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For the LA Dodgers, Relief Help May be a ‘Want’ More Than a ‘Need”

Hear me out here…

(Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

It’s no secret the Achilles heel of this Los Angeles Dodgers team has been the bullpen. The Dodgers offense has been spectacular at putting up runs, but the relief pitching has managed to erase those leads and have blown 19 save opportunities along the way.

With the trade deadline quickly approaching and Wild Card spots within reach for many teams, there’s no guarantee the Dodgers can bolster their bullpen with a proven arm. So what if the front office follows their normal bullpen acquisition habits and dive into the bargain bin again? What if they cant even get that done?

Would it be time to panic? Would the Dodgers’ World Series hopes be dead before the first playoff game? 

No.

This Dodgers team is currently 67-35, and at 32 games above .500, they have the best record and winning percentage in all of baseball. They have a 16 game lead in the NL West and at this point, could sleepwalk their way to their 7th consecutive Division title.

The Dodgers are good. What’s more is, they are this good with a mediocre bullpen that will get them into the playoffs. Once there, the bullpen will be reinforced with or without any trade deadline acquisitions.

Current Bullpen

The Dodgers are currently using Caleb Ferguson and Julio Urias, when he’s not spot starting in Rich Hill’s absence, as the only left-handed relief pitchers. For the most part though, Urias has been utilized as a long reliever and Caleb Ferguson has been hit hard in his short relief efforts. 

Ross Stripling — when he’s not spot starting in Rich Hill’s absence — along with Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly, and Kenley Jansen round out most of the right-handed relief pitching options.  Stripling in his long relief roles and Baez have both been pretty solid. Garcia and Kelly were poor early on, but are recently showing signs improvement. Jansen has been about the same as last year through as many games except with a few more home runs given up and a slightly higher ERA. However, he also struck out more batters allowed fewer walks and I for one feel encouraged with his latest comments about getting his old swagger back:

Farm System Depth

With the September roster expansion looming, the Dodgers will have the opportunity to take a closer look at some of their minor league prospects. Beyond the slugging Will Smith, Kyle Garlick, Gavin Lux and DJ Peters, you can expect a number of pitchers like Tony Gonsolin, Dennis Santana, and Dustin May to come up during the expansion. Those three certainly have the ability to contribute to the bullpen, but they are all right-handed pitchers, something the Dodgers have plenty of. 

Left-handed reliever Zac Rosscup, was recently been designated for assignment and ultimately out-righted to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Rosscup has fared poorly overall and is not likely to a formidable component of the playoff bullpen. Fortunately, Rich Hill and Julio Urias are both lefty’s that are hopefully headed to the bullpen for the playoffs.

In-house Playoff Depth

The Dodgers have the best 5-man starting rotation in the NL, perhaps the best in baseball. Even with Rich Hill on the IL, they’ve had Urias and Stripling to fill in and haven’t missed a beat. In the playoffs however, a 4-man rotation is typically used — even a 3-man in the first round. Hypothetically, using Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, and Clayton Kershaw for a 3-man rotation, and adding a hopefully healthy Hill as the 4th allows Kenta Maeda, Urias, and Stripling to assist from the bullpen. 

That’s essentially another good playoff starting rotation, not as elite, but certainly decent and certainly an upgrade to any bullpen.  

Final Thoughts

The Dodgers could certainly benefit from an added reliever, in particular, a proven left-handed reliever. However, it’s not a necessity and fans should not panic if a trade can’t get made. This organization has the depth to bridge the gap. Yes, they had a lot of the same components last year and failed. The key will be how they plan to manage the bullpen this year.

Dave Roberts and the front office cannot manage the postseason the same as the regular season.  Analytics go out the window because they are based on the day-to-day grind of a marathon, not the emotional sprint finish. Analytics can’t measure the emotions and adrenaline that comes in the postseason.  When Kenley says he and Kelly are gonna find it, he’s referring to that emotional place that can’t be tapped in the regular season.

Dave Roberts cannot pull a starter that’s cruising because he “liked the match up” between a specific reliever to a specific batter. He can’t bench a hot hitter because its lefty on lefty. Roberts must manage the game in front of him during the postseason and not what the regular season numbers reflect. If he does, this Dodgers team will be 2019 World Series Champions even without adding a superstar reliever.

Written by Jason McClure

Technically a Dodgers bandwagon fan. At 5 years old, I decided they were my favorite team after hearing they won the World Series on my mom’s car radio in 1988. My father (technically my stepfather) watered that seed, teaching me the game and introducing me to the beauty of Dodger Stadium. We got to know each other and bonded over games. Even when we couldn’t get along during my teenage years, we could come together over Vin Scully’s voice and a game. Dodger baseball is, and will always be, so much more than just a game.

24 Comments

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  1. Have you been watching any of the Dodgers games the last few weeks?

    Or better yet do you even remember the last two World Series and the Bullpen melt downs?

    Unbelievable!

    • Hey Devon!
      Yes I have! I’m very frustrated with it just like every other fan!

      Did you read the article?

      I did not say a trade shouldn’t get made, but that there are some natural elements in place that could work to solidify the bullpen if one doesn’t get made. Frankly, I don’t see a big trade piece coming because of the number of teams in close contention for a wild card spot, no one’s selling unless the Dodgers give up huge prospects.

      Yes, I’m frustrated, but I’m not worried. Playoffs are different and with some starters moving to the ‘pen mixed with some call ups, I think we can still be good!

      • Hello, Jason. My premise all along, and I concur with all who say the BP needs a fixing if we even want to get into the WS. But I am NOT in favor of allowing other teams to ‘fleece’ our farm system by demanding Lux, May or Will Smith. IDK who they could get because the best reliever or 2 on EARTH WILL NOT guarantee a ring by themselves. Yes, Roberts must manage the starters and the BP much better now BUT what has to take place just as well is the Dodger offense limiting the strikeouts, especially with RISP, thereby putting the ball in play such as Boston and Houston did in these past 2 WS. And most important IMHO is that our pitching must NOT allow the HR’s they did in these last 2 WS. I mean 23 were given up and no wonder why Dodgers fell short.

  2. Roberts will be the same puppet in the playoffs that he is during the season. It’ll be our downfall again

  3. Jason great article thanks. I agree the Dodgers have arguably the best starting 5 or 6 in baseball. As you state with travel and short series the team only needs 3 at most 4 of those starters. Any Dodger fan paying attention knows we match up well with a starting group of Kershaw, Buehler, and Ryu.
    The addition of Maeda and continued use of Urias and Stripling makes the bullpen that much better. As long as the Dodger starter can go 6 or7 innings the Dodgers will have the advantage.
    Kelly is rounding into form and I really like Stadler as he looks to have control and good swing and miss pitches and velocity.
    Garcia is progressing and Baez is very good with his additional pitch selection.
    The Dodger front office always gives us hints of what they are thinking. Most fans simply do not want to listen.
    The earlier date and added teams in the Wild Card Hunt has as Friedman says complicated the search. As there are fewer teams in Full Sell Mode the GM’s are attempting to wring every last prospect out of teams desperate for help to win it all.
    I will bet the Dodgers do not trade a top 5 or 10 Bluechip talent as there are not any Relievers with a couple of years under control that are worth that much. And you do not give up talent that valuable for a rental. I think this may go down to the last day.
    The Pirates, if they had any sense, would trade Velasquez as they are not going to win this year or for the next several years with their roster vs the rest of the NL Central.
    We shall see. I really like Stadler so far and I think they will pick up a mid-level guy but no one that is a recognized closer type. Think Morrow…

    • Txmaxster,

      Thank you for reading, feel like you’re the only one that read this through my lens. It’s not what I HOPE they will do, but rather what I THINK they will do. If I’m wrong, and I hope I am, great we have help. If I’m right, a World Series championship can still be achieved. Just trying to put out hope instead of doom and gloom, too much of that anyway! All the best and thanks for reading!

  4. What dream world do you live in? Thinking Roberts is going to change his style is dreaming. He thinks he is smarter than the opposing manager. NOT!!! He is the #1 problem. He has no idea how to manage the pitching staff and we can only hope his lineup selection won’t hurt us. He will go thru the BP having pitchers face 2 batters and run out of options. Same with hitters. Playoffs/WS is another world and Roberts doesn’t belong in it. He is the biggest reason we lost the last 2 WS. Bullpen stinks. Any time there is a high-pressure moment they fail Baez in particular. Gives up way two many HTs. Jansen is good but no longer great and Roberts will again rely upon too much wearing him out. Sadler shows promise but the rest not so much. Maeda will help but again the pressure and Urias has shown he is not as good a relief pitcher as a starter.

    • Hey Ed!
      It’s a glass is half full world that I live in!

      It’s easy to see the negative. I’m not denying it’s been frustrating. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go after bullpen upgrades and I’m not saying Roberts WILL change. I am trying to see how this can be done with what we have because I don’t expect the front office will acquire any one of the value fans are hoping for. It can be done in-house and frankly, I see that being the more likely scenario that they must face. Just my 2¢ in the matter, thank you for reading!

  5. Simply put, we do need an improvement in our relief pitching. A quality acquisition is mandatory, though cost factors, as always, must be considered. IMHO, our BP as presently constituted is not World Series worthy. We are too close to the prize to let this go by us. Go Blue!!!

    • Hey Lou! Thanks again for reading. I respectfully disagree and that’s cool. The components we already have do have the abilities, we’ve seen them at times and hopefully it can be harnessed when it really counts! That said I REALLY want them to acquire some help, if for nothing else to ease pressure from the rest. I just don’t see a big name coming our way so I felt it best to address what CAN be looked at for solutions! All the best Lou.

      • On the bullpen: 2 x losses in Philly and almost blew a 6 run lead to the lowly fish. If the Blue want to address the obvious need in the bullpen from within because other teams are trying to exploit us, let’s start the tinkering now. Also, Jansen has been saying a lot since his implosion in Philly, but I want to see these changes manifested into results. His pitches were meat that night. We go against the Yanks or the Astros in this WS, we’re going to get mauled.

      • Thank you, Jason. Lets see what “magic” Friedman and his cohorts can conjure up at this critical time. It should prove to be interesting, and hopefully, rewarding.
        Go Blue!!!

  6. What makes you think Roberts learned from post season? He did not learn from 2017. We should minimize exposer of weakness, bullpen, leaving starters in longer. This is what I thought last year but same almost exact situation pulling Hill when pitching fine .. they had miss communication … omg in Post season ??

    • Hey Mike! I’m not saying he learned, but I certainly hope he did. There was no miscommunication with the Hill move, that was a straight cop-out for a poor decision and lack of trust. Roberts preaches preparedness. Let’s hope he’s been studying his 2 years in the post season and realized the analytics that got you there, play very different when those post season emotions and adrenaline impact performances. Thank you for reading Mike!

    • The offense, especially last year in the WS DID NOT do their part at all. And then there were those HR’s given by CK, Jansen and the others. Believe or not the Dodgers scored as many runs in those 7 games in 2017 as the Astros did, 34. BUT Dodger pitching gave up 15 bombs in that 2017 Ws alone…..

  7. They need another arm in the pen that can give them one or two innings. He does not have to be a big time arm but, good enough to give the others a little help. Maybe, Stadler is the guy if he is not over used. I think KELLY BAEZ and Jansen with Urias can shut the other team down if used properly. The key is how they are used. Do not give up the prospects because they are the future and they are pretty close. Again, a middle man is what’s needed . Ferguson is not the answer. Doesn’t have enough pitches.

  8. Jason, BTW this was a great article here and basically I am on the same page. But we do know the BP needs to be better than what they have shown so far. As i said but NOT at the expense of those 3 prospects I mentioned above here.

  9. You are absolutely wrong. The Dodgers can not afford to take any chances on unproven and/or borderline middle relief pitchers if they hope to secure a World Series title.

  10. Did you not see the 2 games in Philly?!?! That should have been an easy 4 game sweep but because of the bullpen it was a split. What about the 6 run lead they blew against the Marlins? The freaking Marlins! I shudder to think how they’ll perform against teams that are actually good if we make it to the WS. The Yankees, Astros and Twins would light them up. So, you think our bullpen is good enough. Fine, that’s your opinion. But why not go out and make it better/ That, my friend, is how champions operate.

  11. Good article Jason. I agree but look more at getting bullpen help as insurance. You can’t have enough good arms. Long season and we don’t know how all the arms will hold up.
    The Dodgers are wise to hold on to their assets than to overpay. Watching Seager and Bellinger should be a reminder for us all.

  12. The bull pen is a problem and will not get better with time. They need help out there and I suggest if the club stands pat with the known weakness and then fail to win it all with the BP as a big factor in losing it, then management will “own” another almost but not good enough year.

    It’s better to try (with a trade) and fail. That to fail (by standing pat) and not try.

    In my opinion there was much “whistling past the grave yard” in this article. Sort of a preemptive strike as to why doing nothing is the smart move.

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