The final score hardly told the full story, and yet it was far more representative of the game as a whole. A four-run ninth turned what was a tense, belabored slog into a laugher. The Dodgers got off to a quick start, as for the third straight game their starting pitcher struck out Trea Turner in his first at-bat and, for the third straight game, Corey Seager drove in a run in his first at-bat. It was downhill from there, though, as the Nationals worked counts, driving Kenta Maeda’s pitch count up.
Speaking of up, that’s where Maeda was supposed to place this fastball, but he missed his spot bigly and Anthony Rendon parked it into the left-field pavilion for a two-run shot. The Nationals would revisit the pavilion in that fateful ninth, as Jayson Werth obliterated a dull Kenley Jansen cutter for the team’s first insurance run. In the time between Rendon’s home run and Werth’s, the game was decided on a series of decisions made by each manager:
This was a good move, though no one appreciated Baez’s pace, as announcer Jim Kaat noted that he might rather “watch paint dry” without a hint of irony for the less fortunate of us who had to watch both Baez pitch and listen to Jim Kaat. Baez kept the Dodgers in the game, blanking the Nationals, and while he likely won’t be available in Game 4, it was important to eat a portion of this game and keep it close.
You can go either way on this, but there’s no denying he had something of a short hook with Gonzalez, yanking him after 4 â…“ innings and a Carlos Ruiz pinch-hit homer. The Dodgers are notoriously bad at handling southpaws and Baker’s willingness to pull his starter despite that advantage, and turn to a less-experienced lefty in Sammy Solis, showed a marked departure from the caricature that’s often drawn of him.
3) Roberts uses six relievers while Baker uses four
From the fifth inning on, Roberts went to the pen six times. Baez had eaten his two innings, and rather than stick with that type of approach the Dodgers manager went to Grant Dayton for one out, Josh Fields for one out, Luis Avilan for two, Joe Blanton for 1 â…” innings, Kenley Jansen for one out, and Ross Stripling for the final two. Over this same time period, Baker left Solis in the game for the sixth inning (five outs for him in the full outing), let Ollie Perez face two lefties (one out), and then leaned on Shawn Kelley for five outs, before turning to Mark Melancon to mercifully end the four-plus-hour affair.
Not only did this burn the key players in the Dodgers' bullpen, as Blanton is unlikely to be able to go in a pivotal Game 4 after 35 pitches, but it left the Dodgers in a bad situation in the event they were even able to knot it up in the ninth inning. Stripling was the last pitcher in the bullpen who wasn’t an option to start Game 4 (Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw), and he’ll likely be necessary Wednesday in the event Urias throws given his pitch limits, or Kershaw given that he’ll be going on three days' rest. Avilan, Fields, Dayton, and Stripling all threw on Sunday as well, so while it is all hands on deck in an elimination game, it’s hard to imagine they’ll necessarily be at their best.
Solis is unlikely to be seen Wednesday, but Baker will have Marc Rzepczynski available, along with Blake Treinen, neither of whom pitched in Game 3. Even Kelley managed to limit his pitch count to 24 in recording his five outs, and could be used for a batter if necessary. The divergent approaches from the two managers starting in the sixth inning could play a big factor in the next game.
4) Roberts' questionable use of the Dodgers' bench
While he pushed the right buttons in sending Ruiz to the plate in the fifth, resulting in a home run, Roberts' use of the Dodgers' bench was lacking in the later inning. After Baker turned the game over to Kelley with Chase Utley on first in the seventh inning, Roberts opted not to pinch-hit any of his left-handed outfielders on the bench (Josh Reddick, Andrew Toles, Andre Ethier) for Howie Kendrick. Though Kendrick made good contact, it went for an out and one was left wondering why Roberts, who had played the percentages so consistently, chose to let his worst defensive outfielder hit for himself with the platoon disadvantage, while having stronger defensive options who had the platoon advantage on the bench.
The waters only got muddier in the eighth, when Roberts apparently remembered who was on his bench, and pinch-hit Toles for Yasiel Puig. This gained the Dodgers the platoon advantage, but Puig and Kendrick were comparable hitters against right-handed pitchers in 2016, and Puig is undeniably a more potent asset on defense. One was left wondering why this move wasn’t made an inning earlier, with a runner on base. Alternatively, one was left wondering why Reddick wasn’t the option with no one on in the eighth, as he was more likely to tie the game with one swing than Toles.
This carousel of odd decisions culminated in a double-switch in the ninth that put Reddick in right field, Jansen on the mound, and inexplicably left Howie Kendrick in … well, left. Following Werth’s decision to turn a baseball to dust and pad the Nationals; lead, Jansen walked Daniel Murphy and hit Bryce Harper. One out later, Ryan Zimmerman lifter a ball to the right-field wall, testing Reddick, who seemed to get a poor read on the ball and ultimately let it bounce off the heel of his glove. Two runs came in to push the lead to four, and a fourth followed when Kendrick’s weak arm couldn’t get a tagging Zimmerman on a Heisey sac fly.
Despite all of the above, this game—as with Game 2 before it—came down to execution by the Nationals and a lack of it by the Dodgers. Seager fouled off a middle-in hanger from Kelley in the eighth. Anthony Rendon didn’t miss that Maeda misplacement. Justin Turner swung through middle-middle and then watched another one for strike three in the seventh. Werth clobbered a hanger from Jansen. Those are the difference-makers in this game, to be certain. But it’s worth noting that the manager’s job, above all else, is to put their players in a position to succeed. In this game—and series—Dusty Baker did that better than Dave Roberts.