With the lights shining brighter in the postseason, managers are put under the microscope. Every lineup decision and every bullpen move is analyzed ad nauseam. When a bold move works, you’re a genius. If it backfires, even the best of managers can be berated by fans (see Buck Showalter in the 2016 Wild Card game).
Girardi failed to challenge foul ball that was called a hit by pitch. Lonnie Chisenhall took first and then Francisco Lindor hit a game-changing grand slam that sparked an unlikely comeback. Girardi should have challenged it, yes. But if Lindor only flies out to right, no one cares. It didn’t take long for the New York faithful to be calling for Girardi to be run out of town and boo when he was announced the next game. Buster Olney even reported that he’d be “shocked” if Girardi received a contract next year.
Dusty Baker’s snafu was a little bit harder to defend. Baker had a little too much confidence in his pitcher to get out of a jam and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, it didn’t work out. With the game tied, and Tommy La Stella on second base, Baker had Brandon Kintzler pitch to Kris Bryant. First base was open but the Nationals decided against the intentional pass and it paid off when Kintzler got Bryant to strike out. Now with two outs Anthony Rizzo came to the plate. Conventional baseball wisdom says you walk Rizzo to get to the right-handed hitter Willson Contreras. You can leave in Kintzler who just struck out the reigning MVP. Instead Baker called on LHP Oliver Perez. Rizzo hits a blooper into the Bermuda Triangle in left field and the winning-run scores. If the hit had gone five feet further or five feet shorter, Baker’s call is heralded as a bold move that paid off.
Both moves were wrong. Both moves arguably cost their team the game. But both moves also included some bad luck. The grand slam is Lindor’s only hit of the series this far and as Baker said, that blooper couldn’t have been placed better “if he threw it.”
Despite what the fans say, neither of these mistakes is a fireable offense. No mistake in the postseason is.
Postseason mistakes aren’t fireable offenses because by definition, your team is still in the playoffs. I’m not arguing that a manager who reaches the playoffs shouldn’t be let go. In the case of Don Mattingly and the Dodgers, it was definitely the right move. What I am saying is managerial decisions shoudn’t be made in a postseason vacuum.
Dusty Baker is a Hall of Fame manager–with or without a ring. The Nationals may get bounced in the NLDS for the fourth time in six years, but this is only Dusty’s second year in D.C. The Nationals may be panicking about Bryce Harper’s looming free agency, but removing Baker won’t solve that problem and guarantee a championship next year. When push comes to shove, a manager that believes in his players too much is not a major problem.
Joe Girardi very well could be a future Hall of Famer. He got the baby bombers to the playoffs a year ahead of schedule (and came close to doing it last year in the middle of a rebuilding year). He may not be a “player’s manager” like Dave Roberts or Torey Lovullo, but his players respect him (even if Aroldis Chapman likes comments about Girardi getting fired). New York would be crazy to get rid of him, but that does sound like something the Yankees would do. Any team with a managerial opening should wait to see what the Yankees do to see if they can lure Girardi away.
The playoffs are always a crap shoot. A great tactician doesn’t guarantee a title. Just like a strategical dunce can still lead his team to victory. After all, Ned Yost has a ring and Buck Showalter doesn’t. Moneyball hasn’t brought A’s executive Billy Beane a ring and he keeps getting promoted.
A manager in the playoffs has at least done something right. Postseason mistakes should be taken with a grain of salt. If the front office can hide behind the defense of the playoffs being a crap shoot, should be cut some slack in the postseason as well.