When appropriate, Big League Stew reviews key decisions in the postseason to see if the right one was made.
The Issue: The immediate impact of Johnny Cueto's exit after eight pitches in Saturday's Game 1 of the NLDS was softened when Mat Latos and the Cincinnati Reds bullpen reeled in a win. It looked to be minimized even further when the team took a 2-o series lead with a rout behind Bronson Arroyo's shutout in Game 2.
The Reds' inability to close out the Giants in Game 3, however, resurrected the difficulty that Cueto's absence created. Latos' four-inning duty in Game 1 eliminated him from his scheduled start in Game 3 and reset his rest schedule to five days. That meant he wouldn't be able to go on a full day's rest until Thursday's Game 5, a factor that manager Dusty Baker cited in his decision to start Mike Leake in Wednesday's 8-3 Game 4 loss to the Giants.
Leake, who replaced Cueto on the Reds' playoff roster, was less than effective in the loss that pushed the series to five games. He gave up five runs over 4 1/3 innings, including a leadoff home run to Angel Pagan and a two-run homer to Gregor Blanco. Leake's failure put Baker's decision on the spot and caused many of us to wonder ...
The Question: Should Latos have started Wednesday's Game 4 instead of Leake?
The Case For: Latos is simply a much better pitcher than Leake, posting an ERA that was more than a full run better (3.48 to 4.58) and a better ERA+ (122 to 93). Starting Latos would have also given the Reds the advantage in the game's starting matchup as he's a better pitcher than Barry Zito. The Reds believed Latos carries such a pedigree that they traded away a wealth of talent to acquire him from the San Diego Padres last offseason, so why wouldn't they trust him to act as a stopper and pitch their team into the next round after Tuesday's crushing Game 3 loss? A Latos win in Game 4 would have also given the Reds a strategical advantage as Cueto could have stayed on the NLDS roster instead of being replaced by Leake, a transaction that will keep him out of the NLCS.
The Case Against: There's a first time for everything, but Latos is a young pitcher and has never started on short rest. Leake also had a pretty good record against the Giants coming into the game, going 3-0 while allowing only one run over 23 1/3 innings in his last three starts against San Francisco. The strategic advantage gained by a Leake win in Game 4 would have been Latos being available for the Game 1 of the NLCS on Sunday.
"Could have gone with Latos today, but he was on four day's rest; and could have gone with Arroyo (on Thursday) and he would have been on four day's rest, so we went with the fresh body." — Baker
Stew Verdict: Dusty Baker's explanation for booting Cueto off the roster for a healthy Leake was that the team had to win the series it was playing, not aim for a NLCS that might never come. Baker should have taken that logic even further, playing for the win in the game that was in front of him by starting Latos. Even if he got shelled, there was always the option of starting Leake in Game 5 and bringing in Bronson Arroyo if anything went awry.
The good news for Baker? He had a cushion of one game to his credit so Latos can make this all a moot point with a great performance — even if it comes a day later than it should have.