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?
What happens if the Dodgers don't/can't make a trade?
With so many teams in the wild card hunt, it feels like no one wants to sell right now… & if they do, they're asking a lot — everyone wants to gut LA's farm system as much as possible.
Can this team stand pat and survive?
— Clint Pasillas (FRG) (@realFRG) July 21, 2019
Would it be time to panic? Would the Dodgers’ World Series hopes be dead before the first playoff game?
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.
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:
More Jansen: “I’m just trying to have fun again and just trying to get that attitude again to put a stop to it when hitters are trying to hurt me out there. I’m sick and tired of it. Now is the time to just go get it and get what we want to get.”
— Doug Padilla (@DougPadilla) July 20, 2019
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.
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) July 22, 2019
That’s essentially another good playoff starting rotation, not as elite, but certainly decent and certainly an upgrade to any bullpen.
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.