I’ve seen the Dodgers twice in person this season, and both times came away thinking that the team would be OK, that manager Don Mattingly would survive.
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Now I’m convinced that Mattingly is going to get fired. And the sooner it happens, the better.
The players like Mattingly. Club executives insist his lame-duck status is not an issue. But I’ve seen it too many times with unproven managers who are in the final years of contracts.
A team struggles. A manager’s personality turns. A cloud forms over a club.
Watch the games, listen to Mattingly and tell me this is not happening to the Dodgers.
The 17-25 Dodgers. The $217 million Dodgers. The last-place Dodgers, who are now seven games back in the NL West.
The Dodgers were swept over their weekend in Atlanta, getting outscored, 16-8. Their bullpen allowed 12 of the runs. And Mattingly’s postgame quotes were the equivalent of bad body language, the thoughts of a manager who doesn’t know how to snap his team out of it.
Watching Sunday’s meltdown on television, I thought, “Mattingly might be gone tomorrow.” And then I got a text from a rival scout, one who has no particular insight into the Dodgers, but is attuned — like so many in the sport — to the game’s day-to-day rhythms.
“Making the call — Donnie Ballgame will get the axe tomorrow,” the scout said.
When I asked the scout why he thought that, he replied, “Gut feeling. The way they’ve been losing.”
The scout continued, “He’s a laid-back manager with a laid-back veteran club. Great dude, but they need some energy. Some fire. Some change with that payroll. Not his fault, but you can’t fire 25 players.”
At this point, who can disagree?
Yes, things can change quickly, starting Monday night in Milwaukee, the next stop on this trip. The Dodgers will start his three best pitchers — Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu — against the struggling Brewers.
My guess is that Mattingly gets this series, and if things don’t go better, that’s it. The Dodgers are off Thursday, then begin a five-game homestand against the Cardinals and Angels. You can look it up — managerial changes often occur on off-days before a homestand.
It’s funny. As recently as last Wednesday, the Dodgers were coming off a series triumph over the Nationals, victories in four of their last five games. Greinke was back, looking good. Matt Kemp had a 14-game hitting streak. The team seemed ready to roll.
An 8-5 loss in the series opener on Friday night seemed to upset Mattingly quite a bit, based on his postgame remarks.
“Too many walks. Too many free runners. And we have to catch the ball, that’s all there is to it,” Mattingly told reporters.
Mattingly said he had “an issue” with a bloop hit that dropped between Kemp in center and Carl Crawford in left. And he said of a hard-hit liner that eluded third baseman Luis Cruz, “Although it was a rocket, guys in the big leagues make that play all day long.”
This, from a manager who routinely draws praise from his players for being so positive, so supportive.
Saturday’s loss was a different kind of mess. The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning. Mattingly summoned right-hander Kenley Jansen, his most reliable reliever, apparently trying for a five-out save. And Jansen allowed back-to-back homers by pinch-hitter Evan Gattis and shortstop Andrelton Simmons as the Braves rallied to win, 3-1.
“People clamor for one guy,” Mattingly said. “Then they clamor for the next guy, and then somebody else. You’d like to get the thing the way you want it to work and keep guys in roles so you don’t get disarray.”
Well, the Dodgers are in disarray.
Sunday’s 5-2 loss — in which the Braves scored four times off Jansen and fellow righty Brandon League in the eighth inning — was yet another pull-your-hair-out special.
Mattingly defended his relievers afterward, saying he was “confident” that they could do the job and explaining that the offense’s repeated failures put the bullpen in a position where it “can’t give up a run.”
“Take it all as a group, not just the bullpen,” Mattingly said.
The same goes for management, too.
I wrote last week about how a bad bullpen can create a bad manager. General manager Ned Colletti, not Mattingly, put together the Dodgers’ bullpen. From Day 1, Colletti’s signing of League to a three-year, $22.5 million contract seemed like a reach.
At some point, the Dodgers’ new ownership also might hold Colletti accountable, but it’s the manager who usually goes first.
There is no obvious replacement for Mattingly, but Colletti, club president Stan Kasten and the club’s ownership know that they can’t allow the team to struggle like this for much longer.
Barring a sudden turnaround, Mattingly will lose his job.