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5 Dodgers Players That Have the Most to Prove This October

These five will be under added scrutiny during the postseason

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 20: Manager Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers has a conversation with releif pitcher Kenley Jansen #74 in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on June 20, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Dodgers won 9-8. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

The Dodgers have some unfinished business this October. Coming off back-to-back World Series loses, there’s no “get em’ next year” mentality or moral victories to be had. It’s Championship or bust.

So, the entire team as a whole has something to prove. Yet, there’s still some players that may have a little more weight on their shoulders when the post season begins. Whether it’s due to high expectations or past playoff performances, certain players are likely to be scrutinized more than others. That may or may not be fair but it’s just the reality.

Below, we take a look at which Dodgers are going into this October with the most to prove. If they do well and the team succeeds, they’ll answer a lot of questions. If they don’t, well… criticism is bound to ensue. No pressure, fellas.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Ryu makes this list because the Dodgers are going to need him to pitch like he has over the past year and a half on regular season outings if they want to make a deep playoff run. Last year, Ryu made 4 starts in the playoffs and pitched 5 or more innings in only one of them, posting a 5.21 ERA in the process.

That won’t cut it.

Up until about a month or so ago, Ryu was the consensus “ace” of the Dodgers staff. After his start on August 11th his ERA stood at a minuscule 1.45 and he was the likely front-runner for this year’s Cy Young Award. After a bit of a rough patch, Ryu seems to have bounced back and his numbers for the year are still great. He’s 14-5 with a league-leading 2.32 ERA, 1.007 WHIP and 6.79 K/BB.

That’s the Ryu that will have to show up in October.

The Dodgers got a pretty good steal last off-season when Ryu signed their one-year, ~$18 million qualifying offer. He’s out-pitched that deal for sure and probably set himself up nicely for free agency this off-season. But none of that regular season success is going to matter if he can’t duplicate it in the playoffs now. The Dodgers need him to.

Cody Bellinger

Needing your best player to show up in the playoffs is not an exclusive concept and pretty much applies to every team. For the Dodgers, that player will be Cody Bellinger.

Bellinger had an incredible year that may very well earn him the NL MVP Award when it’s all said and done. But with such productivity, comes great expectations. And some are already a little concerned with Bellinger heading into the playoffs after a second half where his OPS fell over 200 points. Of course, a decline had to be expected considering the first half he had and the numbers he put up.

Bellinger has played in 31 post season games with 124 career at-bats. In those games, he’s batting .172/.226/.336 with a .562 OPS. Not great.

He’s obviously a different player this year, and those past numbers won’t mean much if he can play like the MVP-caliber player that he has been during the regular season.

 

When Bellinger is playing at his peak level, he’s the type of player that can carry a team. He’s done it all year for the Dodgers. But if for some reason he goes cold in October and the Dodgers fall short, don’t be surprised to see a bunch of criticism thrown his way. Again, not saying that’s fair, just that it’s probably the reality.

Dave Roberts

There’s no debating the success that Dave Roberts has had since joining the Dodgers. There’s been division titles galore and back-to-back World Series appearances, which are all great. The unfortunate reality, however, is that as long as a championship eludes the team, questions and criticism will remain for the Dodgers skipper.

Everything is magnified in the playoffs, especially managerial decisions. It’s true that many fans are often over-critical of managers. They tend to get more blame than they probably deserve when things go bad and don’t get much of the credit when things go good. But that’s part of being a major league manager.

Some of Roberts’ moves over the last two Octobers could certainly be questioned if we’re being honest. Bullpen usage, lineups, and pulling starters too early are just some examples.

I wrote this article last year after the Dodgers lost the first two World Series games to the Red Sox. (And boy, re-reading that opens up some old wounds.) It broke down the moves Roberts made during those first two games, and why some were questionable to say the least.

The “X’s and O’s” part of being a manager is a pretty big deal. Making the right calls and pushing the right buttons in key situations make all the difference in the world. Roberts will surely be in big spots this October that will require important decisions. And the outcome of those decisions will be telling.

Clayton Kershaw

Unfortunately, the Clayton Kershaw postseason narrative continues to live on. It’s exhausting, annoying and sometimes just infuriating to talk about. Yet, here we are.

A lot of that narrative is exaggerated by those who prefer to have selective memory. However, we can also agree that much of it is valid. There’s no doubt that Kershaw has struggled at times in the playoffs, especially compared to his regular season dominance. His 4.32 post season ERA is almost two runs higher than his career 2.44 mark.

It’s no secret that Kershaw is not the same pitcher he was a few years ago when he was the best in the league. His fastball velocity is down. His 3.03 ERA on the year is the highest it’s been since his rookie season back in 2008. But the Dodgers don’t need him to be that guy anymore. They won’t need him to come back and pitch Game 4 on short rest or pitch 8 shutout innings. They just need him to be solid when he takes the mound, just as he’s been all season long.

Despite his “down year,” Kershaw finished with 22 Quality Starts this season, 3rd most in the NL. He also went at least 6 innings in 26 of his 28 starts this year. If he can continue to produce like that, the Dodgers will gladly take it.

Going into this post season, Kershaw will once again have a target on his back. He’s had it there for a while. Many times, he’ll quiet his critics with a great start or two in October, only to see them return after he struggles in next start. He’ll need more consistency this post season to silence them for good, and Kershaw will once again have the chance this October.

Kenley Jansen

Surprised that Kershaw wasn’t number one? He probably would be on most people’s list, but here, that honor goes to Jansen, who has plenty to prove himself this October.

Jansen claims the top spot for a couple of reasons. For one, just like Kershaw, he has some past October demons to exorcise. We could go into Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, or Games 3 and 4 of last year’s World Series… but let’s not.

To be fair, Jansen has been pretty solid in his playoffs overall, and has a lower post season ERA (2.08) and WHIP (0.818) than he has in his regular season career. With that said, the last two World Series are still fresh in everyone’s mind, and Jansen’s blown saves have come at the absolute worst times for the Dodgers. Game 2 in 2017 and Game 4 in 2018 were critical turning points in the series.

More than past performance though, is Jansen’s ability this year that has many concerned.

Jansen has eight blown saves this year, which is the most in baseball among closers. His 3.71 ERA is by far a career high. He also put up the 2nd highest WHIP, FIP, and HR/9 of his career while posting his second lowest K/9. All trends in the wrong direction.

Dave Roberts has stood by Jansen despite his struggles this year and insists he’ll still be the guy to close out games. This post season, fans will likely be on the edge of the seat when he takes the ball at the end of a close game. Jansen has a lot to prove this October, and we’ll find out soon enough if he’s up to the task.

Final thoughts

If these 5 guys perform at or near their regular season levels, chances are the Dodgers are hoisting the World Series trophy for the first time since 1988.

Written by Brian Robitaille

Originally from Southern California, and currently stationed in Northern Virginia, Brian is a devoted Dodgers fan, and has been since he was a kid. He's an Active Duty member of the U.S Air Force, and has been serving for the last 16 years. While he loves all things sports related, and supports all his teams (Lakers, Steelers, L.A Kings, & USC) his true passion is the Dodgers, and loves writing about the boys in blue.

10 Comments

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  1. The blessing in disguise is that all 5 have been trending upward the last little bit. Cody has raised his average 5 points. He was right at 300! Ryu and Clayton had strong finishes. And Jansen was pretty strong Saturday. Roberts did a LOT of experimentation the last 50 games. Should be a good thing to have in his back pocket. Go LA!!

  2. I do not believe we are necessarily a better team than the one we fielded at this time last year. I do believe, however, we are a deeper time. That is why I enjoyed this article by Brian. The players and manager he cited need to perform at the highest levels to defeat either the Astros or Yankees. Astros and Yankees have superior power IMHO. That means Belles had better be on top of his game. Pitching-wise, I think the Astros have got
    an excellent starting three – maybe even better than ours. Kershaw cannot give up home runs early in the game and expect our power to compensate for his gaffes. It really pains me to say that I do believe the Astros are the superior team. In many ways, I am reminded of my youth when the Yankees were the team we could not defeat. I just hope I am wrong this time around. Go Blue!!!

    • I agree, the Astros are the favorites to win it all for sure. Dodgers are right there with them though and baseball playoffs are a crapshoot. It’s not like the NBA where you know the top teams are basically guaranteed to make it. Every team has a shot.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Thanks for reading. Astros are great and should be favored. But Dodgers are pretty good too. I’m not even sure that’s the WS matchup we end up getting tho.

  3. Good day BLUE LOU! I concur with every thing here, great post. I say this…. nobody will care or even remember the franchise record of 106 wins and 279 HR’s if Dodgers cannot win 11 more games in October. MLBN has already picked the Astros to win it all and I certainly can see why. Their lineup is superior if for the one reason in which they won’t be shuffled around because of a LHP going. I am afraid Roberts will do that and we may see Joc’36 HR’s and maybe even Muncy’s 35 HR’s sitting if a LHP is going. Pitching decisions will also count, and not only CK, but Buehler, Ryu and Jansen cannot be serving up the HR’s that put Dodgers behind. One other advantage Astros will have since I believe they will have home field advantage is playing in their toy box of a park that is far more hitter friendly than DS. But we are reminded that Dodgers had HFA in 2017 and they lost the WS anyway.

    • Thanks Paul. Astros are definitely the favorites. They have a solid team all-around but there’s no guarantees in the playoffs so we’ll see how it plays out. First things first, gotta take care of Washington.

      Joc can’t hit lefties at all, his career numbers show that. He should be on the bench vs LHP. Muncy on the other hand can hit them and he’s been a full time player all year when healthy so I think it’s safe to say we’ll see him in the lineup all the time.

  4. AZUL, your post is, as usual, right on point. The HFA is worrisome, indeed. So is the ongoing issue regarding platooning. One other issue : why is it that after we score between 8-10 runs in a game, our bats go cold and we cannot buy a run? Against, the Astros or Yanks, the inability to score runs renders our pitching almost null and void. I feel like I am going back to the future in that shades of the Dodgers of the 50’s is becoming brighter. Go Blue!!!!

  5. Ryu should not be in this list. Everyone else belongs here for sure. Ryu has proven to be the most consistent pitcher (this season) the Dodgers have. He had a great year, plain and simple. Being the ERA leader for the entire season is quite a feat in of itsself. Yes the Astros are the superior team, I do not think there is a question about that one. The Dodgers? They will be lucky to get past Washington and their two big starters. You also have to factor in the Tyler Corbin issue, Dodgers have never had much success against him. The key to the series will be how quickly the Dodgers can force Martinez to turn to his bullpen, where the Dodgers have a decided advantage over the Nats. Then IF the Dodgers defeat the Nats they have to play the Braves, and you could argue the Braves are the better team, you could also say they got the better draw as well, and I would listen to you. So talking about the Astros is getting way ahead of ourselves here, IMO. Heck, I’m dreading just watching Kenley try to close games at this point (Grin!).

    • As I pointed out in the article, Ryu is on this list because of the following:

      Last year, Ryu made 4 starts in the playoffs and pitched 5 or more innings in only one of them, posting a 5.21 ERA in the process.

      That can’t happen this year. He’s been great in the regular season but that success has to transfer over to the playoffs this year.

      • He has not had much playoff success in his tenure as a Dodger, you are correct to say that. But he has not been healthy during several of their playoff runs while he has been here. He has never been the pitching staff headliner, like the perch he has ascended to now. But he does not have anything to prove IMO., not yet anyway. The Dodgers have never let him be the #1 guy….they still might not this year either, they have not announced the rotation yet…..the few results/opportunities he has been given, he’s been a number three/four option guy.

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