Honestly? I didn’t expect the Dodgers to win today, so I was generally chill throughout. In a contest where the Dodgers were 2-to-1 underdogs, sending third starter Kenta Maeda up against ace Jon Lester away from home, the Dodgers could’ve easily won a game they eventually dropped to the Cubs, 8-4, if only a couple of things went their way.
So in itself, the loss was fine, but the way they lost had me thinking I’d rather have had it been a blowout, quite frankly.
Kenta Maeda started the game for the Dodgers and struggled a bit and got unlucky a bit. Maeda gave up three runs in four innings and made only 66 pitches, which obviously isn’t good, but the way those runs were scored weren’t exactly damning.
In the first, Kris Bryant hit a fly ball double off the wall that drove in a run, as Howie Kendrick half misplayed it and half just isn’t an outfielder, and the wind took it further than it had any business going. Then in the second, Javier Baez hit a pop up double that went over the heads of a drawn-in infield to score a run. Later in the inning, the Dodgers had Baez dead to rights at third after a failed bunt attempt, but Carlos Ruiz made a mediocre throw to the bag and Baez just broke for home instead of getting into a rundown, making it safely (of course) and scoring on a steal of home.
So was Maeda good? Not really. But he could’ve easily only given up one run or so had things gone just a bit differently.
On the other side of things, Jon Lester threw six innings of one-run ball, giving up just four hits and a walk. That would’ve been expected coming into this game, worse than expected even, but the fact that he was removed having only thrown 77 pitches and that he only struck out three batters sorta speaks to how the game actually went.
While the announcers and media were busy slobbering all over Lester and the Cubs defense, the reality was the Dodgers were spraying line drives all over the park and almost every single one of them found gloves.
I, too, can highlight things from Statcast data. pic.twitter.com/uJqOPSKCXX
— Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) October 16, 2016
What can you do about that? Baseball sucks sometimes.
Fortunately, Andre Ethier avoided the unlucky mess by hitting the ball over the fence, which was definitely just lucky or some garbage narrative like that.
Still, it simply seemed like one of those days for the Dodgers. However, in the eighth, the offense finally broke through. Andrew Toles led the inning off with a single, then Chase Utley drew a walk, and Justin Turner reached on an infield single to third when Toles was able to beat Bryant to the bag. With the bases loaded, nobody out, and the heart of the order due up, Joe Maddon went to Aroldis Chapman. All Chapman proceeded to do was strikeout Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig, which seemed to point towards the Dodgers failing again with the bases loaded.
Fortunately then, Adrian Gonzalez was around to rip a sharp liner into center for a game-tying two-run single.
And that’s where the other story starts.
In relief of Maeda were Pedro Baez and Ross Stripling. Miraculously, Baez threw two scoreless frames, giving up only a hit and a walk while striking out three. Stripling continued his run of effectiveness in short bursts, pitching a perfect frame on just 10 pitches.
After the Dodgers tied the game, though, Joe Blanton was tasked with preserving the deadlock. Unfortunately, he started it off by allowing a double to Ben Zobrist, but he got Addison Russell to ground to third, which held the runner.
It was then that Dave Roberts started a string of iffy decisions that ended in a bit of controversy. Roberts proceeded to intentionally walk Jason Heyward, apparently for matchup reasons and to put the double play into effect. Of course, that is basically insane since Heyward is not a good hitter and Blanton doesn’t induce ground balls.
Jason Heyward was baseball's fourth-worst qualified hitter in the regular season. Joe Blanton had 12th-lowest GB rate among relievers.
— Daniel Brim (@DanielBrim) October 16, 2016
Fortunately, Baez flied out harmlessly for the second out after the intentional walk. However, the decision still had consequences because that wasn’t the end of the inning like it could’ve been had they just gone after one of the worst-hitting regulars in the majors.
Thus, we continued, and Chris Coghlan hit for David Ross … which Roberts responded to by walking Coghlan intentionally to load the bases. Why? So that the Cubs would have to pinch hit for Aroldis Chapman, who was due up next in the pitcher’s spot. We all know how this played out in the end, with pinch hitter Miguel Montero hitting a grand slam off Blanton, but it was less about the result and more about the process that made the whole sequence poor.
Not going to rehash the argument for just going after Heyward to begin with, but even after Roberts decided to do that, they could’ve even gone after Coghlan, who has a .608 OPS on the year, with Blanton. Sure, maybe that doesn’t get Chapman out of the game, but it also doesn’t walk the bases loaded and leave no margin for error, and it’s not like a hit with runners on first and second immediately scores a run either with Toles, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig in the outfield.
Additionally, one could go with my preference, which is to not let Blanton face Coghlan to begin with. Grant Dayton was warm and ready in the pen, and bringing him in after Coghlan was announced either forces Maddon to let that matchup happen or pinch hit with Willson Contreras. If Coghlan is left in, that’s an ideal matchup for Dayton, and if Contreras is pinch hit, then the Dodgers can walk him intentionally to load the bases, which still gets Chapman out of the game, and the Dodgers either get a Dayton against Montero or Albert Almora. For me, a fresher Dayton against either of those two bats is preferable to tired Blanton against an almost league-average hitter against righties in a scenario where Blanton’s best pitch is partially neutralized.
A common rebuttal is that Blanton had Montero down 0-2, but that has nothing to do with the decision-making process anyway. Nobody is absolving of Blanton of any blame, it’s just that the manger’s job is to put his players in the best position to succeed and I don’t think that was the case today. Blanton had been worked hard all week in high-leverage situations in the NLDS, and while ideally all the sliders to Montero would be of the back-foot variety, it was made difficult by the bases loaded situation because Blanton can’t yank one without risking a wild pitch or hitting Montero. And thus, a tiring Blanton missed multiple times over the plate with the slider instead, and we got what we got.
Roberts started thinking about forcing Chapman out in the bottom of the 8th: "The best way to win the game is to get him out of the game."
— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) October 16, 2016
The primary objective in that situation for Roberts can’t be to get Chapman out of the game at all costs because you’re scared of a tie game and potential extras. Yet the Dodgers played it like they were simply avoiding trying to end the inning instead of preventing a run, all over fear that they couldn’t score in the top of the frame because of Chapman, which should be more of an after thought than the main focus.
Frustrating way to play your cards, to me.
Let's see how walking the bases loaded (in an avg situation of course) changes the win expectancy. Increases WE by ~ 4.8%. That's a lot!
— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) October 16, 2016
I would guess that getting Chapman out for one inning increases the Dodgers chance of winning by around 2% or half of what they gave up…
— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) October 16, 2016
Oh well, I guess.
And so, the Dodgers are down 1-0 in the NLCS, and while it was a tough way to lose, this was probably the most likely matchup to end poorly for the Dodgers anyway.