Questionable pitching decisions from the San Diego Padres loomed large in the team’s gutting Game 4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. Incredibly (or frustratingly), the same thing plagued the Padres in their elimination loss on Sunday.
For a while, it looked like the Phillies’ decision to pull Zack Wheeler after just 87 pitches was going to spark a Padres’ win, as Seranthony Dominguez’s three wild pitches allowed San Diego to take a 3-2 lead after Josh Bell tied the game with a screaming double to right field.
Bob Melvin’s call to remove Yu Darvish after allowing a leadoff double in the sixth inning was the right one and Robert Suarez rewarded his manager’s faith by getting San Diego out of the jam with their 3-2 lead in tact.
With Suarez in command despite the rainy conditions, Melvin trusted his reliever to get him through a pivotal eighth inning with the top of the Phillies’ lineup looming. Nothing wrong with that in hindsight, but Melvin should’ve pulled the plug on the right-hander as soon as JT Realmuto led off with a single.
With October’s MVP in Bryce Harper stepping to the plate, everybody watching presumed a Harper-Josh Hader showdown was coming. For whatever reason, Melvin kept the faith in Suarez and the Padres paid the ultimate price.
Padres manager Bob Melvin left Josh Hader in the bullpen during Bryce Harper’s NLCS-winning home run in Game 5.
Just an awful ending to a magical October run for San Diego.
Let’s get one thing clear: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting Harper beat you in that situation. Even though he’s the hottest hitter on the planet, you’re not putting the game-tying run in scoring position with zero outs and your season on the line by intentionally walking Harper. That’s asking for disaster.
What’s worse than that, though, is leaving your un-hittable closer, who just so happens to be a lefty, sitting in the bullpen. Hader’s been on the Padres’ radar for years. They finally land him and he goes unused with the club on the brink of elimination with Suarez on 20 pitches in his second inning of work?
The Padres acquired Hader for this exact moment. Was Melvin waiting for the ninth inning? Throughout the season, managers experimented using closers earlier in games (usually the seventh or eighth inning) to face the heart of opposing team’s lineup. Why did Melvin not do the same with Hader here?
Basic baseball knowledges says you want your best reliever to face the opposition’s best hitter in a high-leverage situation.
For what it’s worth, Hader hadn’t been used since Game 2, so he was definitely capable of recording a six-out save. Even if two innings wasn’t in the cards, though, Padres fans could at least sleep easier (but definitely not well) knowing the team went down with its generational reliever on the mound.
Instead, they’re left wondering what could have been if Hader had been called to face Harper. In 5.1 playoff innings before Game 5, Hader hadn’t allowed an earned run and surrendered just one hit and one walk to go with 10 strikeouts. In those five appearances, Hader converted four save opportunities.
Had he been used on Sunday, he might’ve made it five saves in six appearances and we might be talking about this series heading back to San Diego.