With the Dodgers one loss from elimination after losing Game 4 of the NLCS 4-2 on Tuesday night, the team is looking for three straight wins to keep their season alive. But it didn't need to be that way. The club was in decent position to win Game 4 and turn the series into a best of three, but one decision by Don Mattingly dashed their hopes of winning. In the bottom of the fourth, with men on first and second, one out, and two runs already in, Mattingly pinch hit for starter Ricky Nolasco with light-hitting utilityman Skip Schumaker. Schumaker grounded into a double play, ending the inning and snuffing out the Dodgers' best chance to take the lead all inning.
But why did Mattingly even go with Schumaker in that situation? It didn't make sense last night, and it doesn't make sense now. He had three hits in the entire Postseason coming into Tuesday night's game, and all were singles. He's a player who hits a ton of ground balls (just like teammate Michael Young) and doesn't have great speed (despite his scrappy nature), which has resulted in him grounding into 11 double plays in just 319 at bats this year. That was tied for second on the Dodgers this year. The common response for Schumaker coming into the game is "the platoon advantage", but against righties, Schumaker goes from terrible to merely mediocre. It's not as if he suddenly turns into Miguel Cabrera. One of the few things he does do reasonably well is bunt, and if Mattingly sent him up there to do that, it would have at least made some sense.
That's not what happened, of course. Schumaker fouled off the first pitch and hit a hopper to Daniel Descalso on the second pitch for the double play. Inning over, Bunting is generally a terrible decision, and who knows if Schumaker would have even been able to get the bunt down? But with a gimpy David Freese playing third base at normal depth, wouldn't it have been a lot more practical to have Schumaker at least try to push one down the third base line instead of hacking away in the unlikely event that the ball finds the outfield grass?
Schumaker was pinch hitting for Ricky Nolasco, and the common mindset about Nolasco on Tuesday is that he was "off". Nolasco allowed three runs on three hits in four innings. All of that damage came in the third inning. He had just completed a 1-2-3 fourth on 13 pitches. He had only thrown 58 pitches over the course of the evening, earning six whiffs, striking out four, and walking just one. He struggled a bit with getting ahead of hitters right off the bat, throwing first pitch strikes to just nine of 16 hitters, but Nolasco's start wasn't some sort of abomination. I understand the logic of not wanting to burn a pinch hitter just to have him bunt, but in that case, why not send up Nolasco to do it? His 55 sac bunts since 2008 are fourth among all pitchers in the game, and the guy clearly knows what he's doing. Lay the bunt down, turn the lineup over, and put two men in scoring position with two outs for Carl Crawford and the top of the Dodgers lineup. Doing that makes a lot more sense than sending up Schumaker (or god forbid, Michael Young) and raising the probability of an inning-ending double play.
As for other options on the bench, Mattingly was handcuffed. He wasn't going to use backup catcher Tim Federowicz for obvious reasons. He wasn't going to use Young because of the obvious double play threat. He wasn't going to use Nick Punto because Hanley Ramirez looked ready to fall apart at short and Punto would be needed to replace him there. He wasn't going to use Dee Gordon, because Dee Gordon can't hit his way out of a paper bag (but actually might have walked or beat out a double play grounder). It was either Schumaker or Scott Van Slyke, a fourth outfielder with big power who happens to have even worse double play tendencies than Schumaker (nine in 183 major league at bats).
Mattingly's decision didn't work, but he was erring on the side of caution. Even with the 8-9-1 hitters coming up in the top of the fifth for the Cardinals, that was the same part of the order that got Nolasco in trouble in the third. Mattingly probably would have been second guessed if he kept Nolasco in to bunt, the Dodgers didn't get any more runs in the fourth, and the Cardinals added to their lead in the fifth. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the moment Schumaker grabbed a bat in the fourth, I had a feeling this wasn't going to go well for the Dodgers. Sure enough, it didn't, and the Dodgers' win expectancy on Tuesday night would never be higher than it was before Schumaker's double play to end the fourth.