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Yasmani Grandal’s NLCS woes continue for the Dodgers

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The Dodgers starting catcher is having a rough go of it, and won’t start Game 4.

League Championship Series - Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Yasmani Grandal has had a rough go of it so far in the NLCS. Three games in, the Dodgers catcher has been the player with the most high profile mistakes and missteps on a team where he’s not the only one who’s looked off his axis at times.

After setting a career high in innings caught in 2018, and after starting 18 of the last 20 games behind the plate, Grandal will sit for the second time in three games in Tuesday’s Game 4 in favor of Austin Barnes.

“[Yasmani has] been good for us all year. So he’ll be ready off the bench tomorrow,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Monday. “He had a tough night and obviously the fans voiced their opinion. And they’re passionate. They want to win. They want the best out of all of us, especially in the postseason.”

Game 3 saw the wolves come out at Dodger Stadium for Grandal, who had a passed ball and struck out three times in the game, including once with two runners in scoring position and again with the bases loaded in the ninth.

Longtime Dodgers fan Mary Hart was not pleased after Grandal’s passed ball on Monday.

Asked about the passed balls and wild pitches of late, Grandal said, “I think it’s driving you guys more nuts than it’s driving me.”

A starting catcher who had 7 errors behind the plate all season (a career high) having two in one game, and other mistakes on top of that, is not what a team on the verge of returning to the World Series wants to see. Especially as little mistakes can manifest into larger ones, a lack of confidence as a backstop, an impulse to make extremely ridiculous choices in straightforward situations because he’s second guessing himself.

But Grandal isn’t lacking for confidence.

“At any point, one swing can change the game. I was playing a big part in the preparation to a scouting report, even if I’m not starting,” Grandal said. “They have the confidence in me to do that, so they have confidence in me behind the plate.”

A quick recap of what Grandal has botched — whether it was within his control or not — in the first three games against the Brewers. In Game 1 he allowed Lorenzo Cain to advance to second thanks to passed ball (he was second in the National League with nine passed balls this year, and was tied for the league lead last season with 16). Fortunately that mistake was erased by three straight outs to let him off the hook.

But in the third inning, he made three major mistakes over a span of just six pitches. As Kershaw was struggling on the mound, another passed ball let runners advance to second and third with one out. A would-be line out for out number two turned into a bases loaded jam thanks to catcher’s interference. Then, in the next at bat, he misplayed a throw home from the outfield and allowed the runners to advance once again.

He said after the game,

“Setup-wise I was just on my heels. I never really got to my toes. In this game, that’s huge, because it allows you to move. And when you can’t move, then you can do anything.”

In Game 2, he wasn’t in the starting lineup. A bit of a time out after his unreliable Game 1, a sensible choice by the Dodgers if also a confident one in the abilities of backup catcher Austin Barnes, a .205 batter in 100 games this year. Barnes returned their faith in him by working a six pitch walk in the seventh inning to make it 3-2 Brewers, a run that the Dodgers would appreciate later after their one-run win.

But when he did pinch hit, with bases loaded later that inning, Grandal grounded into a double play to end the inning and garnished the play with a truly stunning brain fart: he slid feet first into the base.

The screenshot of this decision should be hung in Cooperstown only so visitors for years to come will know that someone actually did this in a postseason game.

Now, that probably would have a double play regardless. It’s close but you can’t place the end of the inning entirely on Grandal’s unconventional attempts to thwart the laws of physics and common sense. Yet that’s not a decision someone who has their wits about them makes. It’s the postseason, you kind of want your starting catcher to have their wits about them.

So what do they do? Austin Barnes looked decent both behind the plate and at it (0-for-3 with an RBI, strikeout, and walk) on Saturday night, with that RBI walk his main contribution. Barnes struggles picking people off (throwing out four stolen base attempts in 18 tries compared to Grandal’s 16-for-52, an 8% difference in success rate) and he runs colder at the plate. There’s a reason he’s a backup.

Yet despite his .241 average this season with 24 home runs and a 121 OPS+, Grandal is also just 3-for-22 at the plate in the postseason with four walks and one dinger. His career postseason numbers are similarly grim, now 7-for-68 (.103) with 30 strikeouts, and 14 walks.

LA has other problems. Their starters don’t look as sharp as usual with just nine runs through the first three games, Yasiel Puig has also looked shaky (1-for-8 with a walk in the series), other players have made unnecessary errors to leave the door open for the Brewers, and Cody Bellinger only just snapped his hitless streak this postseason, and is 1-for-21. Grandal is just the most blatant of all the gaps that has them down 2-1.

The Dodgers can make the World Series with one or two players struggling, maybe a pitcher not being able to hack it in this series. You don’t want your starting catcher to be one of them, especially when it looks like your starters need a familiar face behind the plate to settle them a bit. They still have two games remaining at Dodger Stadium but this series will either end in Milwaukee, or end with the Dodgers losing the pennant at home unless they can pick things up.

Maybe being back in Dodger Stadium will cure what ails Grandal, because otherwise the Dodgers defense is going to have far more leaks in the dam than any NLCS team should if they want to advance beyond this point.