between mound visits. It’s not one of the most basic rules of baseball, but it’s one pretty much anybody who has an above-average knowledge of the game knows. Did Mattingly just have a momentary brain lapse? Or did he just NOT KNOW THE RULE? I like the guy, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and go with the former. He didn’t really answer the question after the game, just said he was a little too quick in starting to the mound.
Oh, and I’m also going to let him off the hook on one other thing that I was prepared to criticize him over — in the top of the first inning, when Yasiel Puig got picked off second base when Carl Crawford bunted through a pitch, the sacrifice wasn’t on. Turns out Crawford was bunting for a hit, on his own, and when he squared Puig apparently anticipated contact and leaned the wrong way, giving catcher Miguel Montero just enough of a window to throw behind him and pick him off.
And I’m not even going to fault him for throwing an inexperienced kid like Stephen Fife, who hadn’t started a major league game since Aug. 4, onto the mound for a potential clinching game, a situation Fife didn’t appear at all ready for. That decision was made to give Clayton Kershaw extra rest and line him up to pitch the playoff opener, so you can at least make SOME sense of that.
That aside, though, it wasn’t a good night for Donnie Baseball.
After that bad call at the plate by Jim Joyce cost the Dodgers a run in the sixth and Adrian Gonzalez got tossed from second base for arguing the call, Mattingly sent Juan Uribe in to pinch run. He had Dee Gordon on his bench, but he sent in Uribe, who was going to enter the game at third in the bottom of the inning, with Michael Young moving to first to take over for the ejected Gonzalez. OK, fine, we get that Donnie didn’t want to burn a player there, but when Matt Kemp followed with a single through the left side, Uribe was only able to get to third — he initially rounded the bag, but put on the brakes and scrambled back — when Gordon MIGHT have scored on the play. Uribe wound up stranded when Mark Ellis subsequently flied out.
OK, I can maybe accept Donnie’s logic there. But then, in the seventh, after Tim Federowicz double in a run to cut the deficit to 4-3 with nobody out, Mattingly could have done two things. With two catchers on his bench, he could have sent Gordon in to pinch run for Federowicz, and he didn’t. And he could’ve let Skip Schumaker swing away and try to drive in the run, but he didn’t — he had Schumaker sacrifice, GIVE UP AN OUT, when the Dodgers had a chance to tie the game. Schumaker got the bunt down, and Fedex moved to third. Puig then beat out an infield single that there was no way Fedex could score on, and pinch hitter Scott Van Slyke then grounded into an inning-ending double play, wiping out the Dodgers’ last big opportunity of the night.
Mattingly pointed out after the game that not using Gordon there didn’t cost the Dodgers a run because even he wouldn’t have scored given the sequence of events that happened after Fedex doubled. That’s true. But one, Mattingly didn’t know that when he opted not to use Gordon. And two, the Dodgers MIGHT have had a chance to get Gordon — or even Fedex — home that inning if they hadn’t volutarily given up an out on the sacrifice. A gift out, and the other two on one swing of the bat. Nice inning for the D-backs.
And then, in the eighth inning, Mattingly brings in two relievers he has said he wants to protect in Paco Rodriguez and Ronald Belisario. Not questioning that, it was still a tight game at the time, and those are his two primary setup guys. But if he wants to protect them, why was this the second night in a row that they were pitching? Why did Mattingly use BOTH of them, along with closer Kenley Jansen, in the late innings of last night’s blowout, 9-3 victory?
OK, maybe I’m piling on a little bit here. And to Donnie’s credit, he runs a clubhouse well, and the players seem to respect him by and large. He’s a players’ manager, which you kind of almost have to be in this day and age.
But when you get to the postseason, you have to also be a good game strategist. And when you think about some of the guys he is likely to go head-to-head against when he gets there — Fredi Gonzalez, Mike Matheny, Jim Leyland, to name a few — it’s a facet of this team that makes you a little uncomfortable. And if it’s getting exposed like this at a time when the Dodgers have a comfortable lead in the National League West, it is even more likely to get exposed in the postseason, a time when every moment of every game is magnified.