It’s easy to get lost in names like Kershaw, Greinke, Kemp, Puig, Ramirez, Gonzalez, Crawford and Ethier.
With a higher payroll than most fan-bases dream of seeing accumulated in their lifetime, it’s easy to point at names even the most common fan would recognize and praise them for the success of the 2013 Dodgers.
Thank Puig and Ramirez!
Dodgers win 32 out of 39?
Must be because of Kershaw and Gonzalez.
Dodgers climb from last to first in less than two months?
Surely Greinke and Kemp have something to do with it.
While most of those statements are true, I’d beg to differ with the overall sense that the Dodgers are here only because of their stars.
Obviously, the scorching play of Puig and Ramirez have played a massive role in the turnaround and so has the pitching of Kershaw and Greinke, but the real reason for the turnaround lies in the role players — specifically in the bullpen.
After much was written about the disaster that was the Dodgers bullpen just a few weeks before the All-Star break, the group of guys Mattingly has assembled appears to have turned things around.
Obviously, the removal of Brandon League from the closer role has helped, as has the departure of Matt Guerrier, but beyond those two changes there have been a number of guys that have simply gotten better.
Atop that list is the closer, Kenley Jansen, who might be the best reliever in all of baseball right now — having retired the last 25 batters he has faced, including 10 of his last 12 by strikeout.
But Jansen was expected to be a stud at the back end of the bullpen — guys like Paco Rodriguez, J.P. Howell, Ronald Belisario and Chris Withrow, however, were not.
First up is Paco Rodriguez, who is second in all of baseball in WHIP among pitchers with at least 40 IP this season.
The lefty has allowed just one run since June 7, spanning 26 appearances and is holding opponents to a .138 average this season.
The other nasty lefty at Mattingly’s dispense is J.P. Howell, who has a 2.17 ERA on the season and has allowed just one earned run in his last 17 appearances.
On the right side of things are Belisario and Withrow.
Belisario, who has typically been used as the right-handed set-up man, has allowed just two earned runs in his last 22 appearances, lowering his season ERA from 4.94 to 3.40 in the process.
Like Belisario, Withrow has had an up and down season — both literally in terms of trips from the minors to the majors and emotionally.
After giving up runs in four of his first five appearances, Withrow has shutout opponents since July 10th, striking out 10 batters in just over eight innings of work.
Finally, that brings us to Brandon League.
But before rushing to any judgments about the former closer, take a look at what he’s done since the All-Star break.
In 8.2 innings since July 10, League has allowed just six base runners and zero earned runs.
While that won’t make up for his disastrous time as a closer, if League can regain some confidence before the playoffs, he figures to be a valuable weapon down the stretch.
So sure, the stars are paving the way and making the headlines, but as the Dodgers look for their 16th straight road win tonight, it’s about time the bullpen gets some credit.
Especially the guys we aren’t usually talking about.