Well, Dodger fans, to paraphrase the immortal Orson Welles, that was unrewarding. Despite a poorly-played game, the Dodgers went into the Braves’ side of the eighth inning with a 4-2 lead based on a Corey Seager lightning strike on the second at-bat of the game and a bloop bases-loaded Chris Taylor double, the latter one of only two Dodger hits in eighteen at-bats with runners in scoring position over the first two games of the series. But get those six outs, and the Dodgers limp home with a series tie and the chance to take the upper hand.
To get at least the first three of those outs, Dodger manager Dave Roberts turned to 2020 playoff hero and 2021 rotation ace Julio Urias, the scheduled Game 4 starter. It went poorly. Two singles and a double layer the score was tied, and the Dodgers went on to lose it in the ninth on a walk-off single against hastily summoned closer Kenley Jansen.
I see no reason to obfuscate: Calling on Urias in that context was a poor decision, from just about every conceivable angle one can take. Let’s discuss. Your questions, please.
Q: Julio Urias is one of the best five pitchers in baseball and you…don’t…want…him…pitching…there?
A: Urias is undoubtedly one of baseball’s top pitchers, but that is simply restating a tautology. If he could pitch all the innings, he would. But he can’t. So the only question is which innings he will pitch and which innings he won’t.
Q: So why not that particular inning?
A: Because it was wholly unnecessary to pitch Urias with several options that were either slightly worse, as good, or potentially better in that context than using Urias. Put another way, it was all downside.
Q: But you’ve conceded that he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. So isn’t that the point?
A: He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and that’s why he starts games. The point of having Urias is so he can pitch as many innings as possible, not get three specific outs at a specific time. Using him in the latter circumstance directly interferes with the former.
Q: How do you know?
A: Simply consider Max Scherzer a few innings earlier, who came out after 4 1/3 innings because his arm was “dead.” The whole reason there was even a reason for Urias to come in was because of the enormous cost of overworking Scherzer the last two weeks. Perhaps that cost was worth it in the context of those games. It was not in this situation.
Q: But remember Urias last year? Multiple inning outings and dominant in the playoffs, particularly against Atlanta. So there’s precedent.
A: Urias threw 55 innings during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before throwing 23 innings in the 2020 playoffs. This year Urias threw 186 innings in the regular season, and has thrown 10 innings so far this postseason. That’s three times the workload. The cumulative effect of that workload weighs, particularly when rest is not given.
Q: What were the other options?
A: In descending order of optimality, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel, Kenley Jansen, and Justin Bruihl.
1) Treinen threw a nine-pitch 7th inning thanks to an inning-ending double-play. Treinen has murdered lefthanders this year to the tune of .140/.262/.234. I don’t care for his politics, but he was slightly better against lefties than righties this year—which makes sense. Just tell him Freddie Freeman voted for Biden, and how can we lose?
2) Corey Knebel possibly is being saved for another “start” in Game 4, but one might need to ask why he didn’t simply take his turn in this game. A smaller sample size given his injury, but lefties hit just 6 for 43 against Knebel and his knuckle-curve. Knebel’s injury-checkered past makes him a bigger gamble than Treinen in that situation, but he has the advantage that getting three outs in the eighth inning is what he is there for.
3) Kenley Jansen has been lights out since his mid-season breakdown, but is always best used coming in to the beginning of innings fully warm (as was later proven again in the ninth). I’m glad when Jansen pitches well, but largely resigned to him. I’m not sure what it says about your closer when you have to continually overwork your starters to get outs, but ok, I can see a debate starting to form if this was your other option.
4) Justin Bruihl is the lefty-on-lefty matchup, and the entire reason that he was added to the NLCS roster. I can see not wanting your season to turn on Justin Bruihl—I’m not even sure I’m spelling his name right—but then again, if that’s what the game gives you with your offense going completely in the tank, well, maybe that’s what the game gives you.
Q: Why is Justin Bruihl on the roster again?
A: The Dodgers are carrying 13 pitchers! 13! Then they run out of position players every game even though only their starters are apparently allowed to close games now.
Q: But it was just going to be an inning; a side throw. What’s the big deal?
A: When Urias throws his 100th pitch in Game 4, we’ll reassess. As it is, what we now have is an unvirtuous cycle. Scherzer relieves, shortening his game, (supposedly) necessitating our use of Urias, and so on. This isn’t sound management–this is more like an addiction cycle.
Q: But Treinen or Knebel or whoever could have blown the game too!
A: Of course! That’s the point. Pitchers blow games all the time. That’s what life is–a steady diet of blown saves and dead arms. What I object to is bringing future games of the series into play without a reason to do so. I was wary of Scherzer’s appearance in Game 7, but acceded because there was really no other way that game could play out. The same was not nearly true here, as explained above. There were much better ways to blow that game (which, by the way, the Dodgers thoroughly deserved to blow) than putting a future game at risk. This is not even a close call.
Q: You do realize this puts you on the same side as Bill Plaschke though?
A: Bill Plaschke is a moron and a poltroon and almost certainly a Trump-voting MAGA idiot. I’ve already read his piece and it is garbage. It hurts me that I have to take the same position as his tripe. It has nothing to do with whether anyone is “used” to anything. The question was this: What was the most optimal thing to do in that situation, given all the factors to be considered? Urias is capable of getting those outs. Of course he is. May we not make the same mistakes with him that we made with Beltre.
But the fact remains, Treinen for a second inning was a better option than Urias without even considering Game 4. The others enter the conversation as you become more conservative about what you might do during Game 4. But really, why are all these pitchers on the roster if you don’t intend to use them? If Urias and Scherzer are just going to take all the bullpen appearances too, why not carry, oh, a guy who can make that throw from right field? (NOTE: Had Beaty hit instead of being subbed out for Pujols, Beaty could theoretically have subbed in to play first in the ninth, moving Bellinger to center and keeping Betts in right. Just saying.)
Q: Whither Dave Roberts?
A: Roberts deserves all the love he gets and I want him to remain the manager for as long as he wants. The players love him, he’s a smart and knowledgeable baseball guy, and he’s made a lot of really good decisions as manager. He’s a leader.
I do think he chases narratives too much–had it worked, going to Urias would have been lauded as an outside-the-box bit of analytical brilliance and another hero’s tale–despite the fact that it was contrary to how the roster is constructed, created very little expected value (which evaporated altogether when Urias pitched poorly), and put a future game at risk of the same maltreatment as this one. That the Dodgers ended up actually losing the game (for whatever reason) only makes the decision worse. In other words, this was a botch, and it was in an important enough situation to exercise our God-given rights as fans to complain about it.
Q: Game 3?
A: Sigh. Yes, I have my ticket. Tomorrow will be Frequently Asked Questions about the dumbass who made Game 3 a 2:00 PM start in LA.