Looking back at Don Mattingly’s Game 4 decisions

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I’m not going to blame Don Mattingly for Tuesday’s loss and the Dodgers’ elimination in the NLDS. I certainly wasn’t thrilled with how he managed the game, but his three real calls didn’t work out that badly.

Those three:

Call No. 1 – The lineup: Mattingly tried to shake things up by starting Andre Ethier over Yasiel Puig in center field, rather than a more obvious move of starting Justin Turner over Dee Gordon at second base.

Result: Ethier got on base twice via the walk, and the downgrade in center field defense was a complete non-factor in the game. The big problem was Ethier getting picked off third base to end the top of the sixth. As for Gordon, he reached base twice as well, walking in the seventh and singling in the ninth. In all, Mattingly’s picks did fine. We’ll never know what the alternatives would have done.

RELATED: Cardinals beat Dodgers 3-2 to advance to NLCS

Call No. 2 – The eighth-inning bullpen choice: Down 3-2 with top of the Cardinals’ order up, Mattingly should have gone to closer Kenley Jansen, who had the best chance of anyone of keeping it a 3-2 game headed to the ninth. Instead, Mattingly stuck with Pedro Baez, who finished the seventh.

Result: No harm, no foul. Baez and Brandon League combined on a perfect eighth, saving Jansen for an opportunity that never came.

Call No. 3 – Approaching the ninth with the bottom of the order due up. Mattingly still had his entire bench, most notably Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner and Scott Van Slyke, available with Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis and the pitcher’s spot due up. Complicating things was that Ellis, once an obvious choice to be removed, was hitting .538 in the series.

Result: After Uribe grounded out, Mattingly chose to let Ellis hit with one out and then replaced him with Puig once he walked. Turner struck out as a pinch-hitter, Gordon singled and Carl Crawford grounded out to end the game. Under the circumstances, I’d say Mattingly handled it correctly. An alternative was sending Turner up for Ellis and Puig for the pitcher, but letting Ellis bat against a wild pitcher made a lot of sense. Ellis may not be much of a hitter, but he certainly knows how not to swing. And once Ellis reached, Puig was the best option to run. It still hurt to give up his bat in such a situation, but I don’t think there was any other choice. Puig wasn’t going to hit for anyone later in the inning anyway.

RELATED: Sick of seeing Cardinals, Giants in NLCS? Too bad

Not a call: Leaving Clayton Kershaw in for the seventh after six scoreless innings.

Result: Kershaw gave up a three-run homer to Matt Adams before being lifted. Still, no manager in baseball takes Kershaw out after six, even at 94 pitches. Yes, it should have been obvious that Kershaw could lose it quickly while working on three days’ rest, but he showed no signs of fatigue through six. And while it was certainly time to start thinking about going to the pen after the first two batters reached in the seventh, there was no way Kershaw was getting pulled until after he faced the left-handed Adams. It’s a non-starter. In theory, you can argue that Jansen should have been in the game at that point. In practice, it’s absolutely never going to happen.

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Personally, I think Mattingly is a lousy tactical manager, and it’s one of the reasons the Dodgers didn’t advance in October. I also thought benching Puig was absolutely the wrong call. Game 4, though, wasn’t lost by the Dodgers; it was won by the Cardinals.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.