Thursday, October 3, 2013
Chess match: Dodgers versus Braves
By Christina Kahrl
Here's a look at some managerial tactics that Clint Hurdle and Mike Matheny employ. Now let's check in on Don Mattingly and Fredi Gonzalez.
Los Angeles Dodgers versus Atlanta Braves
What Mattingly likes to do: On offense, Mattingly isn't especially busy. Oddly, while he doesn't have his team steal much, the Dodgers nevertheless made more outs on baserunning plays than any other team in the postseason (61). You can only blame Yasiel Puig for 11 of those, with Hanley Ramirez (nine) and Adrian Gonzalez (seven) doing some damage as well. We'll see if mistakes on the bases haunts them in the LDS.
On defense, Mattingly likes using the intentional pass: starters, relievers, you name it, he'll tell the guy to do it. Thanks to the better overall quality of his staff this year, Mattingly has toned things down from having his pitchers issue 62 last season, but he still had Ronald Belisario -- one of his preferred pen men in tight games in the seventh and eighth -- issue 10 freebies under orders. Put into a tight situation in the late innings, don't act surprised if Mattingly starts putting extra people on base.
He's seen a pretty good bullpen come together, although it did have a few bumps in September. It's sort of funny that the team that has added former closers Brandon League, J.P. Howell, Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson in the past 13 months or so has Kenley Jansen -- the guy they had all along -- closing for them. Beyond the mass of ex-celebs he's had to sort through, it's more impressive that rookies Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow earned key roles. Belisario and Rodriguez struggled down the stretch, however, so look for Wilson to have to get some key outs.
With Matt Kemp out for entire postseason, and Andre Ethier not available in the field for at least the first two games, Mattingly will have to juggle his lineup a bit, with Skip Schumaker likely starting in center field. Puig has hit leadoff most of September, with Carl Crawford hitting second, but the absence of Ethier may prompt Mattingly to move Puig down to the fifth slot behind Gonzalez, with Crawford and Mark Ellis hitting 1-2.
What Fredi Gonzalez likes to do: Conjure up creative solutions when the master plan of counting on B.J. Upton falls apart, apparently. Jason Heyward isn't a lot of people's idea of a leadoff man or center fielder, but Gonzalez has run and won with both notions. And with Justin Upton in the two-hole? Front-loading your lineup instead of conceding either slot to Andrelton Simmons is pretty tasty. Add in his finding ways to get Evan Gattis' power into the lineup, spotting the rookie slugger at catcher and left field with some first base mixed in.
Other stuff? Gonzalez likes to use pinch runners, employing an NL-leading 40 of them. But he doesn't put his runners in motion on the pitch; only Bob Melvin did so less often (by a lot, 74 to 94). He's also fairly aggressive with defensive replacements, plugging them in 51 times. Dan Uggla and Gattis are big parts of the reasons for that, and Uggla was left off the division series roster, but to Gonzalez’s credit, he doesn't let it ride with those kinds of risks. So while Gattis should start in left field, at least in Game 1 against Clayton Kershaw, he won't stay out there if the Braves are leading late in the game.
With a pitching staff that gave Gonzalez a league-leading 102 quality starts plus a bullpen that delivered scoreless outings a remarkable 90.6 percent of the time in their 466 total relief appearances, I don't know if any manager got fewer gray hairs from his pitching staff this season. Well, in his goatee. At any rate, that sort of top-to-bottom excellence is worth noting, because Gonzalez is in the awkward position of having to start veteran retread Freddy Garcia in Game 4, choosing him over Paul Maholm or rookie Alex Wood.
Wood will work out of the pen as a second left-hander with Luis Avilan. Veteran Scott Downs, acquired from the Angels, was left off the division series roster.
Advantage: Closer to a push, but I’d favor Gonzalez here.