Perhaps the funniest thing about the Dodgers’ victory over the Angels on Saturday night was the notion that most fans out there, as well as the players, coaching staff, and management, were hoping to add a few insurance runs late in the game after putting a whopping 13 runs on the board early.
Seemingly, manager Dave Roberts was able to finally breathe after his club jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the fifth inning. The skipper pulled some of his best players at that point, including his horses at the top of the lineup—Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner.
Starter Clayton Kershaw was also replaced after five innings. This move made sense logically, being that he went through his entire gameday routine and logged an inning of work on Tuesday. After all, there was no way the Angels would claw their way back into the game over the final four innings, right?
A critical error by Austin Barnes at second base opened the door to a monster inning by the Angels with two outs in the seventh, but pinning the excuse for seven unearned runs on a single play probably isn’t reasonably justified (even though the box score says otherwise), especially for a bullpen that’s struggling.
There are a lot of fans who feel the offense is still the biggest culprit of the team’s latest misfortunes, but I believe the biggest concern is the bullpen. At some point, both Cody Bellinger and Zach McKinstry will return, providing the lineup with some type of offensive boost. Obviously, there’s the possibility that neither player tears the cover off the ball for the rest of the season, but chances are reasonable that both Bellinger and McKinstry are good enough for an .800 or better OPS, a mark that only five other players are above right now for the season.
Nevertheless, although it seems we’re much deeper into the campaign, the 2021 season is just a little over a month old, and there’s no doubt the Los Angeles roster will undergo some transformations in the coming months. However, when a 14-11 victory almost feels like the team has lost, it’s a reflection of just how bad the overall confidence level might be.
Still, it’s not like the Los Angeles bullpen is a complete dumpster fire. There are a few decent pieces in Victor Gonzalez, Blake Treinen, and yes, even Kenley Jansen, when all the stars are in alignment for him. However, there are indeed times when the rest of the relief crew—Mitch White, Alex Vesia, Garret, Cleavinger, Dennis Santana, Joe Kelly, and Jimmy Nelson—appear to be not much more than a glorified Quad-A group of relievers.
Undeniably, some of the aforementioned arms look decent at times, giving credence as to why they’re still valued by the organization. White really has good stuff, and sometimes when he’s on the mound, it just feels like he’s going to start putting it all together at any given moment. When Santana’s slider is working properly, it’s about the deadliest in the organization. Santana has put out a few fires in relief for the team this year, only to look completely different with his lack of command two nights later. Cleavinger has shown a few flashes of hope, indicating to us why management reached out last winter to snag him in the first place. Yet, if this group makes up the crew of the bullpen for the majority of the season, chances are there will be many more struggles to come.
Regardless, there is the group of fans who felt a sense of relief to see Kelly return, only to witness the righty struggle through two-thirds of an inning on Friday night. Kelly is another example of a pitcher who is schizophrenic with his performances, but the idea that his career 4.00 ERA and FIP with a 1.4 WHIP might start trending in an upwards direction at 32 years old is probably wishful thinking.
Before being sidelined by a sore hamstring, David Price in relief this season had compiled a 5.59 ERA, 6.11 FIP, and 1.862 WHIP over seven appearances and 9-2/3 innings of work.
The same can probably be said about Brusdar Graterol. He’s certainly exciting to watch as he easily touches triple digits with his heater, but until he finds and effective secondary pitch, he’s not going to be the bullpen savior that many fans prospectively make him out to be.
Tony Gonsolin could have been a huge difference maker to the relief crew, but the plan is to have him join the starting rotation as soon as he’s ready to return, filling the void created by Dustin May.
It’s hard to believe that the summer trade deadline is still almost three full months away. Even teams who find themselves light years behind in their respective division standings probably won’t deem themselves sellers for at least another four to six weeks.
Sure, there are some names in the system who sound extremely promising—see Josiah Gray, Bobby Miller, and Ryan Pepiot—but one might think the team will have to make some more meaningful adjustments to the bullpen group at some point this season if it’s going to go deep into the 2021 playoffs.