The sad part about this is that his cute yellow labrador retriever is at home wondering where he is.
As a supporter of the underdog, I gotta tell ya: it’s really refreshing to see plucky, underexposed upstarts like the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants finally catch a break and make it to an National League Championship Series. We’re now guaranteed to see either the Giants or the Cards in the World Series, and that’s just the kind of feel-good story you like to see for once.
OK, enough of that. I’ll try to get over my exhaustion at having these two teams advance, once again. I mean, sure, a fifth straight year of one of these two in the World Series is less than novel, but it’s not like they cheated, lied or stole to get there. Baseball is a meritocracy most of the time and they earned it. Yes, it’s outrageously fun to wind-up overly-defensive and self-serious Cardinals fans and to watch Giants fans pretend that their passionate support for the orange and black isn’t directly tied to the team’s winning percentage over the years, but their teams are still playing, ours are not and ultimately we need to shut up about it. Or, if we don’ shut up, we need to appreciate that we’re just whining.
More cosmically speaking, maybe we also need to realize the Cardinals and Giants advancing is a sign of hope. No, I mean it! Hope that we don’t live in a cold and uncaring universe in which perversity is allowed to reign and there is no connection whatsoever between good decisions and good outcomes. Say what you want about the Giants and Cardinals, but there is no escaping that they are well-run teams led by competent people.
Bruce Bochy has held two managerial jobs and he held them both for a long damn time because (a) he produces and wins; and (b) never gives anyone a really good reason to question him. Dude knows what the hell he’s doing and if you say you wouldn’t hand your team over to him in a second you’re either lying or crazy. Likewise, Brian Sabean may have provided saber-oriented and saber-sympathizing writers reason to squawk once upon a time, but we one-time squawkers were proven decidedly wrong about him and his methods. He has not only built winners, but he has fixed flawed teams on the fly — this year was a wonderful example of that — and no matter his missteps over the years, he is easily one of the best GMs in the game.
[ RELATED: Looking back at Don Mattingly’s Game 4 decisions ]
In St. Louis, no, I wouldn’t say Mike Matheny is the best manager around. Even Cardinals fans will admit that he drives them crazy sometimes. But for as much as he does that makes people scratch their heads, he merely sits at the front of a strong organization that most clubs would do well to emulate. I’ll continue to roll my eyes at St. Louis fans invoking “The Cardinal Way” as if it were some evidence of moral superiority or a divine calling rather than a simple organizational philosophy, versions of which many other clubs have, but there is no mistaking that the Cardinals are a supremely well-run baseball team.
Against that backdrop, let’s ask ourselves what is worse: seeing the same two teams battle once again or, on the other hand, seeing decision makers like Don Mattingly and Matt Williams rewarded?
I’m sure Mattingly and Williams are nice men. I’m sure the Dodgers and Nationals have their reasons for hiring them and/or retaining them and that soon, possibly as soon as next year, both of those teams could easily win a World Series. But if we’re talking about what is annoying and irksome and what may make us root against someone in the playoffs, wouldn’t it be more irksome for managers to pull the kind of stuff they pulled in the Division Series and be rewarded with advancement? Pushing the buttons the book tells them to push as if it were a game in July but, somehow, never pushing the big, red flashing button that says “USE YOUR BEST PLAYERS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE“? That’s the kind of stuff that should make you want to rip your eyes out of your sockets.
[ RELATED: Matt Williams’ must-win strategy could use some work ]
There really is no excuse for benching Yasiel Puig in an elimination game. There’s no excuse for using the pitchers Matt Williams used in live-or-die game last night. If Mattingly and Williams were somehow rewarded for that — or if Brad Ausmus were when the Tigers were still alive — it would be evidence that the universe doesn’t care and that every solid and considered effort you make to get forward in this horrible series of sufferings that is life is for nought. That the smiling, uncaring and coasting imbecile to your left has every bit the chance you do to get ahead before we all die and that we may as well just throw our hands up in the air and wait for the sun to go supernova and wipe us all out rather than actually try.
Maybe that’s still how things work. But for now, anyway, I choose to have a shred of hope. To believe that competence like that demonstrated by the Cardinals and Giants is, on occasion, rewarded. And that blinkered fecklessness like that displayed by the eliminated managers in this postseason is punished. That this, above all else, is what the 2014 postseason is teaching us.
And no, my little theory here has no idea how to account for this guy:
I’ll get back to you when I can explain him.
Pardon my lack of posts this afternoon. Once I heard that Yasiel Puig was benched I got a case of the vapors and couldn’t arise from my fainting couch for many minutes. I’m still struggling to form words and may break down at any moment.
OK, maybe that’s not true. I had personal business to attend to. While I was attending to the personal business, I checked my phone and saw the news about Puig being benched. I actually dropped an F-bomb when I saw it and then had to explain why I care so much to some people who know nothing about and care little about baseball. Nothing makes you seem sillier than getting all the feels about baseball around such people. But I digress.
What I was thinking on the drive home, though, is that this is a pretty ballsy and, quite possibly, a career-limiting move for Don Mattingly. Let’s walk through the possible outcomes, with the caveat being that, based on overall expectations, it’s possible that Mattingly may be on the hot seat no matter what he does if the Dodgers don’t at least win the pennant:
- Puig sits, the Dodgers lose and Andre Ethier has a bad game: He’s fired, right? Not only did he make a bad tactical call before the fact (it’s clear that Puig is a better player than Ethier, recent slump notwithstanding) but it backfires. He has benched the guy who ownership and marketing have pretty clearly tried to make the face of the franchise and he watched as the Dodgers crumbled. How does he keep his job in that scenario?
- Puig sits, the Dodgers win and Ethier has a great game: This definitely makes Mattingly look smart in the short term. Emphasis on the “look,” because a good outcome doesn’t mean it’s a good decision. If you sell your house and buy $200K worth of lottery tickets tonight and win, it’s still a dumb decision, after all. Plus, if that happens, what does Mattingly do for Game 5? Stick with Ethier? Probably. But it just adds more uncertainty (how long can Ethier carry you?) and adds another big decision to his plate, which makes this more about his own decision making and increases the chances of a bad outcome for which he may have to pay.
- Puig sits, Ethier is a non-factor: Probably doesn’t matter if they win, though he has to decide again on Thursday. If they lose, people will still wonder what Puig might have done.
I don’t know, it’s a minefield for Mattingly here. Maybe a move of this magnitude isn’t made without front office sign-off, but one wonders if ownership will be content to watch Puig sit on the bench in an elimination game. In such instances, someone like Mark Walter may not call in to second guess his baseball ops people in the middle of a series, but he may certainly decide, after the fact, if and when the recriminations come down, that someone needs to be held responsible for the uncertainty and, I assume, acrimony, which comes down this winter should the Dodgers stumble.
If it’s me — and I put my man-crush on Puig aside — I ask myself: “which player gives me the best chance to win the game?” If you say Andre Ethier, I think the burden is on you to show your work as to how you got there. Because it’s certainly not based on recent demonstrated baseball ability of any significant sample size.
And when one makes a decision to not play one’s best player? Well, one had better be right.
Maybe not serious question, because you know if the Dodgers force a Game 5, Wainwright would want the ball unless he was literally on an operating table under anesthetic, and even then he’d still probably try to pitch. However, there’s a chance he may not. Derrick Goold of the Post-Disptach reports:
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny listed Lynn as a possible starter for a decisive Game 5 should the Dodgers force one with a victory tonight.
Wainwright is the planned starter, but the club wants to make sure it has an alternative if the soreness or stiffness that has complicated the second half intrudes on his availability.
At times in the second half he had a dead arm and battled some (for him) ineffectiveness, but you have to figure that it’d take something more serious than mere stiffness to keep him off the bump Thursday if he is needed.