10/01/08 11:20 PM ET
Chess Match: Intriguing moves
Piniella decides to stay with Dempster; Torre uses Maddux
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
When a game is decided by walks and home runs, the tactical aspect can be removed a little bit. Some things are just elemental: If you don't throw strikes and you give up the long ball when you do throw strikes, you're probably going to lose.
But with that said, Wednesday night's NLDS opener between the Cubs and Dodgers featured a couple of tactical turning points that made things interesting.
Riding the horse
The situation: Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, already carrying a heavy pitch count in the fifth inning, walks Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier to load the bases. They're his second and third walks of the inning and sixth and seventh of the game.
The outcome: Loney drilled a 1-2 pitch from Dempster to center field for a grand slam, ultimately the game-winning hit.
The analysis: It was clear that Dempster had far from his best command, and was very much on the ropes. He walked Ramirez after an 0-2 count, and was already at 102 pitches. With Loney's massive platoon split (.305 batting average and .462 slugging vs. righties, .249 and .361 vs. lefties), going with the southpaw might well have been the right call.
The explanation: "He hadn't given up a run. He pitched himself out of trouble an inning or two before. We were concerned about his pitch count, but no, we were going to let him get himself out of trouble." -- Piniella
Back on top
The situation: Rafael Furcal has been limited for much of the season due to a back injury. His availability was a question entering the series.
The outcome: He played like a leadoff man, getting on base twice thanks to a pair of walks. One of those walks set up the pivotal four-run Dodgers fifth.
The analysis: If Furcal is healthy, he's clearly the man for the Dodgers. He showed one of the many reasons why on Wednesday. The Dodgers' lineup has a much different and more dangerous look with its catalyst in his rightful place atop the order.
The explanation: "Raffy certainly makes us like we're whole. I'm much more comfortable with him at the top of the batting order. And he felt good. I checked with him after the nine innings, which is the first time he's done that since [May], and he felt good. Yeah, he really makes a huge difference at the top of the batting order." -- Manager Joe Torre
Now that's a closer!
The situation: The Dodgers stretch a four-run eighth-inning lead into a five-run ninth-inning lead.
The outcome: Maddux, who has a flag commemorating his 300th win flying over Wrigley Field, finished the game off for Los Angeles.
The analysis: The extra run turned out to be a major boon for the Dodgers. Saito probably isn't available to pitch on consecutive days, so by using Maddux, Torre kept Saito in the mix for Thursday.
The explanation: "We were banging it around and Greg tried to get a feel for when he was going to be used. We said it was very likely that we'll use him late in the game because I felt he's a starter, but it fits his mentality."-- Torre
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.