There has always been, with Don Mattingly, something particularly weird, something that begs to question whether he can manage a historic Dodgers franchise. The truth is, for all the talk of one’s job security based on the Dodgers uninspired outings this fall, Donnie Baseball is managing poorly and carelessly.
It’s one thing to make it to the postseason and advance to the National League Championship Series. It’s quite another for the richest team in baseball to lose and fall short of the World Series, with all the glamour and stars that more often than not captivates LA fans who usually live for the moment. The Dodgers are in serious trouble, trailing the series 0-2 against the hotter and smarter St. Louis Cardinals, who are on fire at a perfect time with their gutty pitching and big-time moments. It was clear early in this series that the Dodgers have been in a definite slump after only producing two runs in their horrid 3-2 and 1-0 losses, a drought as a result of leaving runners on base.
The team with a $237 million payroll is horrendous with runners in scoring position — 1 for 16 — mainly for Mattingly’s decision to remove hitters from his lineup and leave relievers Paco Rodriguez and Chris Capuano off the NLCS roster in the series opener. They’ve basically salvaged their season in a way in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Braves, thanks to Capuano, who walked three batters but didn’t allow a run and earned the victory in his only postseason appearance.
So where did it all go wrong for a team that looked like it was baseball’s deadliest all summer long? It’s Mattingly’s mismanaging, it’s those frozen bats, and it’s the inability to score runs. On Saturday, the Dodgers struggled against the Cardinals, who continue their postseason magic, as the hot-hitting Carlos Beltran loves October, piling up clutch hits. With the Dodgers needing one run to tie the Cardinals, Mattingly had benched Adrian Gonzalez for the unsteady hitter Michael Young, who replaced Gonzo at first base. The failures began with Mattingly’s choice to remove his serviceable RBI guy in the late innings, replacing Gonzalez after he’d walked to lead off the eighth inning. He inserted a speedy Dee Gordon to pinch-run, and needless to say, he was forced out at second base.
This was unwise and awful, a peculiar strategy that backfired in Mattingly’s face, which is why the Dodgers diminished themselves, and have stranded 17 runners as their clutch hitting has been woeful. Sometimes it seems like he doesn’t know what he’s doing with his guys. That’s one of the things that Mattingly does too often. By now you’ve probably known a thing or two about Mattingly’s mentality to experiment, the way he tries to reinvent a lineup with efficient power. On Friday, he was standing near the railing in the Dodgers dugout, looking on. The one move from the opener of the National League Championship Series was equivalent of Wile E. Coyote tossing anvils that blow up in his face.
If the Dodgers can’t come back and win this series, Mattingly’s decision to pinch run for Gonzalez in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game after he had led off with a walk will haunt him and the Dodgers all winter long. He needed to get creative and smarter, not stupid and reckless. It’s mind-boggling that Mattingly had Gordon run for Gonzalez, the team’s top RBI man and most reliable hitter. Gordon wasn’t driven in and it was another bad moment in a crucial time of the game when the Dodgers were in dire need of the biggest hit of the night. There were no outs when he made the switch, and Mattingly seemed reluctant to stay with his lineup as he tried something different and it cost the boys in blue. In the 10th inning of Game 1, Mark Ellis was on third after a one-out triple.
It could have been a different outcome had Gonzalez still been in the lineup, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would have had to worry about pitching to Mr. October, Hanley Ramirez, who hit .500 with six extra-base hits in the NLDS. Mattingly delegated the task of providing runs to Young, who came up and hit the weak pop fly to right, where the strong-armed Beltran caught it and fired a throw that beat Ellis at home. Without any improvement in the late innings, Mattingly made mistakes in the 12th after Crawford laced a leadoff single and Ellis bunted him over to second. With a chance to produce, Young hit into a double play with men in scoring position.
They just weren’t hitting, particularly the rookie sensation, Yasiel Puig, who was 0-for-10 with six strikeouts. The Dodgers are not dead, and certainly are alive, but Mattingly can’t afford to make mistakes like these in the playoffs when he’s a manager whose job status remains in limbo. It’s too bad the Dodgers are down 2-0 to the Cardinals, after losing on Friday and Saturday, precisely on the cusp of elimination. Looking at this series, the Dodgers wasted dominant starts from Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. This was all on Mattingly, making a move that failed and it’s clear he’s in turmoil for questionable decisions in these playoffs, under much scrutiny with the Dodgers.
There has been perpetual speculation that Mattingly’s job is in jeopardy if the Dodgers don’t come back and win the series, and the people operating the organization will either pick up his 2014 option or look to sign him to a long-term extension. If Mattingly has ever been under so much stress, with gray hairs popping up, it’s because he’s feeling the tension managing an organization that spent a lot of money to buy talent and renew their brand with this formula of throwing millions at big-time players. If the Dodgers had won the first two games in this series, Mattingly would not have been criticized. There’s much he can do differently, but if his team doesn’t turn this series around at home for the next three, the mistakes will live on for a very long time.
If the Dodgers don’t win the NLCS, Mattingly will have to live with the fact that he’s made too many mistakes.
And now because of his flawed strategies, the Dodgers are down in the series.