In the weeks leading up to the 2019 trade deadline, many fans of the Dodgers were certain that management would find a way to snag one or more relievers to bolster what has been a mediocre relief crew this season.
Ideally, many of us around these parts were hoping for a proven arm who could settle into the eighth-inning role and perhaps slide in as closer when Kenley Jansen was unavailable or otherwise performing poorly.
For certain, all eyes were on flame-throwing southpaw Felipe Vazquez, but since Neal Huntington and the Pirates decided not to part with their stud reliever, the next best option seemed to be Shane Greene, who at the time, had a sparkling 1.18 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP with the Tigers.
Former Los Angeles Assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves were able to grab Greene for quite the pretty penny while the Dodgers settled for what was hardly a consolation prize in lefty-specialist Adam Kolarek.
Maybe Andrew Friedman’s magical powers knew that Greene would get beat up badly over his first handful of appearances in Atlanta. And, perhaps more importantly, Friedman knows something that fans don’t about how the way his relief corps will evolve by the time the playoffs roll around in October.
Friedman envisioned there would be options in case Jansen faltered. It’s a tough situation to gauge because the Dodgers’ offense is so strong, often pounding its opponent to smithereens or coming from behind when folks expect it the least. By being so powerful, it’s difficult to evaluate the starting rotation and bullpen at face value because the offense frequently carries such a huge load.
Of course, there are the contests where the offense hardly shows up, like the August 2 loss to the Padres when the Dodgers were able to garner four total hits against Eric Lauer and Company (these things will occasionally happen, even with the most prolific offenses). However, the games that really stand out are the ones when Jansen blows a save opportunity and the team ultimately finds defeat.
Apparently, Friedman feels his options in relief down the stretch of the 2019 season are good ones, thus one of the reasons he stayed put at the deadline. Ross Stripling will be back in relief at some point, and Kenta Maeda will likely be bumped back to the bullpen for the playoffs.
Julio Urias, who has probably been one of the Top 3 relief options as of late (aside from the dinger he surrendered in the 11th inning on Friday night), will definitely be around. Both Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly have been wearing their respective Jekyll and Hyde masks all season long. Some nights they look untouchable, while on others fans cringe when they quickly load up the bases.
Yimi Garcia‘s slider has perhaps the best overall spin rate in the majors, but Yimi’s problem can often be locating it in a spot that’s not in the dead-center of the K-zone.
Regardless, the real concern these days is Jansen—the backbone of the Dodgers’ pen who was once borderline untouchable. If you’re a fan of WAR like we are, you’ll know that Jansen’s mark for this year is 0.0—by far the lowest of his illustrious 10-year career. His 3.83 ERA this season is almost a full point higher than his previous worst 3.01 mark from last year. Undoubtedly, as Kenley ages, he’s losing his effectiveness.
It happens. But, the overlying concern is that there’s not a legitimate backup plan.
As a team, the Dodgers have 20 blown saves this year in 51 total chances—good enough for eighth worst in baseball.
As far as Kenley himself goes, the three-time All-Star thinks he’ll battle his way through his struggles. That’s the mindset a manager or a coach wants from a player, but some believe that Jansen is overemphasizing his confidence instead of try to tweak his mechanics or delivery in order to improve his performance.
“I know I’m the guy who’s done the job. Listen, don’t forget who I am,” Jansen recently said in an interview with Bill Plunkett of the OC Register. ““Everybody struggles in this game. Tell me Mariano (Rivera) never struggled. Tell me Trevor Hoffman didn’t struggle. Tell me Billy Wagner didn’t struggle. Any name you can mention.”
Despite all that, the biggest lingering question is how the relief crew of the Dodgers will perform in the playoffs. Conceivably, the team has enough starting pitching. The offense is about as good as a big league offense gets.
Undoubtedly, the relief crew is definitely the weakest link.
In theory, during one of those games when the offense doesn’t beat its opposition to a pulp, or when there’s the seldom evening when the club lays an egg, the team will be looking to its bullpen to preserve a tight victory.
In the end, Kenley seems to think he’ll be in a good spot when the team needs him the most, assuming that time occurs during the 2019 postseason. In the meantime, the best fans can do is just sit back, wait and see where the remainder of this year’s journey takes them.
“I call it turbulence,” Jansen said. “You have to fly that plane and get through it.”