It was Brian Wilson pretty much all season, for better or worse. Mostly worse. Wilson ended the regular season with a 4.66 ERA, but he was the Dodgers’ eighth-inning guy the whole way through (at least in some combination with J.P. Howell), collecting 22 holds as Kenley Jansen’s setup man.
In the postseason, Don Mattingly suddenly abandoned that plan. Pedro Baez relieved Clayton Kershaw with the Dodgers down 7-6 in Game 1 of the NLDS, and Wilson wasn’t among four relievers used in what turned out to be a 10-9 loss.
Wilson also went unused in Game 2, which the Dodgers led 2-0 after seven innings. Howell relieved Zack Greinke with lefties due up in the eighth, but he didn’t get an out before allowing a game-tying homer. Brandon League, not Wilson, took over from there in a 2-2 game in the eighth. Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth in the 3-2 win.
In Game 3, Mattingly turned to Scott Elbert in the seventh in a 1-1 game. He gave up a two-run homer to Kolten Wong before being lifted. League finished the seventh. Wilson came in down 3-1 in the eighth, allowed two out of three batters to reach and was replaced by Howell. The Dodgers went on to lose by the same score.
At this point, Mattingly simply has no idea how best to get to Jansen in the ninth inning. His hope for Games 4 and 5 has to be that his starters go eight innings, though that will be a lot to ask from Clayton Kershaw on three days’ rest. Mattingly has tried Baez, a hard-throwing rookie who has spent most of his pro career as a third baseman, as his bridge to his closer. He’s tried Howell. On Monday, he went to Elbert, who pitched 4 1/3 innings in the majors this season and was the last pitcher included on the postseason roster. Mattingly is winging in, and nothing has worked as hoped so far.
What Mattingly hasn’t done is try to stretch Jansen beyond one inning. That might need to change on Tuesday. If the Dodgers take a narrow lead into the eighth, Mattingly’s best bet is to ask Jansen to go two innings. The closer will have Wednesday off anyway.
Game 4 of the ALCS was a gigantic letdown for the Yankees for myriad reasons. They lost, first and foremost, 8-3 to the Astros to fall behind three games to one. Their fans continued to act boorishly. CC Sabathia exited with an injury, likely the final time he’ll pitch in his career. The offense went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
The biggest letdown of the night, though, was the Yankees’ defense. They committed four errors, their highest total in a postseason game since committing five errors in Game 2 of the 1976 ALCS.
Make no mistake: the two three-run home runs hit by George Springer and Carlos Correa, given up by Masahiro and Chad Green respectively, were the big blows in the game. But the errors contributed to the loss and were downright demoralizing.
The first error came at the start of the top of the sixth inning, when Alex Bregman hit a cue shot to first baseman DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu couldn’t read the bounce and the ball clanked off of his knee, allowing Bregman to reach safely. He would score later in the inning on Correa’s blast.
The Yankees committed two errors in the top of the eighth, leading to a run. Yuli Gurriel hit another grounder to LeMahieu, which he couldn’t handle. That not only allowed Gurriel to reach safely, but Bregman — who led off with a double — moved to third base. He would score when second baseman Gleyber Torres couldn’t handle a Yordan Álvarez grounder.
Error number four occurred when Altuve hit a grounder to Torres to lead off the top of the ninth. The ball skipped right under his glove. Facing Michael Brantley, Jonathan Loaisiga uncorked a wild pitch which advanced Altuve to second base. Brantley followed up with a line drive single to left field, plating Altuve for another run. Loaisiga would throw another wild pitch facing Bregman but that one didn’t come back to haunt him.
The Yankees can’t control injuries, the behavior of their fans, or how good the Astros’ pitching is on any given night. They can control the quality of their defense. On Thursday, it was a farce, and now they’re staring down the barrel of having to win three consecutive games against the Astros to stave off elimination.