10/03/08 2:14 AM ET
Chess Match: Smart moves pay off
Dodgers employ different strategy to beat Cubs in Game 2
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
A night after employing a take-and-rake strategy to thump the Cubs in Game 1, Los Angeles used the opposite tack on Thursday in Game 2 of their National League Division Series. The Dodgers played small ball in a five-run second, also benefiting greatly from some Cubs' defensive follies.
For the second game in a row, L.A. got quality pitching from both its starting pitcher and the bullpen. The Cubs did have late chances to get back in the game, but the Dodgers snuffed the comeback out.
Putting on a play
The situation: In a scoreless game, James Loney bats with a runner on first and nobody out in the top of the second inning.
The decision: Dodgers manager Joe Torre put on a hit-and-run play on the first pitch of Loney's at-bat.
The outcome: Torre and Loney got just the pitch they were looking for -- a fastball over the plate -- and Loney poked the ball to the left side. Shortstop Ryan Theriot moved to cover the base, and as a result, he didn't field the ball cleanly. Loney reached on an infield hit, giving the Dodgers runners on the corners with no outs and setting up Los Angeles' five-run inning.
The analysis: Loney isn't a great contact hitter, but he's pretty decent, especially against right-handed pitchers. But at the time, there was every reason to think this might be a very low-scoring game, and playing for a run made sense. Additionally, Torre had already picked up on one key fact: Carlos Zambrano was throwing a massive number of fastballs and a large percentage of strikes.
The explanation: "It just looked like Zambrano was trying to get ahead of people, and I just thought I'd take a shot on the first pitch. James Loney did a perfect job." -- Torre to TBS broadcasters
Making them work
The situation: The Dodgers lead, 1-0, with two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning. Rafael Furcal comes to the plate in a frame in which Chicago has already committed two errors.
The decision: Furcal laid down a bunt -- on his own, not at Torre's behest.
The outcome: It worked perfectly, with Furcal reaching for an infield hit and Loney scoring the second Dodgers run. The next batter, Russell Martin, stroked a three-run double to break the game open.
The analysis: When an infield is kicking the ball around the way the Cubs were, it makes a great deal of sense to put the pressure on them. Furcal is an accomplished bunter, and he put down a good one here. Furcal has some power, so you don't want him bunting too often, but in this case, it was a shrewd decision.
The explanation: "I thought Furcal [had] a huge at-bat with the bunt, and that was strictly on his own." -- Torre
Who needs a LOOGY?
The situation: Two doubles and an infield single against Chad Billingsley pull the Cubs within 7-1 in the seventh inning with runners on the corners and two outs. Lefty-swinging Kosuke Fukudome is the batter.
The decision: Rather than going to a left-handed reliever, Torre called on right-handed rookie Cory Wade to relieve Billingsley.
The outcome: Billingsley carved up Fukudome, getting two quick strikes before Fukudome grounded into a force play to end the inning.
The analysis: It made a great deal of sense. The decision, ultimately, was whether Torre wanted Wade facing the lefty or a right-handed pinch-hitter against lefty Joe Beimel. With lefty-killer Reed Johnson lurking as the pinch-hitter, the matchup was definitely better with Wade against the struggling Fukudome.
The explanation: "That's a huge part of the game, not to give them any life, and he was able to come in and get the guy out." -- Billingsley
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.