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Dodgers Closer Kenley Jansen Must Be Closely Watched

Two steps forward, one step back.

It just never ends. For what feels like the 2,000th time in the 2019 season, Kenley Jansen has had a brief uptick that resembles his prime…only to come crashing to a halt with another rough outing. On Wednesday night, a surefire win against Tampa Bay slipped away when he quickly blew a 6-4 lead in the ninth. 

What makes this grind truly endless is that after every collapse by Jansen, no matter how bad, Dave Roberts reassures the press that Jansen must remain the closer. He reiterated that stance yet again after the 8-7 loss to the Rays, emphasizing Jansen’s overall body of work. 

It’s a claim with evidence both for and against. Kenley’s good outings have been good, including a dominant strikeout of Pete Alonso and a four-out rescue in the past week. But on Wednesday, he reached a new career-high with his eighth blown save on the year. That is impossible to ignore. 

I am not here to evaluate why Jansen is struggling, nor to excoriate him for it. That has been done constantly by every Dodgers fan, blog and news outlet. We here at Dodgers Nation are no exception. 

All the same, this latest disaster (against a team L.A. could even see in the World Series) still prompts that question to be asked yet again: What to do with Kenley Jansen? What is the ideal solution to the closing issues the team has struggled with all year? There’s only two weeks left of the regular season, so that solution is truly one for when it matters most in the playoffs. 

Recently, I made the case for using surplus starting pitching as much as possible in October. I noted how Houston and Boston’s respective abandonments of Ken Giles and Craig Kimbrel worked in their favor. Once those two showed they didn’t have it, they were swapped for starting pitchers instead.   

It’s a strategy I still believe must be followed. To be clear, this means I believe Kenley is still the closer in October. If it’s a save opportunity in any round, regardless of the run margin, I expect to hear the crunchy keyboards of “California Love” blasting either from the Dodger Stadium speakers or in my mind in pavlovian fashion. 

But here’s the catch: he has no room for error. And I mean absolutely none. He’s going to have to speedrun Dark Souls with no extra lives. Should he so much as have a prickly outing, let alone a blown save, he must be swapped out for somebody else when it’s suitable. 

The first option is conceivably Joe Kelly, given he hasn’t been used in the game and is relatively fresh. The second, as per my aforementioned article, is an extra starting pitcher like Tony Gonsolin, Kenta Maeda or Dustin May. Maybe even Clayton Kershaw, given the situation allows it like in the 2016 NLDS and 2018 NLCS. 

The Kershaw example is especially salient, as both of those closing performances were prefaced by Jansen effectively being the setup man. His effort in 2016 was especially heroic. 

Past Examples

For comparison, let’s look at Craig Kimbrel’s shaky October last year for Boston. In all three rounds, he had at least one instance where he put his team in a needlessly precarious spot. He would have blown game four of the ALCS were it not for Andrew Benintendi’s heads-up, all-time legendary catch. He even made game four of the World Series in Los Angeles interesting after Boston’s seemingly insurmountable rally.  

Even though his predicament against the Dodgers was the least stressful, it was clear Alex Cora had seen enough. In the game five clincher, even with a relatively secure 5-1 lead, game one starter Chris Sale was called upon to plow through the final three outs. 

Reflecting on that championship run, I’ve often said to myself that the Sox were unbelievably lucky the fickle nature of October baseball didn’t bite them even once in any of those moments. It was a risk that more or less paid off. But Jansen is a different scenario. He already has a rough history in the World Series that Kimbrel didn’t possess. 

It’s one thing to stick by Kenley through these absurd peaks and valleys in a regular season where the Dodgers have dominated almost nonstop, their playoff hopes never in doubt. But in order to make a hopeful third straight World Series trip the charm, the Dodgers cannot afford to make the same old mistakes they did the past two years. 

This includes Roberts’ use of Jansen, pushing him for six out saves frequently in the World Series. In case you need reminding, he’s had four such attempts on the biggest stage, and it’s worked just once: game six in 2017. Otherwise, Marwin Gonzalez, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Steve Pearce tagged him to create grisly misadventures into the ether the Dodgers could have done without. 

In 2019, Roberts will stick with Jansen from the start of the NLDS, as he should. But if that doesn’t work at any point (which, honestly, I believe is inevitable), Doc must emulate A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora and readjust accordingly. 

We all want the big man to succeed, and purge his many struggles of the past two seasons in the best way possible. But he is not beyond reproach, and the stakes next month are too unbearably high to let him have the ball unconditionally in high-leverage scenarios. If he is to be the closer all month long, he must earn it, plain and simple.

Written by Marshall Garvey

51 Comments

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  1. I like many others here am the Boy who cried wolf. It sure is a good thing we didn’t sign Vasquez or anyone else, and kept the farm. How many times must a man fall down? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.It’s not just Kenley, Floro,Baez gives up a homer, Kelly comes in and gives up the hit scores the run. 3-0 game in New York, we can go on and on about this vaunted Bull pen. Great job by the offense to hold serve last night, but when will this experiment get better?

      • Roberts is the problem. His handling of the bullpen is criminal.Either he begins closer by. Committee or he blows another post season. Nine pitchers used in the 8-7 loss? Does he think that if he keeps pressing his luck , it will turn out ok?delusional.Not to mention how he handles the batting order and often “ rests” his hottest hitter.well maybe after he blows this one the equally incompetent front office will stumble upon a decent mgr. can you say bill Russell or Dusty’ Baker? The only reason Roberts looked good to us Dodgers fans was he followed that disaster mattingly.

    • Kenley is an all time Dodger. He had earned his place of respect. Prior to last night the prior 3 games his stuff was electric. Robert’s tested his ability to go back to back days, so he won’t make that call again. Relax everyone and let the Man do his thing like he has done like no Dodger closer before him.

      • More excuses.
        “The Man” has done his thing all year and has looked terrible. The numbers don’t lie.
        LA will falter again if incompetent Roberts persists in letting Jansen blow games,

  2. Why don’t they let Kenley sit down for the next two weeks and get his mechanics right and get him rested up for a little bit before post season, it’s experiment time right now right? I think it would serve him greatly both physically and mentally. It almost seems like he’s pressured himself so much that one little blip sends him into a downward spiral that he can’t get away from. This season has been so strange with the bullpen and last night seemed like what we are to expect on certain starting pitchers nights, I don’t mind it at all I think it will make things difficult for other teams when they are facing a different pitcher each time they come to the plate. Hard to run pitch counts on continuous fresh arms late in the game. In the end who cares as long as the Dodgers win it all so this stress can ease up on the team and they can have fun again.

    • I agree. You just know that the other team will put something together against him. Truly embarrassing, yet the ridiculous Dave Roberts keeps putting him out there.

      And why all this butt kissing of Jansen (pardon my French). He’s had all year to fix his problems, which cannot be fixed, he’s washed up.
      The Dodgers can no longer afford to let him pitch in any game where it’s even remotely close. He will blow it.
      All players eventually lose it and Jansen certainly has.

      BTW, he makes about $20M per year.

  3. Not sure that watching Kenley “closely” this year is good for Dodger fans mental health..We are riding an Indy Car that has a big lead with only a few laps to go but it has developed a concerning “knock.” Will it get better or worse before the finish?

    • Rainbird, as we all know, things don’t just get better when there is a glaring weakness on any team. This is,,,,,, and has been the problem all year. Look up inherited runners scored with this bull pen. Pathetic …. If Roberts just keeps making excuses and doesn’t change up things, it’s a 2nd round, possibly first round exit. EVERY team, regardless of playoff situation scores on this pen. If May and gonsolin both aren’t used religiously as a main component in the playoffs we can all start getting out our Lakers gear.

  4. How is this kenleys fault? The ump was a garbage can and there should have been two out with a runner on 1st.

  5. How many more ways will Roberts find to lose another game? How many more ways will Roberts find to NOT have the best record & home field advantage

    All this childish experimenting with the lineup, who can play 1st base / 3rd base, the batting order, who is going to pitch in roles they never had before, using the over the hill Jansen, etc., etc.
    Come on, if Roberts doesn’t know what he has by now then he never will.
    In the meantime we still haven’t clinched best NL record and Houston & NY still have better overall records.
    Dave Roberts is absolutely the worst MLB manager and should be replaced. The Dodgers probably won’t make it out of the first round.

      • So now PaulDodgersFan1965 is the expert on how the Dodgers should operate…oh yeah, old fart like you should start digging your own grave, this is a young man’s world, you piece of trash.

        • Sam, you should try to keep insults out of this forum. If you want to exercise your pie-hole with personal insults try going to a bar where you can get some immediate feedback.

  6. Not as bullish on my boys as I was a few months ago. First Kenley was struggling holding a lead, now he has trouble holding a 2-run lead. Combine this with Kersaw’s struggles in the PS and Belli struggling, and well, let’s just say, the offense is gonna have to put up a boatload of runs. Looks like another WS trophy for the AL

  7. Jansen should throw “Batting “Practice only, His wind up never changes, hitters just waiting to tee off. Dodgers out first round ,lose in late innings, wait till next year.

    • Johnny, like I said earlier Dodgers should just do what Boston did last year when Kimbrel was not effective, and that is use a starter or someone OTHER THAN Kenley to close if in fact it’s a closing situation. Remember if the offense continues its vulnerability against LHP and Dodgers continue to strike out in key situations, we won’t even worry about a closing situation that will not exist in the 1st place.

  8. It all started going down hill last year’s world series and he’s done when he gave up the grand slam in San Diego that was it.

  9. the Post season Dodgers will be eliminated I don’t see no light at the end of the tunnel and Dave Roberts giving nothing but excuses why they didn’t pass go to the World series… Kenley Jansen well that’s a
    another never ending story.

  10. Perhaps, Robert’s insistence in keeping Kenley as the closer no matter what has transpired in these last 2 WS is not Robert’s decision alone. And I got news for ya, Roberts and Co. most likely will do these same things as far as Kenley goes, no matter what. I may be wrong but WSS. It should be a NO BRAINER that if Kenley shows even the slightest bit of faltering, that Dodgers do what Boston did last year and use a top starter to close out the game. No way can Roberts and or Freidman survive another repeat performance or there will be crucifixions to be taken place.

    • “No way can Roberts and or Freidman survive another repeat performance or there will be crucifixions to be taken place” what a stupid statement, Friedman ain’t going nowhere and neither is Roberts. You’d better stick to you stinky sour dog poop pride.

  11. Your exactly on the money, Paul1965, I think you should speak to the front office” Dodgers ” if they listen ? and tell them they should hire you for the remainder of the season ,I really feel then the Dodgers would stand a better chance of reaching and playing in the W S… They need a manager or general manager. I think you would do. “GREATLY ” the good old Dodger Days.

    • I would rather have Paul as our guy too. A lot of posters here would do better than the Roberts and Friedman duo

  12. and the sales pitch still goes on…’let him throw the ball some more, he’s not pitching”….and then it goes…..wait until next year……and nothing isn’t accomplished from him because he can’t get batters out….no excuses, he’s not doing his job……and his boss isn’t setting the world on fire either……..mmmmm, let me see what excuse the fans will buy now……..Dodgers have a management problem and this is the worst i’ve see in the last 70 years……Dodgers need to do some house cleaning

    • I agree the management is really the problem, they don’t seem to want to be aggressive and are willing to play it safe which works great regular season. Now it’s post season baseball basically and they are “experimenting and having tryouts” I feel like that just kills the momentum and the cohesion of the players. Let’s be honest the Dodgers are definitely in danger this year of getting absolutely embarrassed to the point players are going to want to jump ship because of the weakness of the management not taking a stand on playing to win it all when it matters. We all remember the Darvish fiasco right? How much more can they possibly do wrong, I guess we’ll see this post season?

    • I’m tired of watching Jansen throw a mediocre 93 mile an hour cutter that everyone knows is coming and any decent MLB hitter can drive out of the park!…understanding his physical issues he had in the past his dominant days are over! Anymore he’s middle relief when we’re down by five runs…he received another big contract so now we’ll get beat in another world series if we make it there! because the front office is trying to get their money’s worth!

  13. I believe his days are number.sit him down until his contract is over or trade him. No minor or AAA

  14. I like most of what I’ve read here, and the sentiment is consistent. In short, if you stay with Kenley, we will be 0-3 on WS appearances, assuming we even get there. Dave Robert’s needs to put the “lotalty” card in the trash can, or else were done for.

  15. Our Dodgers are a talent- laden bunch. Not all seasoned, but a good mix nonetheless. Pitching strong on starters, so-so bullpen. Could use converted starters in the pen and never hesitate to make a pitching change based on situation. Nevermind who’s in there, just go to next best man on the mound. Just make that adjustment and trust the pros to get ‘er done.

  16. To summarize, this club is going into the playoffs with no closer? I recall this problem being a concern back at the AS break and the trade-deadline was going to be when something was done. The FO was not able to put together a deal so Roberts had to make do with a bull pen that has had troubles all year and have gone septic at the closer spot. Jansen isn’t cutting it (pun intended) but Roberts insists he sticking with him. The club better score lots of runs because if it’s a tight late inning game and a closer is needed…well you all know the rest of that script.

  17. Jansen is predictable and the Astros are praying we keep him as our closer.

    Dodger fan since August, 2019

  18. The only reasonable debate that hasn’t been touched here is the 3,900,000 fan attendance this year. With that said, the owners finance group isn’t willing to go over 180 mill to pay for the needed talent to win it all. The profit margin seems to be more important than the fan margin. So if Roberts and Friedman have been told that’s all thy get, then we should be a little less harsh on them and a little more demanding of the Money men..

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