While I can’t top Joe Sheehan’s spot-on-as-usual analysis of NLCS Game 4, I did have my own thoughts on how things unfolded for the Dodgers on Monday. This was a game that for me as a fan is still hard to accept, as the team went from being guaranteed at least a Game 6 to facing elimination in the form of Cole Hamels on Wednesday. Let’s put aside the Matt Stairs home run for a moment and ponder Joe Torre’s usage of the bullpen Monday. If there’s been one area that Torre has taken more heat for over the years, it’s been his usage of his relief corps.
The situation: Top of the 6th, LA 3 PHI 2. Due up: Howard, Burrell, Victorino
Decision: Bring in Clayton Kershaw
Analysis: Okay, I understand wanting the lefty in there to face Ryan Howard, but after the kid walked Howard, why leave him in there to face Burrell and Victorino (switch-hitter who’s better right-handed)? Burrell promptly singled before Charlie Manuel did the Dodgers a favor and had Victorino sacrifice. Chan Ho Park relieved Kershaw and allowed a Sac Fly before Joe Beimel got the Dodgers out of the inning without further damage. Torre burned three relievers in this inning, including two left-handers, a move that would come back to haunt him.
The situation: Top of the 8th, LA 5 PHI 3. Hong-Chih Kuo beginning his second inning of work.
Decision: Bring in Cory Wade after Ryan Howard opened with a single
Analysis: Wade had thrown 33 pitches the day before in two impressive scoreless innings. Jonathan Broxton meanwhile had thrown 14 pitches in a meaningless inning with the Dodgers sporting a 7-2 lead in Game 3. Would Broxton have been available for two innings if he hadn’t pitched on Sunday? Who knows, but Wade goes on to allow Victorino’s homer and a key single to Carlos Ruiz who hit .219/.320/.300 in the regular season, setting up 60 year-old Matt Stairs’ mammoth home run. Cory Wade has been a nice find for the Dodgers, but when you’re facing going down three game to one in the NLCS, you HAVE to have your best reliever out there with the score 5-3 and the tying run coming to the plate in the eighth inning. Sure Broxton may have also allowed a home run to Victorino, but there’s just as good a chance that the Dodgers get out of that inning having allowed no runs as opposed to four. Getting just two out combined from Clayton Kershaw and Joe Beimel and not leveraging your best reliever in those key situations may have been the difference between 2-2 versus 3-1.
As a side note, could major league managers benefit from playing a simulation game like Strat-o-Matic? In Strat (using 2007 stats mind you), I have a team in which my bullpen is comprised of Rafael Betancourt (incredible 2007 card…won’t be such a good one in 2008) and Rafael Soriano as my top two relievers, with Al Reyes, Joe Beimel, and Luis Vizcaino rounding out my top five. My record is 45-24, but my “closer”, Betancourt, is nowhere to be found on the saves leaderboard. Why? Because I deploy him when he’s most needed. If I’m up 2-1 in the seventh with my starter tired and the bases loaded, I don’t bring in my fourth best reliever, I bring in Betancourt who, more often than not, shuts the door on the opposition’s rally. Later, if there is a “save situation”, I can mix and match my remaining relievers based on who’s coming to bat. I may be preaching to the choir here, but it would be nice for once to see a manager willing to challenge the "standard" way of doing things.
On to Game 5…