I know the Dodgers have lost only two games this postseason, but doesn’t it feel like, I don’t know, 20? Even their Game 2 win, fueled by Matt Kemp‘s huge homer, was wrapped in J.P. Howell coughing up a late lead. Last night’s Game 3 was no different, with Scott Elbert doing the honors, and while I’d like us to remember that Hyun-jin Ryu was absolutely fantastic, the fact that we’re stuck relying on short-rest Clayton Kershaw in a few hours to preserve the season is more than a little unsettling.
Let’s do a quick run around the internet to unpack Game 3 and set some things straight…
Stop blaming this on the umpire…
Dale Scott was bad last night, particularly so on the Kemp ninth-inning plate appearance that looked for all the world where Kemp recieved a ball, then a strike, on back-to-back pitches that seemed identical. I am no in way defending Scott, who was seemingly a mess all night. Let’s just remember that no umpire is biased against your favorite team, and don’t even start with me about “oh, he was clapping after Yasiel Puig struck out,” because, no.
Remember, first, that the two teams weren’t playing with equal decks. Yadier Molina is one of the best pitch framers in baseball. A.J. Ellis is one of the worst. If that alone led to an extra strike or two being called (or not), that’s big, and I can think of a few times where Ryu grooved pitches that looked like strikes but were questionable because Ellis was set up 40 feet inside.
Remember, second, that Scott’s issues were mainly in calling outside pitches against righty hitters, as Hardball Talk shows:
Now for righties. Same deal:
It’s pretty clear that when righties were up — and Kemp is a righty — that pitchers were getting a LOT of calls on the outside. And unless my eyes are deceiving me, it looks like Cards righty batters had more bad calls go against them on the outside than Dodgers hitters.
Clearly, Scott missed some calls, and the Kemp one stands out. You know what, though? There’s more than a few red squares on that chart too, and let’s also remember that human umpires don’t have an actual square in front of them. Scott was bad, but it affected both sides. Let’s not overthink this.
…or the manager:
I feel like I’m forced to defend Don Mattingly a lot, and I don’t even like Mattingly that much. As I’ve said a million times, if he gets let go, I have no problem with that, as long as we understand that most managers would do the exact same things he’s done.
Think about his postseason so far: He’s left in the best pitcher in baseball, then gone to an inexperienced rookie. He pulled the best No. 2 pitcher in baseball, going to a reliable veteran rookie. He got what he could out of a very good No. 3 who hadn’t pitched a competitive game in nearly a month, then went to a pitcher who is both a veteran (Elbert has been in the organization since 2004 and made his big league debut in 2008), and a complete unknown (due to arm injuries, he’s pitched 4.1 big league innings in the last two years).
None of it worked. None of it, and while there’s minor quibbles — I would have pulled Kershaw one batter earlier, and I might have brought in a righty rather than Elbert — every single decision was defensible. We know now that Zack Greinke was done. There was no reason to push Ryu any further than he’d already gone. Not a single move worked, because, quite simply, this bullpen is a disaster other than Kenley Jansen. Are we to believe that if Bruce Bochy or Buck Showalter were the manager, he’d have found the magic solution? I’m not buying that at all.
As I said on Twitter last night, if you’re really complaining that you didn’t get to see Dan Haren or Carlos Frias or Brian Wilson in a big spot, then you’ve kidnapped yourself. If those are your preferred options, you have no options. Furthermore, even though we knew this bullpen was a problem — there’s some room to criticize Ned Colletti there — the fact that it’s doing this is basically unprecedented. Every initial reliever has allowed a homer within his first four pitches. You’d imagine that if only by luck someone would get at least a lineout. The bullpen isn’t good, but even I’m surprised it’s this bad.
Yasiel Puig struck out seven times in a row!
No, he shouldn’t be benched for Andre Ethier or Scott Van Slyke tonight. Stop it. That’s crazy talk. We should also remember that he scored three times in Game 1, and scored the only run in Game 3. In between, he whiffed seven straight times, one short of a postseason record, and eight out of nine times, with a triple in between. An incredibly poorly-timed slump? Did Molina and the Cards “get in his head?” Maybe, maybe not. I broke down each one over at FanGraphs:
With the second 3-2 pitch, Lackey goes back to the fastball, over the outside half. It would have been a strike had Puig taken it, but he attacks, and…
… swings right through it. Strike three. Strike 21, really.
Every single strike three was swinging. Every single one was outside, though they often came on different pitches (sliders, fastballs, and a change). I don’t know what’s caused Puig’s bad stretch, but let’s hope that’s all it is — and, again, we’re talking about barely more than one game’s worth of plate appearances. With Juan Uribe, Dee Gordon and Adrian Gonzalez all having done little so far, this team badly needs Puig’s offense.
Please stop throwing grooved pitches to Matt Carpenter!
Via Baseball Savant, here’s the heat map on Carpenter’s three homers this October:
Carpenter is a good hitter. The Dodgers have mostly thrown him meatballs. Shockingly, this has ended poorly. Hey — stop doing that.
* * *
Here’s why the Dodgers lost, and it’s very simple: The bullpen is a train wreck. The offense couldn’t get anything going against John Lackey. The ump didn’t help, but that’s a minor issue. And now, it’s all up to Kershaw to prevent both an unwatchable Giants / Cards NLCS and a lifetime’s worth of “the Cards are in his head!” complaints from the uninformed.
Godspeed, Clayton. No pressure, but we’re all counting on you.