I don’t like to dwell on the negative, and I should be glad that the Dodgers split the first two games in Atlanta where they were playing in enemy territory amongst the sea of chopping fans. Yet the game was winnable, and in fact if it wasn’t for one or two detrimental mistakes the Dodgers should have taken a 2-0 lead in the series. So what went wrong for the Dodgers? Can Don Mattingly learn from these mistakes and not repeat these errors for the remainder of the series? Let’s take a closer look at some of the pivotal points during Friday’s loss to the Braves.
1. Intentionally walking Reed Johnson and pitching to Jason Heyward
This costly decision would ultimately plate the winning runs for the Braves. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Chris Withrow started the inning off on the mound for the Dodgers. Withrow had been a solid addition to the Dodgers bullpen this year, but this would be his first postseason appearance in his young career. A lead-off walk to Brian McCann set the table for what could be the worst managerial decision I have ever witnessed in a postseason game. Chris Johnson followed with a single, and Andrelton Simmons bunts the runners over to second and third. Withrow rears back and strikes out Elliot Johnson for the second out, and the Dodgers have a chance to escape the threat. At first Jose Constanza comes out to pinch-hit which triggers Mattingly to go to the bullpen for a left-hander (Paco Rodriguez). Fredi Gonzalez then pulls Constanza back and opts for a right-hander to counter Paco. Reed Johnson. Now, as Dodger fans we can all remember old friend Reed Johnson. He’s not exactly a threat at the plate. In fact, Johnson had not collected a base hit since July 28th. Instead of letting Paco pitch to Johnson, Mattingly makes the move which spurred a thousand what the hell is he doing tweets on Twitter at that moment. Mattingly asks Paco to intentionally walk Reed Johnson in order to pitch to Jason Heyward. Instead of letting Paco pitch to Johnson, he instead walks Johnson to load up the bases for the much more dangerous hitter in Heyward. Sure, he was going for the lefty/lefty matchup which is the strategy which Mattingly uses in most of his decisions it seems. Of course after being asked to intentionally walk the first batter he faces, Paco can’t find the strike zone and proceeds to allow a two-run single to Heyward. Paco hadn’t really been used primarily as a LOOGY all season, and in most instances he had been asked to pitch entire innings to both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Mattingly could have had Paco pitch to Reed Johnson, or once Johnson was announced Mattingly could have brought in a right-hander like Ronald Belisario. I don’t think there was a Dodger fan on the planet who doesn’t think Mattingly made the wrong decision there. For the love of baseball, Donnie please do not walk Gerald Laird to get to Freddie Freeman or any other such ridiculous moves.
2. Starting Carl Crawford instead of Scott Van Slyke against left-handed pitching
I’m in no way a Scott Van Slyke fan. His defense is atrocious, but he does have some occasional power and he hits left-handed pitching better than Carl Crawford who historically struggles against left-handers. Carl Crawford did make a great catch up against the wall in Game 1 to save a potential three-run homerun by Brian McCann, a play which would not have been made by Van Slyke. Yet Crawford has struggled out of the lead-off spot this season, and he came up short in key moments during game two. He struck out to end the game in the top of the ninth against heat-throwing Craig Kimbrel, and he grounded into a disastrous double play in the top of the seventh inning. Which brings me to number three…
3. The double plays
The Dodgers grounded into three double plays. Skip Schumaker grounded into a DP in the top of the second which erased a lead-off single by Juan Uribe. Mark Ellis grounded into a double play in the top of the second to cancel out a lead-off and rare single by Carl Crawford. Then there was of course the inning ending Crawford double play in the top the seventh which stranded Schumaker at third base. The Dodgers will need timely hitting with runners on base in the remainder of the NLDS in order to capture the series victory.
4. The bunting
It wouldn’t be a Dodger game if there wasn’t some bunting now would it? No, of course not. Don Mattingly asked A.J. Ellis to bunt during that fateful seventh inning in order to move Schumaker over, and I have to wonder if he didn’t take the bat out of A.J.’s hand and hadn’t given up that out if the Dodgers would have actually scored in the frame.
5. Taking Zack Greinke out after 6 innings
Greinke only made 83 pitches in 6 innings of work. We all know what went down in the seventh, and we have to look back and wonder if Zack had been allowed to come out for one more inning if things wouldn’t have gone down differently. I tend to think that it would have.
6. Running Dee Gordon in the top of the ninth inning
We can go back and forth and argue about whether Dee was safe on that steal attempt, but the fact is he probably should have never been running in the first place. He was safe, but with Andre Ethier at the plate there really was no reason for Dee to be attempting to take a base. You can say Dee is a “bad” player, but Mattingly was the one making the call. We have seen throughout his three years at the helm that Mattingly is not great with the running plays. Dee has the speed, but Mattingly does not know how to harness the speed or use it correctly in the right situation. Of course Ethier walks thereafter, and Carl Crawford strikes out to end the game. Dee can be a secret weapon for Donnie, but I’m not sure that the ninth inning of a one-run postseason game is the right time to be experimenting with that move.
The Dodgers came up short, and the Braves capitalized on the mistakes made by the Dodgers and Mattingly. During these short postseason series, one small mistake or blunder can cost a team a championship or at least the possibility of advancing toward said championship. Atlanta is a very tough team, and you can guarantee any lapse of judgment will be used against the Dodgers. Don Mattingly may have saved his job earlier in the season when the Dodgers turned things around for that epic stretch, but if Mattingly makes anymore game costing mistakes, he could end up in the same boat as Dusty Baker.
Reed Johnson? Why Donnie?