It’s Now Or Never For Don Mattingly

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This is it for me with manager Don Mattingly. This year I have mostly stood back and given the skipper some slack. Everyone knows by now that I was never a huge Mattingly fan. When he was given the job back in late 2010, I felt there were probably more qualified and experienced candidates out there.

At first I was skeptical and hard on Mattingly. But as the seasons went on, and the Dodgers transformed into a first place club, my harshness on him deteriorated. I began to see all the good things about Donnie. Mattingly is a great coach. He’s a good man, capable of managing a tight clubhouse with multi-million dollar personalities. He’s a calming presence that never gets too upset. He never has highs and lows. His even keel façade has helped keep the Dodgers level during long and tiring seasons.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

But when I noticed him pacing around in the dugout and clapping while yelling “Let’s go” during the Dodger’s gut-wrenching 10-9 loss to the Cardinals in game 1 of the NLDS, it made me think. Now there is a man who knows that not only his season on the line, but possibly his job as well. I’m glad to see some excitement from the skipper, but Mattingly never does this type of behavior.

Don Mattingly horrifically mismanaged game 1 of the NLDS, and I think a better manager at the X’s and O’s gets the Dodgers a win. After watching that awful playoff loss at home, it made me wonder if the Dodgers should make some management changes this off-season.

You can say whatever you want to me. I’m not saying the Dodgers are done. It’s only one game of a five game playoff series. The Dodgers could win three of the next four and advance to the NLCS. But it was an important game. An important game at home with your ace starting pitcher on the mound against a team that not only eliminated the Dodgers last season in the NLCS, but one that has won championships before. This was an important game that the Dodgers couldn’t blow. And Don Mattingly blew it.

You can make the argument that sticking to Kershaw in that nightmarish 8-run seventh inning Cardinal rally was the right choice. You can say that sticking with a tiring Kershaw is a better choice than anyone else in the bullpen. But I disagree. Because if you don’t trust anyone in your bullpen to come in and get at least one out, then you won’t get very far. If the Dodgers bullpen is that bad, and I don’t think it is, then this won’t work. Ask the Tigers that question.

But after sitting there and watching Clayton Kershaw allow five consecutive singles during the seventh inning, it was obvious that he had to be removed from the game. Whether it was because of fatigue, or the heat, or the Cardinals stealing signs, or Kershaw tipping his pitches, or BABIP magic, (as the stat kids would probably tell you), it doesn’t matter. Kershaw is human, and even the greatest pitchers in the world can’t be left out there to die on the vine. This isn’t a meaningless game in June. This is the playoffs, and in a short series, major mistakes are magnified.

Kershaw should have been removed after he allowed those five consecutive hits. Mattingly had a fully rested bullpen to call upon. Even if he did bring in Pedro Baez when it was 6-4, at least you give the Cardinals a look at a different pitcher. It’s not impossible. Just stop the game, walk out to the mound, and bring a hook.

“Sorry Clayton, you’ve pitched a great game, but I have to make a move right now. Go and rest, and let the rest of the club pick you up. If we need you later in the series, we will call upon you”

That’s what Mattingly should have said and made the move during the seventh inning, when the Dodgers were leading 6-4 with two outs and the bases loaded. He had two left handers available to choose from to pitch to Matt Carpenter. The same guy who ripped Kershaw in last year’s NLCS, and now again this year when he doubled in three runs to put the Cardinals ahead for good.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

But I suggest that Mattingly should have even made the move sooner. When it was 6-3, and Kershaw allowed those five straight hits, it’s time to make the move. Whatever the reason, Kershaw just didn’t have it anymore by then. He had pitched a great game,  but he lost it. He’s not a robot. It’s no insult to Kershaw. He’s the best pitcher in the world right now. You just can’t leave anyone in there to be torn apart when it’s clear they’ve lost their stuff.

To Mattingly’s credit he did stop the game and go out to the mound to talk to Kershaw. But we know what happened. Kershaw talked him into staying in the game. Of course Kershaw is going to want to stay in. He’s a fierce competitor, as a lot of the super stars are. He’s never going to tell Mattingly to take him out.

It’s Mattingly’s job to distinguish when the right time is to take a pitcher out of a game. No matter whether that is Clayton Kershaw, or Dan Haren, or Hyun-jin Ryu, or Joe Blanton. A manager must be able to determine when his starter needs to be hooked. Mattingly can’t be Kershaw’s friend in that situation, he has to be Kershaw’s manager. Existing talent is secondary in this equation. As proof by this awful loss, even a tired two time Cy Young award winner who led the league in ERA and wins can still get lit up.

But I felt in that situation, Mattingly was more of Kershaw’s Colleague than manager. You have to be a manager first, and the player’s friend second. The needs of the club outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

I didn’t even mention all the other mistakes Mattingly made throughout the game. I didn’t mention the bunts early in the game that cost the club two precious outs. The double-switching Carl Crawford out of the game when he had three hits. And of course the other boner which was bringing in rookie Pedro Baez, (who throws mainly fastballs) to pitch to Matt Holliday with two runners on base, and the Dodgers desperately needing to get out of the inning.

When you get this far into the season, it becomes about managing the X’s and O’s, and not about managing people. We all know Mattingly can manage people, but it seems he is unable to manage the X’s and O’s.

If Mattingly is unable to manage a 230 million dollar club full of all-stars and Cy Young award winners to a World Series, then he is probably unable to do it with any club. If that’s the case, then the Dodgers need to start searching for a new manager.

The truth always hurts, but this is bigger than me not being the biggest fan of Mattingly. This is about the Dodger’s winning a championship. It’s been four years now. I’m starting to wonder if it will ever happen with him at the helm.

I’m not saying this is over. The Dodgers definitely are capable of winning three out of four. But in order to do that, they’ll need their manager to pull the right strings along the way. They need Don Mattingly to manage the club to win tomorrow in game 2.

It’s been 26 years since the Dodgers have been in a World Series. I’m sick of having to watch the Giants or Cardinals celebrate another title. I’m sick of having to watch another soul crushing playoff loss. If Mattingly can’t do it this year, then when can he?

The Dodgers are not done yet. One game does not mean they are finished. But things are not looking good right now. Another playoff failure is not acceptable anymore.

It’s now or never Donnie Baseball.

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