GUEST POST: MANNY
After having a few days to fully reflect on the Dodgers’ unexpected exit from the 2014 playoffs, one thing has really bothered me about their defeat this postseason– the fact that the team’s largest weaknesses were put on full display for the world to see. In almost laughable manner, the St Louis Cardinals exposed shortcomings and deficiencies that plagued the Boys in Blue season long. Here’s a short recap of the key cogs that collapsed this October, and their outlook going forward :
A) THE DODGERS BULLPEN
So, how did it get this bad? At the start of the 2014 season, the Dodgers touted Brandon League, Brian Wilson and JP Howell as their top relievers, widely considered by experts to compose a formidable pen. The first two, former closers, were thought to bring veteran experience to a ball club making a championship push. JP Howell, a young call up, had an impressive first few seasons in a Dodger uniform. But as the season wore on, it became clear there were serious problems with that blueprint. After Tommy John surgery, Wilson’s arm strength, waning in 2013, was all but gone. Leading the team in blown saves, the Dodgers forced him into a set-up role late into the season although he clearly was out of gas. League had the unenviable task of picking of the slack, but gave up too many HR’s to be a consistent option. People looked to the most consistent Howell to assume the role of set-up, but as a LHP, was a situational pitcher at best. In the blink of an eye, the Dodgers bullpen finished the season ranking 26th in ERA. The trade deadline came and went, with no help to come.
Predictably, this glaring hole followed them into the playoffs. Wilson, for all intents, lost all trust and does not pitch in the NLDS. A weary Howell gives up runs because he is put in situations that are not ideal for him. League is put in sparingly because of his inconsistency in the regular season. The team is forced to look to rookie Baez and career journeyman Elbert to pitch pivotal innings. That is just not going to get it done in the playoffs. The team’s fate was sealed.
B) COACHING WOES
“It was like watching a truck driver drive a Ferrari” – anonymous
I want to preface this by saying that Mattingly is getting more flak than he probably deserves right now. Yes, some of his strategy was defensible– understood. But, some of the managerial decisions made down the stretch were also head-scratching to say the least. Why was there no mound visit when Kershaw gave up 3 singles before his inevitable game-losing HR? Why did he then relieve Kershaw with Baez, a rookie reliever? What was his fascination with Scott Elbert? Where was Dan Haren, and why did he not pitch relief? Why did he sit Puig, but not Uribe or Gordon who were having equally bad post-season showings? Why did he refuse to play small ball to counter the Cardinals? Why did he not argue Game 3’s strike zone? Why did he pinch-run Puig, but not have him steal? Why was Turner brought in to pinch hit in the last inning of the series? Why was Ethier not given a greater role, despite his talent and having one of the bigger hits in the series?
The Dodgers will not fire Mattingly– he is still under contract for 2 years. But I have to believe there will be a serious discussion as to how proceed with some of these decisions going forward.
C) YASIEL PUIG STRUGGLES
Puig’s decline was on full display after the All-Star Break. Featuring an inexplicable drop in power, rise in strikeouts, trouble with runner’s in scoring position, Yasiel’s July and August were not his best. No one, however, expected 7 straight strikeouts in the playoffs. When your most talented player is benched for poor play in an elimination game, your winning odds are not going to be very good.
Puig isn’t going anywhere– but his struggles in the playoffs, in my opinion, are more glaring than Kershaw’s. That’s saying a lot.
The Dodgers will look radically different next year and these 3 shortcomings in particular, will have a large part of thar. Time will tell if the team’s World Series promise next season will ever be as high as in ’14.