Postseason baseball, by its nature, is always going to be close. One swing, or one take, can often be the difference between one team advancing or being eliminated. When the margin for error is so thin, every mistake and miscalculation is highlighted and subject to derision.
This is doubly true when it’s deserved, and we’ve seen two terrible managerial decisions within 12 months that have earned the mockery and second-guessing of baseball. Let’s see if we recognize them:
Two walk off home runs, one that eliminated the Baltimore Orioles in the 2016 AL Wild Card game, and one that gave the Los Angeles Dodgers a 2-0 series lead over Chicago in this year’s NLCS. Of course, what they have in common is that the pitcher giving up the home run was NOT the losing team’s best reliever, and that those relievers were waiting in the dugout for their “turn.”
Zach Britton and Wade Davis have both been sterling for their clubs in the past two seasons, yet Buck Showalter and Joe Maddon respectively fell into the old trap of “saving” the team’s designated closer on the road to pitch with a lead. By opting to send out a lesser pitcher, and starter at that, both managers arguably cost their team wins in the biggest of spots, and unquestionably lost while still having bullets in the chamber.
2017 has shone a light on Joe Girardi’s particular managing quirks, and he’s seen his share of criticism. I’ve already written about his failure to challenge in the ALDS, and others have taken issue with his lineup construction and choice of starters. Throughout the playoffs so far, however, Girardi has used up all his best options in the bullpen, and you cannot argue he’s lost with anything but his best on the mound.
Looking at the NLCS Game Two in particular, we see the mistake of “saving” twice in the ninth inning, as Brian Duensing was left in to carry over from the eighth. That itself isn’t the worst decision, but gets compounded a few minutes later as Duensing allows the winning run to move to scoring position after a walk and sacrifice bunt. After Kyle Farmer struck out, Maddon elected to go to Lackey to face Chris Taylor and Justin Turner, and we saw above what happened.
If a manager is going to make a move to the bullpen, especially in the postseason, it should be to bring out the best pitcher he has remaining. Given that there were already two out in the ninth, Davis becomes the obvious best chance to get out of the inning, and is likely still good to pitch the tenth anyway. Conversely, if he loses the game, at least you lose with your best man on the hill.
Joe Girardi, for all his other flaws and head scratching decisions, is determined to use his best man, and if the Yankees lose, it’ll be because the best man didn’t have it. In the second game of the ALCS, Aroldis Chapman was called upon to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, in a tie game. He was hit hard, twice, and lost the game, unlike the Cubs or Orioles, the Yankees lost with their best available piece in play. With the liberal use of both David Robertson and Chapman in the 2017 postseason, we can at least be reassured Girardi won’t be pulling a “Showalter,” or now a “Maddon.”