Remember when Yasiel Puig was going to save the Dodgers, and perhaps Don Mattingly's job? That was before they lost three straight, and Monday night's game in Los Angeles was the toughest. The Dodgers carried a 3-1 lead over the first-place Diamondbacks into the ninth inning, only to have Brandon League give up four runs. A Big Blue comeback in the bottom of the ninth fell short, leaving the Dodgers 8½ games out of first place in a division they were supposed to win. Which of course left Mattingly to answer some really fun questions after the game:
"If he gets his outs, they're cheering for him," Mattingly said. "If he doesn't get his outs, it's a bad decision. That's the way it is. I understand it.
"I'm trying to put people in the best position to get the job done. Brandon did the job in the past. If he gets his outs, it goes forward and nobody says anything.
"As soon as he didn't get his outs, it's my fault he didn't get his outs."
It would be easy to say the fan discontent with Mattingly revolves around his insistence that League is his closer. Except that, after the game, Mattingly said he had not even committed to using League in the ninth inning Monday.
Mattingly used Kenley Jansen in the eighth inning, against the heart of the Arizona lineup. If the Diamondbacks' best hitters had been due up in the ninth inning, Mattingly said he would have used League in the eighth and Jansen in the ninth.
The Dodgers' bullpen has 15 losses, tied with the Houston Astros for most in the major leagues. League has converted 13 of 17 save opportunities, but his earned-run average is 6.00.
Hey, that's great! Mattingly figured Jansen's his best reliever and used him against the Diamondbacks' best hitters! Bravo!
But wouldn't it still make sense to use a good pitcher in the ninth?
Before last night's game, League had pitched 23⅓ innings, issued six walks, and given up four homers. The walks are acceptable, the homers somewhat accidental. But he's also struck out only a dozen hitters, which is terribly few for an ace reliever who's not a ground-ball pitcher (and so few of them are, these days). League's been incredibly inconsistent for some years now, so we might just look at his career numbers for a good barometer of his skills ... and his career numbers suggest a pitcher who's good enough to pitch in the majors, but not good enough to protect one-run leads in the ninth.
In Mattingly's defense, he doesn't have a lot of great candidates in the bullpen. Once you get past Kenley Jansen and His Incredible Strikeout Rate, you're looking at a bunch of decent relievers and a lot of mix-and-match. And Mattingly, to some degree anyway, seems to recognize that. Finally. But you read something like this ...
Mattingly defended his use of League in the ninth inning by citing matchups. The first three Arizona batters in the ninth were 0 for 5 against League, five for 10 against Jansen.
"Solid decision," Mattingly said. "The fact a solid decision doesn't work, it's a bad decision."
... and you really have to wonder about your manager's marbles, since 0 for 5 and five for 10 are utterly meaningless in this context. If tiny batter-versus-pitcher samples are your rationale for bullpen decisions, you're doing it wrong.
But then again, when you're bullpen's got 15 losses, you're probably doing something wrong. Or you're making a lot of solid decisions that just didn't work. That's possible, I guess.
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