The topic of Kenley Jansen effectively closing games is not foreign to fans of the Dodgers. Jansen’s inconsistencies on the mound began during the 2018 season, the same year he underwent a second surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat. Whether it was the result of his heart, his age, too much mileage on his arm, or something psychological, the 33-year-old Jansen’s overall performance hasn’t been the same since.
For three years, fans of the team have begun each season asking the question if Kenley would be the featured closer or if the club would turn to someone else. Aside from several critical moments during the 2020 playoffs, skipper Dave Roberts has put all his trust in Jansen. However, trailing the Giants by four games with about 40 contests to go this season, those same fans wonder if Kenley has enough in the tank to go the whole way this year.
Although the 2020 season was structured entirely differently, the Dodgers led the Padres by a full six games with about a week remaining. On this date in 2019, the Dodgers led the Giants by a whopping 18-1/2 games before going on to set a franchise record with 106 wins. That makes the stretch run this season a completely different animal, as each game has its own critical level of importance.
So far this year, Jansen has blown five saves, but that doesn’t even begin to accurately tell the story. Some nights he shows glimpses of his former self, while other times he walks a tightrope, usually having to work himself out of unnecessary jams against some of the league’s worst teams.
Among the things he’s tried is analysis and evaluation at Driveline Baseball, a facility the Dodgers have become religious to in recent years. This season, Kenley has seemingly discovered the benefits of pitching “angry,” which apparently turned him into a new pitcher — for a few weeks, anyway.
Among his best runs this season was a stretch of 27 appearances from May 1 to July 11 when he allowed just two earned runs over a full 26 innings of work. That calculates to a ridiculous 0.69 ERA.
However, his worst run came just after the All-Star break when he surrendered a whopping 10 earned runs over six appearances and five full innings from July 18 to August 4.
To say that fans don’t know which Kenley to expect on a given night would be an understatement. Tuesday night’s narrow 4-3 victory against the Pirates was yet another example of Jansen walking the proverbial tightrope.
Without diving into any warranted stats, there are a few options for the Dodgers to utilize if they choose to do so. Blake Treinen can certainly close games, although Roberts claims he likes to use Treinen more as a setup man and to “put out fires.” Still not quite the same as his highest point of 2021, Corey Knebel might be another option. Both Joe Kelly and Brusdar Graterol seem to have closer qualities at times, but they can’t consistently deliver it on a nightly basis.
Maybe the team will turn to Julio Urias again when it needs the utmost dependability.
In the meantime, fans will keep a watchful eye on Jansen, wondering if he’ll ever reach the point when Roberts pulls his plug for the final time.