If I had a nickel for each time we discussed the Dodgers‘ bullpen this season, I’d probably be able to payoff my 2019 mlb.tv subscription with ease.
I’m not exactly sure how many posts Andy and I published abut the Los Angeles relief crew, but I can say with certainty they started appearing frequently when Joe Kelly began struggling early in the season. In spring training, based on the way things were shaping up, a seventh, eighth and ninth inning crew of Pedro Baez, Kelly and Kenley Jansen had the potential to be among the best in baseball.
If only that was the way it turned out.
As most of you know, I despise using ERA to measure the success of a relief crew, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why broadcasters continue to religiously preach it when it comes to how effective a relief pitcher actually is.
For those who don’t follow me, let’s just say there are two outs in the eighth inning of a game with runners on first and second base. To this point, Clayton Kershaw has thrown 7-2/3 innings of shutout ball, only to give way to give way to righty Yimi Garcia, he of the supreme spin rate. Kersh and the team have a 1-0 lead, and he is throwing one of his trademark tantrums about coming out of the game. There’s a right-handed hitter at the plate, and Yimi surely matches up better against him.
Anyway, Garcia gives up a single to load the bases. Thinking that Yimi put the ball in a good location and was the victim of bad luck, Dave Roberts lets Garcia face the subsequent batter who is another righty hitter. Boom. Line-drive single to left field. Opposition takes the lead, 2-1. Both runs are charged to Kersh and Garcia still has a clean ERA for the evening. None of these runs are figured into the collective ERA for the squad’s bullpen. Now, you can understand part of the reasoning for Kershaw wanting to stay in the game and finish what he created. Thus, the tantrums.
Obviously, the storylines of games aren’t quite like this every night. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the offense of the Dodgers is a mammoth juggernaut. Often, there are contests when the team finds victory by double-digit margins, especially against the rebuilding squads who are cemented at the bottom of their respective divisions. Without this outstanding production at the plate, who knows how the team would stack up.
In spite of everything, it still looks like the Dodgers could have some potential problems in the postseason when it comes to the bullpen. Just when it seems like Kenley has his cutter working, Petey and Kelly struggle to close down the seventh and eighth innings and vice-versa. This has been the roller-coaster the relief corps has been riding all year.
Speaking of Kelly, his stuff continues to improve, at least when compared to his ugly performances earlier in the year. In 21-1/3 innings of work over his last 23 appearances, he has surrendered just three earned runs on 15 hits and six walks while striking out 28—a sign that at least his control is coming back.
Kenley, on the other hand, now has six blown saves on the season, matching his highest total since 2012 when he had seven. Jansen has given up 11 earned runs on 22 hits and six walks over his last 22 innings of work. Some people are even calling for Jansen and Kelly to switch roles.
Whether you realize it or not, the Dodgers now have 22 blown saves on the season as a team, which is tied for second in the National League. Of course, five-plus weeks is still plenty of time to try and right the ship. Ross Stripling will be back. Kenta Maeda will make his home in the bullpen soon. Julio Urias, who has been one of the most effective pitchers for the Dodgers in relief this year, will rejoin the team in the blink of an eye.
The biggest concern, though, is the effectiveness of Jansen. Many pundits feel that the success of the Dodgers in this year’s playoffs rides on the shoulders of the 31-year-old native of Curacao.
Is there enough time for Kenley to find his peak before the beginning of the postseason? Will he regain his confidence, fix the mechanical issues that have caused his frequent ineffectiveness?
As fans, we can only sit back and wait. In the meantime, Roberts, who traditionally shows unwavering support for all his players, doesn’t see a need to make any changes to his otherwise mediocre relief crew.
Fasten your seatbelts, fans. Over the next several weeks, it’s gonna be a fun, but rocky ride.