In case the Dodgers haven’t noticed, this is the postseason of the zero. Rare is the inning when a 1 is posted on the scoreboard, much less a 2 or a crooked number. Chicks used to dig the longball, but now October is about the no-hit flirt, or, at least, an enemy pitcher relinquishing no more than a smattering of runs. With that in mind, the embattled manager, Don Mattingly, should have maximized his team’s momentum from Monday night and tried to seize the National League championship series via his dominant pitching weapons, a duo that collectively will cost the franchise around $350 million.
Zach Greinke should have started Game 4.
Clayton Kershaw should have started Game 5.
Both were willing. In fact, each volunteered to pitch on three days’ rest, realizing they might throw enough zeroes to win games in which the offense scores only a run or two — as we’ve seen twice in the accompanying American League series. But Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt elected to hand Game 4 to the iffy Ricky Nolasco, who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 29 and had a 6.66 ERA — 666 never being a good sign — in six September appearances. In doing so, Mattingly admitted, “it’s not a great spot for Ricky. He hasn’t pitched in a while.” So why, with only a pennant on the line for a $237-million operation that hasn’t won a World Series in 25 years, would you hedge your bet with the unknown instead of playing the smarter, safer hand of two proven, big-moment studs?
“Well, the way it went down more than anything was Zack and Clayton both wanting to pitch and offering to pitch on three days,” Mattingly explained before Game 4. “Honestly, we went back and forth and thought of different scenarios. We flip-flopped more than once on what we wanted to do with it, and at the end of the day … I just told Rick I didn’t feel good about it, and everybody’s staying where they’re at. I really think it tells you a lot about Zack and about Clayton, that they both come and want to do it. These guys want to win. So it tells you about where their heads are, and we appreciate that part. We just didn’t feel like at this point it was the right thing.”
A few hours later, after Nolasco had allowed three earned runs in four innings and suffered the loss in a 4-2 Cardinals victory, it was evident Mattingly had goofed again. As proof, consider the two-run, 426-foot homer clubbed by Matt Holliday in the third, hit so far that a hipster in Silver Lake found the ball in his green tea latte (joking). Just as he sabotaged his team in Game 1 with backfiring decisions, Mattingly had given away another game in the name of setting up Greinke, Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu for Games 5, 6 and 7, assuming there is a Game 6 and/or 7. After the defeat, which put the Dodgers in a 1-3 hole, Mattingly said, “Kind of the best thought I have is, I’ve got one of the best pitchers in baseball pitching (Wednesday). If we come out here and play well tomorrow and get a win, I’ve probably got the best pitcher in baseball pitching the next (game).”
Problem is, the Cardinals will counter with Joe Kelly and, if necessary, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright. Does anyone really think the Dodgers can sweep those three? Especially when Hanley Ramirez barely can swing and had to leave late in Game 4 with his cracked rib? “It just felt worse today. A lot of pain,” Ramirez said, per USA Today. “I don’t know why it was worse today. I don’t know what happened. It’s frustrating. It makes me angry.” With the L.A. offense constipated, the energy in Dodger Stadium is gone — unless you count Tom Cruise as a reason for excitement — and even if Greinke beats Kelly, the amazing Wacha showed last weekend that he can outpitch Kershaw in a pressure moment and is capable of a no-hit bid any time out.
“They’ve shown everybody in baseball that they have a bunch of young power arms,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said, per USA Today. “We have to somehow solve that riddle.”
It isn’t likely the Cardinals, an airtight organization that prides itself on preparation and fundamentally sound baseball, will blow another 3-1 NLCS lead as they did last year to San Francisco. They didn’t spend the night celebrating at the Playboy Mansion — though we can’t necessarily say that about Yasiel Puig, who predictably was targeted with a Lance Lynn high-and-tight purpose pitch that sent the flamboyant slugger sprawling after his Game 3 theatrics. “We don’t feel this is over by any means,” Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso said, per the AP. “You don’t want to have that feeling again, losing three games in a row when you’re so close to getting there. Just because you’re up 3-1, it doesn’t mean anything. Nobody’s going to roll over for you.”
The Dodgers are coming close to rolling over, thanks to their manager. Reportedly, Mattingly will be offered a short-term extension even if they lose the series. in a postseason series of numerous mistakes, that would be the biggest of all.