While five days certainly feels like a long time for a team to have off, it sure seemed like it went by in the blink of an eye for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Shortly, the final MLB Wild Card round will produce a winner and determine what team the Dodgers will face in the 2022 NLDS beginning Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
There’s only so much analysis we can do as fans since the destiny of a team is primarily determined by the performance on the field. Management also plays a key role in those performances, from roster selections to drawing up batting orders to vital in-game strategies.
We’ve beaten the Dodgers’ offense to death all year as far as analysis goes. By now, we know who the key players are, what they are capable of, and what they need to do to win. At this stage, it’s just a matter of executing.
The starting rotation is in a similar position, although there’s a bit more strategy involved as to when to replace a pitcher. However, the bullpen is a completely different story, as matchups and timing can make life hard for even the most seasoned managers. To make matters even more unique, the Dodgers are headed into the postseason without a bonafide closer, at least for now.
Many fans understand how critical an effective bullpen is to win a World Championship. While an offense can score runs, it cannot prevent an opposing team from scoring more runs and winning.
Good starting pitching puts you in a spot to win. A solid offense and a reliable defense solidify that positioning. An exceptional bullpen seals the deal by closing the door.
Roles often change in the postseason, as made evident by Julio Urias’s heroics in the 2020 World Series. In that case, it worked. In the 2021 NLDS when the Dodgers used Max Scherzer in relief in Game 5, then tried to run him out as a starter three days later in the NLCS, it backfired as the veteran’s arm fell dead.
2022 could be a little different because the Dodgers seem to have a more talented bullpen, plus they have enough quality starting pitchers to avoid using “openers,” like they did with both Brusdar Graterol and Corey Knebel multiple times in the postseason last year.
One of the craziest things about the 2022 season is that the Dodgers still finished second in the majors — first in the National League — in team bullpen ERA, despite their primary closer having an ERA north of 4.00 for most of the year. This stat speaks volumes of how well the supporting cast has been, thanks primarily to former unknowns like Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia and Yency Almonte.
Who knows, maybe a new relief hero will emerge for the Dodgers in 2022 — someone who we least expect the most.