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Dodgers Dilemma: The Good, The Bad And The Fix For The Bullpen

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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It’s not surprising that most of the top teams in the National League also have some of the best bullpens. The Los Angeles Dodgers saw firsthand how tough the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen has been, and the Pirates with their combined 2.78 relief ERA are second-best in the league behind the postseason rival, St. Louis Cardinals (2.26). The New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Brewers round out the top five bullpen ERAs in the league, with the Brewers the only team not in playoff contention. Meanwhile. the Dodgers bullpen ranks 14th in the NL with a 4.19 ERA.

While the Dodgers relievers started the year well, Eric Stephen of True Blue LA has broken down the past two months:

Now ERA isn’t the end-all stat for pitchers, but an ERA over 6.00 isn’t good regardless of advanced starts. The Dodger relievers certainly can strike out batters better than almost anyone in the Majors (10.23 K/9 with a 26.4 strikeout percentage). They had collectively struck out 352 batters in 309.2 innings of work going into Sunday’s series finale in Pittsburgh. Surprisingly, the Dodger bullpen has also allowed only 112 walks this season, and that’s good for a 8.4 percent walk rate.  Only the Giants, Pirates and Washington Nationals bullpens have allowed fewer free passes.

If the bullpen is striking out a relatively large amount of batters and they are walking few, then why have they been so ineffective since May?

They are allowing a lot of home runs (34), and the relief squad is 22nd in the Majors with a 1.33 WHIP. The bullpen has induced only 13 double plays all year, and they have also allowed 27 stolen bases to opponents.

Having a diverse and effective bullpen is an integral key to postseason success. The Dodgers did try to bolster the declining bullpen at the trade deadline by acquiring Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan from the Atlanta Braves, yet the new additions have done little to help. Johnson’s two eighth-inning appearances for the Dodgers yielded home runs in each, and his shocking seventh inning appearance on Sunday made it into the record books (via Andrew Simon of MLB.com):

The bridge to get to Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning is as shaky as ever. Johnson’s 3.2 innings for the Dodgers have been nothing short of disastrous. He has blown two saves, picked up two losses, allowed 12 earned runs, two home runs, struck out six and walked three. Johnson did not pitch this poorly with Atlanta, and he could not possibly sustain a 27 H/9 for the remainder of the season. Johnson may be regressing a bit with the Dodgers, but if he can get back to his career numbers of 3.64 ERA and 3.72 FIP, then it will be an improvement.

Avilan, the left-hander acquired from Atlanta, ended up striking out the side in the seventh inning in Saturday’s loss to the Pirates. Avilan was able to pitch out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning on Friday, but so far his three relief appearances for the Dodgers have at least shown that Avilan can battle back and not get flustered in those important late innings. Avilan needs to show that same mental fortitude with no runners on base and toss some clean innings.

CONTINUE READING: Can The Dodgers Bullpen Turn It Around?

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Written by Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler is formerly the co-editor of Lasorda's Lair. A graduate of the school of cinema-television at the University of Southern California, Stacie is a lifelong Dodger fan who has been writing and making videos about the Dodgers since 2010.

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