Undeniably, it’s easy to discredit the decisions of the Los Angeles coaching staff seconds after they implode. Two critical bullpen moves during the first two games have played large in both outcomes, putting the Dodgers in an extremely deep hole as the World Series moves Westward. As bad as the decisions may have been, the personnel involved in both of the substitutions was even more puzzling, as the moves were ultimately questioned by everyone who witnessed the game, including supporters of the Red Sox.
In Game 1, the Dodgers were hanging in the game through the latter part of the contest, trailing by just one run in the bottom of the seventh. In previous innings, the Los Angeles bats showed signs of clicking and the adrenaline appeared to be growing. Pedro Baez was on the verge of putting out a fire started by Julio Urias, but after striking out two Boston batters, skipper Dave Roberts yanked Baez in favor of lefty Alex Wood. Roberts’ adversary and former teammate, Alex Cora, countered with pinch-hitter Eduardo Nunez, and the rest is history. Sure, there was a chance for Los Angeles to mount a comeback, but Nunez’s bomb was more of a gut-punch than anything else, removing all the wind from the sails of the Dodgers.
It was the third long ball that Wood has allowed in the 2018 playoffs.
Los Angeles fans are still questioning why Roberts pulled Baez period, much less for a matchup scenario in favor of the lefty Wood.
“We talked about it with Baez throwing the ball well right there,” Roberts explained to reporters in the postgame. “But Devers is really good against right-handers, and to get a guy off the bench in Nunez, I really liked Alex in that spot, I did.”
In the fifth inning of Game 2, the Dodgers were actually leading when starter Hyun-Jin Ryu got himself into a two-out jam, prompting Roberts to call on righty Ryan Madson. The bases were loaded, and Madson proceeded to walk Steve Pearce, allowing Boston to tie the score. One batter later, J.D. Martinez parachuted a single into the outfield that scored two more runners, providing the Red Sox control of the game.
Between Game 1 and Game 2, Madson inherited five total baserunners. and he allowed all five to score. All of the earned runs were credited back to Clayton Kershaw and Ryu, while Madson’s ERA remained unscathed—another perfect example of why ERA is an undependable statistic, especially for relief pitchers.
“Madson has been our guy for quite some time, and he’s pitched out of big spots,” Roberts said in his own defense. “He’s fresh. He pitched yesterday, didn’t throw too many pitches. Had a couple of days off coming into the series, has an off-day tomorrow. So that part of it was pretty easy. And I just felt I really liked him against Pearce. In that spot he’s done it time and time again for us, but the last couple of nights it hasn’t worked out.”
Admittedly, Madson was decent in the NLDS, but he got a little shaky in the NLCS, allowing five hits, a walk and an earned run in five even innings of work. I’m still not able to figure out where the “he’s been our guy for quite some time” part came from, as the 38-year-old gave up six earned runs on 10 hits in 8-1/3 innings between the time the Dodgers traded for him and the beginning of the NLDS against the Braves.
In retrospect, the easy solution would have been to let Baez pitch to Devers in Game 1, and the smarter move in Game 2 would have been bringing in Baez to pitch to Pearce, or for that matter, letting Ryu finish his own business. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but the manner which the Red Sox capitalized on both opportunities blew Los Angeles completely out of the water in the final innings of both games.
Being down two games, the strategies could conceivably change slightly, as the Dodgers may opt for their more dependable relief arms in the earlier innings. Yet, based on both of the head-scratchers outlined above, it’s really hard to say. Indeed, it doesn’t help that the Red Sox are out-executing the Dodgers on the diamond; but when Boston is also out-coaching Los Angeles in the dugout, the chances of the Boys in Blue succeeding plummet dramatically.
At least there will be some left-handed batters in the starting lineup in Game 3 on Friday.