The crucial talking point preceding Game 4 between the Dodgers and Cardinals was "sample size." That mainly had to do with Dodgers manager Don Mattingly's decision to bench Yasiel Puig and start Andre Ethier in the outfield instead because of Puig's struggles in the first three games of the series. At least, we're assuming Puig's .250/.357/.417 slash line, along with eight strikeouts, is the reason Mattingly benched him. All Mattingly would say was, "This gives us the best chance to win today."
There was another small playoff sample size issue at play, though, and it ultimately would be the difference in the Dodgers 3–2 loss, which eliminated them from the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw may be a world-beating genius who's won four straight ERA titles and will probably win his third Cy Young award in a couple of weeks, but he hasn't been all that good in the playoffs. In Game 1 of the series, the Cardinals lit Kershaw up for seven runs in a disastrous 7th inning, a result in keeping with Kershaw's playoff history, where prior to this year he was 1–3 with a 4.12 ERA.
Is this just a small sample size, or is Kershaw a much worse pitcher in the playoffs for some reason? Either way, Mattingly afforded Kershaw the confidence he did not show in Puig, and brought him back on short rest to win the pivotal Game 4. For six innings Kershaw was his usual brilliant self, before that cursed 7th inning came around again. The Cardinals got their first two men on base, and then Kershaw missed with a curveball to Matt Adams. This was the result:
That's not a very "classiest team in baseball" home run trot from Adams, but he can be forgiven here. When you hit a three-run homer off of Clayton Kershaw, you should be allowed to celebrate however you damn well please.
Mattingly is going to receive some criticism for his decisions, and he deserves it. After bringing Kershaw back on short rest, he let him go out to pitch the 7th against the heart of the Cardinals lineup despite having thrown 94 pitches. And in a game where the Dodgers only scored two runs, maybe they could've used Yasiel Puig's bat; a great hitter like him is always one at-bat away from breaking out of a slump. Mattingly has a lot to think about, and now has an extended break to do that thinking; America, for its part, will get to watch the Cardinals contend for the National League pennant yet again.
Photo via Tom Gannam/AP