Before I begin, let me preface by saying that I enjoy slandering the Los Angeles Dodgers as much as the next self-respecting San Francisco Giants fan, but fair is fair. And in my opinion, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly has not been treated fairly.
In light of Mattingly’s decision to lift Clayton Kershaw, The Greatest Pitcher of His Generation, for a reliever who promptly gave a up a two-run single to David Wright— effectively sealing game one of the NLDS for the Mets, it seems the appropriate time to try to judge Mattingly’s managerial abilities.
October 9, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Mets third baseman David Wright (5) runs after he hits a two run RBI single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game one of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Under Mattingly, the Dodgers have won their division three years in a row. A feat matched only by the St. Louis Cardinals in the time span. Sure, one can say that with such a monstrous payroll, any guy you grab off the street should be able to manage the Dodgers to winning the division, however, this would be to undermine Mattingly’s strength as a manager. For instance, the team with the second highest payroll, the New York Yankees, just got bounced from Wildcard game because they didn’t win their division. After that the Dodgers and Yankees, the teams with the next three highest payrolls at the start of 2015, the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers, and your San Francisco Giants, all missed the playoffs completely. Mattingly’s regular season managerial record cannot be ignored.
But the regular season has never been when Mattingly is ridiculed most. The past three postseasons have presented a special kind of torment for the Dodgers skipper. In 2013 and 2014 the Dodgers were around the odds-on favorites to win the World Series and in both seasons they self-destructed before even winning the pennant. Here’s hoping this trend continues!
October 9, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) reacts after loading the bases in the seventh inning against the New York Mets in game one of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
In game six of the 2013 NLCS, Don Mattingly elected to pitch Clayton Kershaw on short rest with disastrous results. Kershaw allowed 7 earned runs in four innings and by his own assessment admitted, he “just didn’t pitch good.” But could you have blamed Mattingly for going with his ace? Kershaw won the Cy Young that year and he had hurled six shutout innings in his previous start. Anyone would have elected to go with Kershaw, even on short rest, in a do-or-die game.
In 2014, Kershaw would again make Mattingly look the fool in St. Louis. Kershaw did not implode the same way he had in 2013 but the result was still the Dodgers making a premature exit from the 2014 postseason. (You may remember who was the last team standing that year.)
In game four of the NLDS, after throwing six shutout innings in St. Louis, Kershaw opened the 7th by allowing two base hits to Cardinals batters. This brought the go-ahead run to bat in the form of left-handed slugger Matt Adams. Mattingly left Kershaw in and Adams sent Kershaw’s offering into the seats.
However, leaving Kershaw in was again a decision that anyone would have made. Kershaw had allowed one home run to left-handed batters that entire year. One! You can’t find a lefty specialist in baseball with that kind of success. It was just another example of Mattingly making the obvious call and paying dearly for it.
None of this is to say that Mattingly is a brilliant manager. He is notoriously lousy at using of his bullpen. The Giants, in comparison, are blessed are to have bullpen-whisper Bruce Bochy in their dugout. Mattingly has also handled the big personalities on his club poorly. Yasial Puig has been virtually invisible this season and Matt Kemp needed to be shipped off to San Diego last offseason. However, the brunt of Mattingly’s criticism has come more from a few incredibly unlucky calls on Mattingly’s part than any major deficiencies in strategy.