Dodgers Roster: Early Thoughts on Building a Playoff Bullpen

As fans of the Dodgers, we’re often spoiled as far as perennial playoff appearances go. Los Angeles has made the postseason for eight years straight. 2021 will be no different, although we’re still not sure whether the team will need to advance past a one-game Wild Card.

We must drift back to the 2012 season to find the last year the Dodgers didn’t clinch a spot.

2012 was the season when Don Mattingly steered his club to a mediocre 86-76 record, landing in second place to the Giants in the NL West, who eventually went on to win the World Series.

Regardless, for most of the past eight years, the playoff rosters varied greatly from the Opening Day versions. Some changes are to be expected through major injuries and trades, but 2021 has certainly become a year where the roster looks tremendously different.

Over the course of the entire year, the team has employed more than 60 different players on the active roster.

I realize this post is mainly about the bullpen, but it’s worth taking a quick peek at the rotation, because it had major implications on the makeup of the relief crew all year long.

On Opening Day, this was how the starting rotation stacked up:

Clayton Kershaw
Trevor Bauer
Walker Buehler
Julio Urias
Dustin May

Obviously, May was lost for the season because of UCL surgery, and Bauer never came back after his assault allegations. And, as it turned out, Buehler is the only member of the current rotation not to have spent time on the injured list so far this year… knock on wood.

Anyway, the structure of the Opening Day rotation pushed both David Price and Tony Gonsolin into relief duty to start the year.

Here’s how the Opening Day relief crew was set up:

Kenley Jansen
Blake Treinen
Corey Knebel
Jimmy Nelson
Victor Gonzalez
Scott Alexander

Nelson was lost for the season in early August. Alexander may very well be gone for the year after being transferred to the 60-day IL two weeks ago. Gonzalez is lost somewhere in the minors after being one of the team’s most reliable relievers last year.

Knebel, as we all know, made an incredible recovery to slide back into one of the team’s most important relief roles. As it turned out, Gonzalez and Alexander have essentially been swapped for Justin Bruihl and Alex Vesia.

Since his return, Knebel has thrown to a 2.51 ERA and a 1.206 WHIP, which are a bit substandard when considering his optimal performances earlier in the year. Still, Knebel remains one of the big three alongside Jansen and Treinen.

Bruihl, Vesia and the still-emerging Phil Bickford remain the big question marks for the playoffs, if solely for the reason of them approaching unchartered ground in their respective careers.

Bickford stands out because prior to the 51 appearances he made this year, the most he made in any other season was 23 across three levels back in 2016. That season was significant because 22 of those 23 appearances came in the form of starts, which resulted in 120 innings of work. Still, Bickford only threw 32 innings in 2019 after seeing virtually no action at all last year.

Heading into the playoffs, there’s a good chance the bullpen could stack up like this:

Joe Kelly
Brusdar Graterol

Should the club decide to go with nine or ten relievers (at least for a prospective Wild Card contest), the final few weeks of the regular season could be a huge audition for Bruihl, Shane Greene, Mitch White and Evan Phillips, with one or two starters being bumped back to the bullpen.

Whatever the case may be, it will certainly be interesting to watch the usage of the entire crew, as the team could be forced to overuse some of its best options amid a tight division race. Hopefully, there will be no resulting fatigue.

7 thoughts on “Dodgers Roster: Early Thoughts on Building a Playoff Bullpen

  1. What concerns me is the possibility of a playoff with the Giants for the division in case we happen to wind up the season tied (unlikely but definitely not impossible).

    We like to think we have 3 great options to start a playoff game, plus Kershaw and Gonsolin as backups. However, if we had to do a 1-game playoff for the division and lost that game (say we use Buehler), then a WC game which we win (say we use Max), that leaves us with Urias, Kershaw, Gonsolin for the first 3 games of the NLDS. Not terrible, but certainly not as good as Scherzer, Buehler, Urias.

    That’s why I would start Kershaw in a one-game playoff for the division (assuming he’s still healthy). If we lose that game I would go with Scherzer for the WC. That would still leave Buehler and Urias for the first two NLCS games if we won the WC.

    Assuming 4 starters for a playoff series, I would make up my bullpen as follows (9 relievers for a total of 13 pitchers)
    Graterol or White (depending on how they’re feeling about Bazooka when the season ends)

  2. Bickford has been a pleasant surprise along with Vesia. Gonsolin and Kershaw both looked good in their first starts back.
    Although I am a huge Urias fan I would start Scherzer in the Wild Card game. Scherzer is as competitive as anyone in the game, has been dominant, and can throw 98. If they win the wild card they can go with Buehler then Urias to attempt to get ahead in the series.
    Oh if one of the Dodgers has a red hot bat Play Him!

    1. I always assumed it was like a Luis Tiant wiggle for his timing to throw off the hitter’s timing. Cueto does a great hesitation move.

      1. I don’t think it has anything to do with throwing off the hitter’s timing because he seems to do it the same way every time. Cueto does it all kinds of different ways and that probably does throw off the hitter’s timing.

        I always thought it was something they came up with to help with his mechanics, although I don’t have a clue how it would do that. It seems to me that he has pitched a lot better (more consistently), though, since he started doing that.

        I’m also surprised that no opposing manager has tried to claim it’s a balk. To me it seems like he’s starting his windup and then stopping. Must be legal or they would have called it by now.

  3. I do not think Graterol is going to make the playoff roster. He just still does not have a put away pitch. His heater comes in flat and straight most of the time. Kenley’s wiggle is a mechanic’s thing. At least according to Joe and Orel, who seems to be getting more mouthy each telecast. He needs to shut up sometimes. Bickford has given up 4 homers in his last 10 innings after giving up only 3 all season before that. More about location than stuff. I do not trust Price much right now, and he has been used very sparingly since his opener a while ago. He has not been that effective. Gonsolin can get hitters out from either side. I trust him out there more.

Leave a Reply