Saturday afternoon was one of those games that leaves you wondering just how long the Dodgers can last in the postseason. Not because they don't have the talent, but because they don't exactly make the smartest decisions at times.
And that starts with Don Mattingly's use of the bullpen.
Look, I swear I'm not one who constantly points the finger at Mattingly when things don't go well. Even last season when he was virtually a game or two away from getting fired before the Dodgers went on their historic 42-8 run, I was fully on his side. And I still like him as a manager.
With that said, I'm going to criticize him big time on one particular thing right now, and that's his CONSTANT and STUBBORN use of Brian Wilson as a setup man. As yesterday showed, it just makes no sense whatsoever.
But let's back up for a second and take a look at the seventh inning and J.P. Howell. With the Dodgers up 7-2 thanks to two homers and five RBIs from Adrian Gonzalez, Howell started the inning walking Chris Coghlan. Following an out, a wild pitch sent Coghlan to third, and Anthony Rizzo's RBI single made it 7-3.
No big deal, right? Well, no. Right-handed Mike Olt pinch-hit and singled. Left-handed Luis Valbuena flew out to right to make it two down. Right-handed Arismendy Alcantara then lined a three-run shot out to left, and all of a sudden it was 7-6.
For those of you keeping score, Howell faced righties in two of his last three hitters. Why in the world Mattingly decided to keep in the lefty Howell when he had righty Brandon League warming up is completely beyond me. And what do you know, League came in next and got a grounder to short to end the inning.
OK, so that was a hiccup, and hopefully Mattingly learned from his mistake. Wrong. In came Wilson and his 4.53 ERA to pitch in the setup role. Time and time again he has shown why he's lousy for this role, yet Mattingly sticks with him.
And on Saturday, sure enough, Wilson was rocked. After a John Baker single greeted him, Coghlan continued his huge day an out later with a two-run homer to put the Cubs up for good. Carlos Frias had to relieve and get the last out.
Hey, I'm all for managers showing confidence in their players. But there has to be a line drawn somewhere, and that line should have been drawn a long time ago in regards to Wilson pitching the eighth. I don't care how shaky the bullpen is - Wilson is the shakiest, and has absolutely no business pitching in that role. I just can't believe Mattingly can't see what is so obvious to even the most casual of Dodger fans.
Changes have to be made. Howell was having a great season, but has fallen apart in September to the tune of a 13.50 ERA. Perhaps hitters have finally caught up to him, as the book on him is to lay off the soft stuff, and make him bring the "heat" that wouldn't blow a Little League player away. He's only made six appearances this month, yet his ERA has gone up over one full run since the end of August from 1.24 to 2.27.
As for Wilson, it's just the same old song and dance. Apparently Mattingly still thinks the Wilson who collected 171 saves and two rings with the Giants is walking through that door. Even though he had a great run in a short span last season, his arm is obviously shot. I'd be willing to bet every single person who watches him pitch realizes that except one: Don Mattingly.
The solution is that Mattingly needs to rely on new blood later in the game to get the ball to Kenley Jansen. Guys like Pedro Baez, Scott Elbert, and Paco Rodriguez should get the call. Howell is slowly crumbling, and Wilson is just plain awful. Opposing teams are salivating every time they see one of those two being trotted out to the mound. Try something different for crying out loud!
The Dodgers are assured a playoff berth. If they want it to start in the Division Series and not the one-and-done Wild Card round, then Mattingly needs to make adjustments in the 'pen. He hasn't yet, so I'm very skeptical it will happen.
But hey, I can still hope.