If you had told Los Angeles Dodgers fans on Thursday, before the start of the four game series with the San Diego Padres, that the Dodgers would take three of four, most would be incredibly happy with that.
Indeed, that is something to be happy about. The Dodgers increased their lead in the NL West by two games and now are 3.5 games ahead of the Padres.
Sunday’s game was the only loss. Mookie Betts returned to the lineup after having been out dealing with a sore rib and went two-for-three with a run scored. Clayton Kershaw was his vintage self, going seven scoreless innings, striking out eight and walking only one batter.
But the end of Sunday’s matinee game will leave a sour taste in Dodger fans’ mouths for awhile. The Dodgers were up 1-0 in the top of the ninth and Craig Kimbrel entered to close out the game. He struck out Manny Machado, but then on the next batter, took a ball off of his scapula. He stayed in the game, but ended up giving up four runs, and the Padres went on to win the game.
It could be that the hit off his back led him to not pitch well after he was hit. But more likely, he is just not as good as he once was, and becoming a detriment to the bullpen. Since May 15, he has been scored upon more often than not. Sunday was his third blown save in his last seven appearances.
After the game, Manager Dave Roberts said that scans on Kimbrel’s back were negative, and he would be down for a couple days. When he returns, he absolutely will still be the closer, because “he deserves that”.
But should he? Yes, the Dodgers made the choice to send AJ Pollock to the Chicago White Sox to acquire the closer. And yes, he started the season pretty dominant. And yes, the bullpen is a little depleted right now due to injury.
But at the same time, a ‘closer’ is brought in to close out the game. To shut the door. To not even let the other team get on base, let alone score runs.
No closer is infallible, of course. Pitchers are human and have bad days. But with Kimbrel, it seems he is either really good or really bad, and you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. Except lately, it has trended much more towards really bad.
Blake Treinen would be the obvious choice for replacing Kimbrel as closer. That is, once he returns from the injured list. Unfortunately that timetable is still unclear.
“Blake, I was watching throw, he’s really good and it’s close,” Roberts said. “But what that means I can’t even specify right now. But yeah, he’s been tracking really well.”
Until then, perhaps the Dodgers could turn to Evan Phillips. He has been just as dominant so far this season as Treinen has been in past seasons. Caleb Ferguson also is due to return to the bullpen at the end of his IL stint. Dustin May could be deployed as a lethal arm out of the ‘pen as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. While he wouldn’t necessarily be the closer, David Price has looked really good in his last few appearances. And the Dodgers still have returns from David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to look forward to towards the end of the season.
Until then, however, the Dodgers will continue to put Craig Kimbrel out in the ninth inning. If nothing else, the Dodgers and Dave Roberts go above and beyond believing in their players that they will once again regain their form. Let’s just hope that this tactic helps them more than harms.