It’s easy to blame the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Game 1 loss in the NLCS on Joe Blanton. With the game tied and the bases loaded in the eighth inning, Blanton gave Chicago Cubs pinch-hitter Miguel Montero the gift of a hanging slider on an 0-2 count, and the result was a grand slam. To make sure any hopes the Dodgers had of a comeback were really and truly dead, Blanton then served the same easy pitch to the next hitter, Dexter Fowler, giving up another blast and allowing the Cubs to take an 8-3 lead.
So, yes, not at all a great look for Blanton. But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was the one who had set Blanton up for such a situation in the first place—both by giving Blanton the call when he did and, more grievously, by choosing to walk the bases loaded.
Starting the eighth with Blanton was a questionable choice to begin with. He’s been more or less lights-out from the bullpen this postseason, giving up only one hit and one walk in five scoreless innings of work before Saturday night. Those five innings involved pitching in four of the five NLDS games, for a total of 85 pitches—quite a bit of high-impact work for a reliever in just one week, and the fatigue showed on Saturday. Considering that moving to Blanton involved pulling Ross Stripling, who had more rest and only threw 10 pitches in his one inning of work, starting the inning with Blanton was somewhat of an ill-judged move in the first place.
Putting Blanton in, though, was not nearly so bad as Roberts’s next move—ordering two intentional walks for Blanton to load the bases after giving up a leadoff double. Especially when those walks were ordered to Jason Heyward (.230/.306/.325 line this year) and Chris Coghlan (.188/.290/.318). And if he was trying to play to Blanton’s strengths by working around lefties, Roberts wasn’t doing it in a way that made sense—because after ordering Blanton to walk those two left-handed hitters, he decided to leave him in to face another lefty in Montero.
To judge Roberts’s moves here by their outcome, simply, they sucked—they set up a game-losing grand slam, of course they sucked—but even in an alternate universe where they led to an inning-ending out and the Dodgers escaped with the tie intact, they still would have been bad. The Coghlan walk alone bumped the Cubs’ win expectancy by 5 percent, no small amount to increase your chances of losing, and it removed all margin for error for an overworked pitcher. And they involved intentionally walking Jason Heyward and Chris Coghlan.
Blanton lost the game, but Roberts didn’t give him many other options.
Update: the original wording of this post referred to “an alternate universe where they led to an inning-ending double play”; it has been changed to “an inning-ending out,” as there were two outs before the second intentional walk.