keyboard_arrow_uptop

Vicente Padilla‘s chariot turned back into a pumpkin last night. An unlikely hero of the Dodgers‘ playoff run via his two previous starts, he joined Game One starter Clayton Kershaw and Game Three starter Hiroki Kuroda in failing to survive five innings against the Phillies‘ offensive juggernaut. For the second year in a row, the Dodgers were unceremoniously bounced from the National League Championship Series in five games. Wait ’til next year, redux.

It didn’t have to be that way for the Dodgers, who came into the series as the favorites among a broad consensus of writers, gamblers, simulators, and moral degenerates thanks to their home-field advantage, fewer questions about their pitching staff, and more righty hitters and lefty pitchers to counter the Phillies’ ample supply of lefties. Dodger manager Joe Torre made a hash of his rotation, however, and far more often than not, the pitchers he entrusted failed to deliver. Consider the two rotations’ performances:


Team         IP   H   HR   BB  SO   ERA
Dodgers     21.2  22   6   10  15  8.72
Philllies   30.2  24   6    4  22  2.93

The Dodgers had four full days of rest between playoff rounds, giving Torre the chance to align his rotation to the best advantage, so that line above constitutes epic failure in both planning and execution. Subtract Padilla’s Game Two gem as well as that of his opposing pitcher, Pedro Martinez, and the two ERAs become 13.19 and 3.80. If you’re the Dodgers, it should go without saying that that’s no way to win a pennant.

The problem, ultimately, is that as strong as their rotation was-and they finished with the league’s second-best ERA and tied for third in SNLVAR-the Dodgers lacked a true number-one starter who could be depended upon to pitch deep into a ballgame come hell or high water and to make multiple starts in a competitive series (i.e., one longer than four games). The 21-year old Kershaw and 24-year-old Chad Billingsley, who was bypassed for a start, may both eventually develop into studs, but neither of them is there yet. Randy Wolf, the Dodgers’ most dependable starter this year, isn’t that stud, either. To expect Kuroda, whose 2008 postseason performance outweighed his recent health woes in Torre’s eyes, or Padilla, a free-talent pickup whose ERA has been six percent worse than the park-adjusted league average over the past six years, to rise and to live up to such expectations was simply asking too much.

In the end it was a classic illustration of the way depth matters less in the postseason than it does in the regular season. In an alternate universe, either Billingsley or playoff-tested Jon Garland could have gotten the call as well, with no more certainty of results, and no less hand-wringing. With six starters to choose from and several competing factors-injuries, platoon splits, late-season performance, and postseason experience-which made identifying their current capabilities a more difficult task. It’s at least marginally understandable how a manager could fumble around without finding the
sticker that read, “This End Up.” But those managers unable to sort out such simple packaging issues are the marginal ones. They don’t win championships.

The Dodgers’ miserable performance rendered their tactical advantages in the bullpen a moot point-not that the pen’s performance provided much relief. The much-maligned Phillies bullpen made far fewer mistakes by simply keeping the ball in the park:


Team         IP   H   HR   BB  SO   ERA
Dodgers     21.0  14   4   13  18  6.00
Philllies   13.0  14   0    5  11  3.38

Which still isn’t to say that Dodgers didn’t have their shots at overcoming all that bad pitching given a quicker hook here and a pinch-hitter there. Whereas he gained the upper hand in the Division Series by pulling a shaky Wolf in the fourth inning, before disaster struck, Torre managed from back on his heels throughout the LCS. He had the chance to pull Kershaw in Game One when the score was still 3-1 and didn’t. He had the chance to pull Kuroda in Game Three when the score was 4-0 and didn’t. He could have pinch-hit for Wolf in the top of the sixth in Game Four, with two outs and Casey Blake on first, having just doubled the Dodgers’ lead with an RBI single. Calling Jim Thome‘s number would have likely prompted Charlie Manuel to pull Joe Blanton and deploy either Scott Eyre or J.A. Happ to regain the platoon advantage; the inning might have ended there, but you could at least respect Torre for trying to strike while the iron was hot. Throughout the series, he could have dropped Andre Ethier in the batting order against lefties and elevated Matt Kemp, as the two players’ platoon splits suggested was wise. “Shoulda but didn’ta,” as Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel would have agreed.

Even amid last night’s ultimately lop-sided affair, Torre had chances to be more aggressive. With both Billingsley and Kershaw on ample rest to provide multiple innings in an elimination game, he could have pinch-hit for Padilla as early as the second inning, when the score was 3-2, or pulled the struggling starter after two innings and two gopher balls with the score still 4-2. He could have left Orlando Hudson, who pinch-homered in the fifth, in as part of a double-switch involving Ronnie Belliard, who was batting second; that would have given him a switch-hitter to counter any pitching moves when that spot came up again in the seventh and ninth innings. He could have thrown up one last Hail Mary by calling upon Thome to pinch-hit for Blake with two outs in the eighth inning, down 9-4 but with the bases loaded against Ryan Madson. As I suggested in last night’s roundtable, finding an active manager with the gumption to do so might have been impossible, but a Stengel or a Weaver wouldn’t have hesitated.

Ultimately, though, when a team is outscored 35-16 across the five games, there are only so many managerial nits one can pick. The Phillies’ offense bopped 10 homers and collected 19 extra-base hits, the Dodgers managed just six and nine, respectively. Ryan Howard hit a monstrous .333/.524/.933 and drove in eight runs, half of them coming in two big swings against lefty pitchers. Jayson Werth bashed three homers, and Shane Victorino (.368/.478/.842) and Carlos Ruiz (.385/.579/.692) made things very difficult at both ends of the lineup. Meanwhile Phillies pitchers kept Ethier (.263/.333/.474), Kemp (.250/.286/.400), and Manny Ramirez (.263/.300/.421) largely in check, and devoured both Rafael Furcal (3-for-21) and Blake (2-for-19). Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez combined for 15 scoreless, walkless innings. Brad Lidge came through all three times he was called upon. Manuel outmanaged Torre.

The Phillies have now won back-to-back pennants, something that hasn’t been accomplished in the NL since the 1995-96 Braves, and hasn’t been done in either league since Torre’s 1998-2001 Yankees. It’s an impressive feat which at the very least elevates this current club to the status of a mini-dynasty, particularly given their accompanying 2007 NL East title. Congratulations to their players, their organization, and their fans on a fantastic season, no matter what transpires in the World Series.

Congratulations are in order for the Dodgers and their crew as well, though their season obviously ends with an all-too-familiar note of sadness. Derided as a weak division winner that got hot at the right time to reach the same point last year, they were the NL’s best club across 162 games this time around despite numerous obstacles, and for all of the mutterings about general manager Ned Colletti in this space, he earned his recent contract extension with a career-year performance. That’s a topic for another day, however-this moment belongs to the Phillies.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
mhmosher
10/22
The Dodgers were idiots to lean on Padilla. Chad Billingsley in the pen and Padilla starting. Brilliant.
DLaRoss
10/22
After how well he did in Game 2 I don't see how you can possibly justify taking him out of the rotation against the Phillies.
joelefkowitz
10/22
Justification: He is not a good baseball pitcher.
SamHughes
10/22
"... the Dodgers, who came into the series as the favorites among a broad consensus of writers, gamblers, simulators, and moral degenerates ... " Well played, Sir. Looking at the pitching numbers, what hurt the Dodgers more than the long ball was the walks. 23-9.
SamHughes
10/22
Oops. Make that 23-12. Still pretty overwhelming.
Chomsky
10/22
Blake? Why not Martin? As my cousin said to Sheehan: Bases juiced, five runs down, five outs left to the year, Madson on the mound, 7th and 8th "hitters" due up by name of Martin and Blake, both of whom were wretched all year v. RHP and even worse against any kind of pitching in the postseason... and there's Thome, warming up his swing in the dugout... in case the pitcher's slot comes up???? It gave me a grand mal Sheehan right there and then, even before the perfunctory and highly predictable instant outs choked off the inning and any chance to make the ninth v. Lidge interesting. File under: Torre, GENIUS.
abonin
10/22
Indeed -- a number of us were questioning it at the Park last night. That Thome didn't enter the game at all tells you that Torre erred; was he waiting for four men to be on base? Thome v. Eyre (eliminating Madson) is a better chance that Martin/Blake v Madson, isn't it? And the failure to double-switch in Hudson for Belliard was just silly. Why would that take any courage at all?
Chomsky
10/22
"was he waiting for four men to be on base? " THAT IS IT. Total spit-take, thanks.
BurrRutledge
10/23
Thome's faced Eyre 11 times, and walked 4. Hitless in the rest of the PAs, with 3Ks. Still, the best move in this situation. If he hits for Martin, and Manuel brings in Eyre, he's still got Blake up next against Eyre instead of Madson.
abonin
10/23
Or, perhaps, Cholly has to bring in Lidge against Blake, and now you've gotten Madson and Eyre out of the game.
BurrRutledge
10/23
Exactly. Much better for the Dodgers than the inaction that took place...
jjaffe
10/22
Blake vs. Martin - fair point, as making the move one out earlier would have been even more of an advantage, the specter of Brad Ausmus' entry into the game notwithstanding. Blake wasn't wretched versus righties (783 OPS during the year) but he was 2-for-18, with few good at-bats in the series. Martin wasn't that frosty, but his 660 OPS against righties certainly WAS wretched.
aaronbailey52
10/23
You have to pinch hit Thome for Martin in that situation. Absolutely have to. You can't wait for Blade because you can't take the chance that your soft hitting catcher hits into a double play, which he did more than all but 29 other players this season. If Thome is not on the roster for this exact situation, then why roster him at all for the postseason? He's weak for his career against lefties, but at least put him in and force Manuel to burn Eyre, and possibly Lidge, early. He's an HOF against righties, and better against lefties than Martin is against righties, so put the man in!
aaronbailey52
10/23
And as a fan of the game it's impossible not to feel absolutely cheated out of a potentially epic at bat.
hiredgoon1
10/22
As much as the Dodgers were outscored and out-managed, they were one out away from tying the series at 2 and regaining home-field advantage. One mistake pitch by Broxton contributed more to the Dodgers' downfall than anything else. Baseball is a funny game.
Richie
10/22
Jim Thome slugged a whopping .429 against left-handed pitchers this year. For that you pinch-hit him for Blake??? ARFARFARFARFARF!! Even for Martin, you're just not gaining much at all. That's what Thome is now, against left-handers. Who cares how many home runs he hit back when I had more hair? Except where you can spot him against a righthander, he's no longer really worth anything.
BurrRutledge
10/23
I think the better move would have been against Martin, as others have noted. It's not perfect, but you only need one perfect swing in that situation. Thome was the guy to provide that swing. Thome hit .209/.314/.429/.743 in 105 PAs vs. lefties this season. 5 HRs. Not great, but he can still do some damage. And, he forces Manuel to make the pitching change. Martin, in contrast, hit .243/.335/.325/.660 in 462 PAs vs. righties this season. 6 HRs.
Clemente
10/23
Richie--you are gaining 100 points of SLG and four times the HR per AB by using Thome for Martin, even against Erye. Better than "not gaining much at all".