NLDS Post Mortem: Dodgers Beat Braves 3-1
I spent a pretty healthy percentage of this MLB season texting Zach about the inevitable playoff matchup between my Atlanta Braves and his Los Angeles Dodgers. I had no idea it would come in the Division series, but both teams did a pretty good job of hitting their peak early and settling into a nice, comfortable decline to end up the 2 and 3 seeds in the NL playoffs. Now that the series is over, it’s only fitting that we give you a rundown of what we observed in the last week of baseball.
Sure there were other baseball playoff series, but this was the most important to our blog, so that’s where the analysis goes. Both Zach and I answered a series of questions from the perspective of our favorite team, so feel free bask in the baseball and soak it up, because this type of post-mortem is a SpreeGoogs first.
1. How do you feel about your manager now?
Zach: Still not sure, to be completely honest. Don Mattingly definitely deserves credit for guiding the Dodgers to the series win and for crafting a batting order that is perfect for this team at the moment, but he made several head-scratching decisions along the way. The one that was most obvious was the decision in Game 2 to pull right-hander Chris Withrow for left-hander Paco Rodriguez to face left-hand batter Jose Constanza. The Braves countered by recalling Costanza in favor of right-hander Reed Johnson. Mattingly decided to walk Johnson so that Rodriguez could get a lefty-lefty matchup with Jason Heyward.
WHY WOULD YOU WALK REED JOHNSON IN ORDER TO FACE ARGUABLY THE BRAVES’ BEST HITTER? I don’t care if Rodriguez held left-handers to a .131 average against him in the regular season. This is one of the times where you toss the book and use a little common sense. But you know how it ended — Rodriguez gave up a two-run single to Heyward to make the score 4-1 Braves. Speaking of bullpen management, Mattingly’s continued faith in Ronald Belisario almost cost them Game 4 when he relieved Clayton Kershaw and promptly spotted the Braves a 3-2 lead on an RBI single by Costanza.
Mattingly also tried to have Juan Uribe bunt in Game 4 before his epic home run. Seriously. I get why — Yasiel Puig was on second with nobody out and Mattingly was trying to move him over to third to set up a sac fly opportunity. But Uribe, never known for his bunting ability, proceeded to foul two bunt attempts (possibly on purpose) before blasting his game-winner a few pitches later. Even Vin Scully remarked “Isn’t it amazing what somebody will do when he can’t bunt?”
Adam: Fredi was off to a bad start with the decision to leave Dan Uggla off the series roster. It turns out that Jose Constanza and Elliot Johnson combined to score a huge run in Game 4, but otherwise those two are just worse copies of other Braves already on the roster. Not only is it completely inappropriate to carry five infielders (four needed at a time) and seven outfielders (three needed), but it’s entirely flawed to load up on fast players who can’t do anything but pinch run when you could add a lot of power to the bench with one bat.
In the series itself, Fredi got needlessly creative with the lineup, moving J-Up to second and batting Freeman third. It was an interesting move that somehow resulted in the best home run hitter on the team bunting in the first inning of Game 4. Having seen him for a few seasons now, it’s baffling how Fredi can manage the bullpen so well during the regular season (pen ERA has been outstanding for three years) and then manage to get the wrong guy on the mound at the wrong time in late innings of every game during the NLDS.
2. Chicks dig the long ball. What did they like about your team?
Zach: Oddly enough, the long ball. I don’t know how to explain how the Dodgers hit seven home runs in the NLDS, because they are not a home run-hitting team. Adrian Gonzalez led them with 22 on the season. Puig was second with 19 and he didn’t get called up until June. Part of that is because Dodger Stadium is a pitcher’s park and the ball dies there at night in the cool, thin air. But even that didn’t stop them – the Dodgers hit five of the seven in Games 3 and 4 at home in LA. There are other things that could be mentioned as well, but bottom line is that if the Dodgers’ offense continues to be as explosive as this, there isn’t a team that can beat them.
Adam: Not much, except the pitching. And Jason Heyward. But the ladies were probably digging him already. The annual trend of the Braves totally changing personality in the playoffs also included the homers. This team led the NL in hitting home runs during the regular season and then only hit one in the four games of the NLDS. During the regular season, the Dodgers and the Braves gave up the same number of dingers, so if this series would have been longer, we probably would have seen the numbers even out a little more, but for now, the home run differential has to be chalked up to a weird sample size and a couple of crazy power streaks (looking at you, Juan Uribe and Carl Crawford). Emotionally, it’s just crippling to watch your favorite team get out-homered like that.
3. How did you feel about Clayton Kershaw starting Game 4 for the Dodgers?
Zach: This was my favorite decision of the series from Mattingly. It was the type of choice that could have defined his career, one that would have been talked about for decades in Los Angeles if it had gone wrong. It took balls. But it had to be done.
Taking a cross-country flight to win Game 5 of a playoff series against a team with momentum sounds plain awful. How do you avoid it? Give the ball to the best pitcher in baseball in Game 4. Especially when he supposedly told Mattingly after Game 1 that he wanted to pitch Game 4. Kershaw is a gamer, and throwing a baseball is so effortless for him that I wasn’t concerned with the three days rest. It turned out he was better in Game 4 than he was in Game 1, and the only reason he gave up two runs was because of some uncharacteristically bad defense from Gonzalez. He made Mattingly look like a very smart man.
Adam: I was fine with it. Actually, from the Atlanta perspective, it was ideal. The Braves had to win Games 4 and 5 to take the series, and he was pitching one of them no matter what. I’d rather face him on three days rest in LA than five days in ATL. I’m not quite sure that the rationale for starting him holds up, and I was definitely surprised to see the game-day switch to Kershaw, but the more you think about it, the more Atlanta fans have to like it. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but if I’m playing the percentages, I like Atlanta’s odds in the series better with Clayton pitching Game 4. It was a great break for the Braves, and originally I chalked it up as another success for my playoff beard, but after failing to capitalize on it, I’ll just admit that it’s borderline impossible to win a playoff series when Kershaw pitches half of the games for the other team.
4. Who was the biggest surprise on your team’s roster during the NLDS?
Zach: Crawford. It’s not even close. He was so bad at some points during August and September that I started groaning every time I realized he was coming to the plate, correctly envisioning either a strikeout or a weak groundout to second. Now I can’t stop screaming “Carl!” as balls disappear into rightfield pavilions. He hit six home runs in the regular season and then hit three in the span of four games against the Braves. That power rate is certainly not sustainable, but it doesn’t need to be as long as he continues to get on base to set the table for Hanley Ramirez, who is in another stratosphere right now and we don’t even have the space to talk about him.
Adam: Julio Teheran — I hate sounding like an ESPN analyst, but momentum in playoff series is really important, especially in baseball where momentum wins playoff series more regularly than long-term talent. The Braves were down early in every game of this series and really only had any momentum at the end of Game 2. Of course, Teheran ate that up and threw it back up to start Game 3. He was horrible. The curve disappeared from his curveball, but he kept throwing that -ball over and over again. He set the Braves up for a demoralizingly lopsided loss in that game and put them at a pretty gigantic disadvantage in the series. When you’re the third starter playing against a rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke, you have to win your matchup. And he wasn’t even close. He lost early and he kept losing as frequently as possible. It’s a shame that the Braves’ best offensive output of the postseason was wasted on his start because regular-season Julio was just about unbeatable with six runs of support. He pitched for eight outs and gave up eight hits and six runs. That playoff ERA of 20.25 is something for the record books.
5. For me, that series was like _________.
Zach: The Gulf War. It was relatively short and sweet, there was a big aerial assault in the form of home runs and the team with more firepower won.
Adam: Rookie of the Year — All year, the Braves pulled out miraculous wins on their way to NL-leading performances from the power hitters and the best ERA in all of baseball. They had the best record in the NL for the majority of the season and looked relatively scary for quite a few months, including two wins streaks of double-digit games. And then all of a sudden, in the big moment, when the lights were the brightest and the games started mattering the most, the magic went out. The start of the playoffs was the ball that Rowengartner slipped on; the magic that had been there all year was instantly gone. The bad news is that they didn’t have a deep bag of tricks to pull out a gritty win. In fact, the big guy with the steroids and mustache hit the next pitch out of the park. And then David Carpenter came in and gave one up to Daniel Stern for good measure.
Best of luck to Zach and the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.