Why Don Mattingly Should Not Have Benched Yasiel Puig for NLDS Game 4

Jason S. Parini@@JasonPariniBRCorrespondent IIOctober 8, 2014

Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig, center, sits in the dugout during the third inning Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Money certainly can buy you everything.

But apparently, $238 million won't buy you a World Series ring.

Despite having the highest payroll in baseball in 2014, the Dodgers exited the playoffs after the first round on Tuesday, with Clayton Kershaw suffering the loss in an elimination game to the Cardinals for the second year in a row.

Though the Dodgers posted the highest on-base percentage and second-highest team batting average in the 2014 regular season, they struggled to find offense in the NLDS. After scoring nine runs in Game 1, the Dodgers scored just three runs in Game 2 and plated one run in Game 3.

Cardinals starting pitcher John Lackey had the Dodgers' number in Game 3. He surrendered only seven hits, with three of them coming to Hanley Ramirez. Of the remaining four hits the Dodgers were able to muster up, one of them was a triple by OF Yasiel Puig. 

While Puig did struggle in the NLDS, he wasn't the only one. Juan Uribe, Adrian Gonzalez and Dee Gordon all hit below .200 in the Dodgers' four games. 

After going down 2-1 in the series, manager Don Mattingly decided to bench Puig and start Andre Ethier in CF for Game 4. Mattingly cited Ethier's health as his reasoning, as well as Ethier giving the team a "better chance to win."

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Mattingly on benching Puig for Ethier: "He's healthy. It's pretty simple. I just feel like this gives us the best chance to win today."

Right, that must be Ethier's .249 regular-season batting average and his stellar performances in zero playoff games in 2014 that gave you that logic. Although Puig admitted his ankle had been bothering him at times, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, it clearly wasn't bothering him that much, considering Mattingly used him as a pinch runner in the ninth inning of Game 4.

He also added that he had been suffering some discomfort in his ankle at the end of the regular season, but it again was apparently not a huge problem given his .339 batting average in the Dodger's final 15 regular-season games.

Instead of Mattingly using Puig's bat in the ninth inning of Game 4, Justin Turner came up to bat in the pitcher's spot. Though Turner had an impressive regular season, he had only made one plate appearance in the entire series before striking out.

So by Mattingly's logic, Andre Ethier's .249 regular-season average and Turner's one plate appearance in the NLDS gave the Dodgers a better chance to win.

Yes, Puig struggled in his first three games. However, his triple in the sixth inning of Game 3 was a positive sign of what he could do for the team when on. Not to mention, his arm and defensive range is arguably one of the best in baseball.

Let's also not forget that Puig is only 23 years old and only has one-and-a-half seasons of major league play under his belt. He has a tremendous amount of growth and maturity to accomplish, both mentally and as a player.

He's not going to get that playoff and veteran experience by sitting on the bench, Coach. While you're at it, maybe Clayton Kershaw shouldn't face the Cardinals again in the playoffs since he has thus far failed to beat them when it truly mattered.

As a whole, the Dodgers have been unable to find a way to beat the Cardinals come October. In Game 6 of last year's NLCS, the Dodgers were held to two hits against Michael Wacha to send them packing while the Redbirds advanced to the next round.

Plain and simple, Puig should not have been benched and deprived of the possibility of, at the very least, gaining some more playoff experience and wisdom in Game 4. Though widely regarded as the best player in baseball, Puig's crosstown counterpart, Mike Trout, had an even worse performance in the 2014 ALDS for the Angels. In the Angels' three losses to the Kansas City Royals, Trout hit an abysmal .083. Funny, Mike Scioscia didn't rush to bench Trout, who is making only $1.7 million in 2014. Trout was even described by MLB.com as being on the verge of become the next Mr. October. 

Hopefully, Puig will finally redeem himself in the 2015 playoffs. Perhaps his salary jump from $3.7 million in 2014 to $6.2 million next season will give the young kid some motivation to perform in the fall.

But we don't have to remind you of that. You have six months to sit at home and think about what may have happened if Yasiel Puig had played in Game 4.

All statistics courtesy of MLB.com.


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