As the season progresses quickly toward its final month, the Dodgers are finally rounding into the team man believed they would be from the outset. The lineup is getting healthier, and the addition of Trea Turner has worked out exceedingly well. Despite injuries to Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, and others, the starting rotation has continued to thrive thanks to the addition of Max Scherzer, the maturation of Julio Urias, and the Cy Young caliber campaign being put forth by Walker Buehler. The bullpen, despite looking a lot different than many envisioned, has quickly become a strength – never more obviously than Wednesday night in the Dodgers 5-3 16-inning win over the Padres.
The bullpen’s resurgence is a testament to the Dodgers’ front office’s continued ability to find diamonds in the rough better than almost any other organization. Alex Vesia and Phil Bickford have been lights out in the second half, Brusdar Graterol has begun to look like he did in 2020, and the return to health of Corey Knebel and Joe Kelly makes it as deep a bullpen as any in the league right now. Kenley Jansen and Blake Treinen remain the most important pieces at the back of the bullpen, but are being leaned on a lot less heavily when the arms around them are throwing strikes and working through scoreless frames. In Kenley’s case, the easing of his workload is especially important given his track record’s correlation to days of rest.
Wednesday night felt like a breakthrough in a number of ways for the Dodgers. Given their lack of success in extra innings this season, there was no escaping the sinking feeling of dread each time they failed to score in the top of an inning. The Padres had chances to walk the game off over and over, and the Dodgers’ bullpen repeatedly shut the door.
As the night wore on, one surprising thing became obvious as well: Dave Roberts had completely out-managed Jayce Tingler. Tingler made a substitutional gaffe earlier in the night that led to the Padres’ pitcher’s batting in the 5 hole of the lineup and a bench that was completely void of pinch hitters by the 11th inning – and Roberts made him pay. On two separate occasions, the Dodgers benefitted from the luxury of walking back-to-back hitters with two outs, setting up opportunities to escape innings with Padre pitchers at the plate. Unsurprisingly, this worked out quite well. Roberts, meanwhile, had used his bench sparingly and intelligently – by the time the 15th inning rolled around, his patience would pay off when Billy McKinney stepped to the plate. McKinney was the final batter left on the bench for Los Angeles, and delivered a massive RBI single that would put the Dodgers on top, 2-1.
Although the game proved to be far from over at that juncture, the Dodgers had clearly out-maneuvered San Diego from a personnel management perspective. As the Padres dug deeper into their bullpen, turning to arms like Shaun Anderson and Daniel Camarena, the Dodgers were still turning to former All-Star arms like Corey Knebel and Shane Greene. As the Padres were sending pitchers up to hit with the game on the line, the Dodgers were finding game-changing contributions off the end of their bench.
The Dodgers ultimately swept the series at Petco Park, a stadium suddenly as full of Dodger blue as it was during the Padres many dormant seasons. The Padres clearly had a lot of emotion tied up in the series, and are certainly dealing with a severely deflated clubhouse as they enter the increasingly difficult final 6 weeks of their schedule. They’re going to need to find it quickly, or it’ll be another quiet October in the Gaslamp District.
For the Dodgers, it’s an important 6-game homestand coming up with Colorado and Atlanta before they head to San Francisco for one final time in 2021. Given San Francisco’s torrid pace, the Dodgers will need to continue to play good baseball if they want a shot at the division come Labor Day Weekend at Oracle Park.
Friday, August 27
Kyle Freeland (4-6, 4.25 ERA) vs Bullpen
The Dodgers’ homestand begins Friday night at Chavez Ravine, the first of three in a row against very familiar starting pitchers. Kyle Freeland will kick things off for Colorado, making his 3rd start of the season against Los Angeles and 15th of his career. Freeland has pitched well against the Dodgers this season, despite going 0-2; he’s only allowed 4 runs over 13 innings of work, striking out 10 without walking a batter. He’s been excellent for Colorado since the All-Star break, pitching to a 3.00 ERA while only walking 5 batters over 42 innings of work. He’s pitched at least a full 5 innings in now 11 consecutive starts, helping Bud Black avoid turning to Colorado’s bullpen early in games.
The Dodgers announced that they WILL be going with Brusdar Graterol to open this game, though Andre Jackson is likely to take on the bulk role.
Saturday, August 28
Jon Gray (7-10, 4.13 ERA) vs David Price (4-2, 3.82 ERA)
By all accounts, the Rockies 59-68 record thus far in 2021 has exceeded most fans’ and experts’ expectations. A big part of the reason why has been their starting pitching – between the aforementioned Freeland, Jon Gray, and German Marquez, it’s a staff that has been a lot more reliable than many realize in 2021.
Gray was considered a shoe-in to be traded at the deadline. Teams like the Dodgers and Padres were rumored to have checked in, but he ended up staying put in Colorado alongside his teammate Trevor Story. Gray has put together a solid campaign, and has pitched to a very solid 3.43 ERA over 21 innings against the Dodgers this season. He’s a strange Rockies pitcher in that he’s actually been better at home than on the road, as the Dodgers saw firsthand when he hurled 7 strong innings against them at Coors field on July 18. This will be his 5th time facing the Dodgers this season, but certainly the most lethal version of Los Angeles he’s seen all season.
Jon Gray’s August has been frustrating – after an excellent July, he’s allowed at least 3 earned runs in every start this month, only crossing the 5-inning mark in 2 of his 4 starts. His most recent outing against lowly Arizona saw him hit around for 5 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks, and dealt him his 4th consecutive loss. The Dodgers will look to crush any mistakes he makes on Saturday evening, something they’ve done to him a few times in the past at Chavez Ravine. Several Dodgers’ hitters have put up great numbers against Jon Gray in the past, including Cody Bellinger (11-for-22), Justin Turner (.343), AJ Pollock (.375), Chris Taylor (.425) and Corey Seager (.360).
Sunday, August 29
Antonio Senzatela (2-9, 4.42 ERA) vs TBD
The Dodgers’ also haven’t yet announced a pitcher for Sunday – setting the table for a possible bullpen game or an additional opportunity for either Mitch White or Andre Jackson to continue their auditions.
They’ll be opposed by yet another familiar foe in Antonio Senzatela, another stalwart of the Rockies rotation that has remained surprisingly unchanged for several years now. Senzatela won’t wow anyone with his repertoire or statistics, but is a consistent innings eater who rarely walks a batter (90th percentile in BB%, per Baseball Savant). Senzatela also rarely strikes anyone out (6th percentile K%, 7th percentile Whiff%, 4th percentile Chase Rate), but thrives on avoiding barrels instead. This often means that Senzatela is walking a bit of a tightrope, especially against lineups like the Dodgers’. He’s seen terrible results in the matchup this season – all the way back on April 2, the Dodgers crushed Senzatela to the tune of 7 earned runs over just 3.1 innings of work. On April 13, he only lasted 2.2 innings while allowing 5 runs, including 3 home runs. On what should be a hot and sunny day in Los Angeles on Sunday, the Dodgers will look to carry a few more out of the yard in the series finale.
This weekend’s series with the Rockies certainly has the appearance of a trap for Los Angeles – after a tense series in San Diego and with first place teams Atlanta and San Francisco coming up next on the schedule, a home set with the Rockies is easy to overlook. In this case, the Dodgers simply cannot afford to do that. Here’s to hoping they brought the same level of competitive intensity they had in San Diego with them back up the 5 freeway for tonight.