Grade Of The Week: Kershaw Returns As Trouble In The Bullpen Persists

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The Los Angeles Dodgers finished up their rainy, nine-game road trip this week, but the gloom seemed to follow them as they returned to southern California for a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants. Nearly two months into the regular season, the Dodger bullpen remains one of the team’s biggest problems. Although Clayton Kershaw’s return to the rotation is a success within itself, the team won just two of their seven games this week and needs to find stability within their bullpen in order to climb back to the top of their division.

Grade of the week: D+

The good: Kershaw returned to the rotation and threw seven shutout innings in his first start back, and for just one game, everything began to feel right in the world. Logging one of the two Dodgers wins this week, the ace’s return was the breath of fresh air the team needed amidst their shaky road trip. However, in Kershaw’s start on Sunday, he gave up an uncharacteristic three runs, including a two-run home run to Brandon Hicks on an 0-2 curveball. Despite the costly blunder, having Kershaw back will be crucial to the team’s success moving forward.

Additionally, the outfield seems to be stabilizing as Don Mattingly has made it clear that Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig should be every day guys, which means Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier will be splitting time in left field. Puig has been a force to be reckoned with this past week and Kemp has been asserting his dominance at the plate in his at-bats. Although there is not complete consistency in the outfield with Crawford and Ethier platooning, the team is making progress toward a more regular lineup.

The bad: The Dodgers have lost both of their extra-inning games against the Giants this week, and their bullpen takes heavy blame for the losses. On Sunday, after Hanley Ramirez hit a huge two-run game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, Kenley Jansen entered the game and logged just one out while being charged for three earned runs. Even after Jansen was replaced by J.P. Howell, the left-hander threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded that allowed a run to score in the disastrous inning.

In Friday’s game, the combination of Jamey Wright and Howell fatefully loaded the bases in the top of the 10th with just one out as the Giants capitalized on the relievers’ mistakes. Even during Kershaw’s wonderful first outing back on Tuesday, Chris Perez gave up three runs but was saved thanks to the fact that the Dodgers had scored seven runs earlier in the game.

Although pitchers such as Brandon League are faring well, the bullpen is crumbling in crucial situations. On a positive note, Brian Wilson logged three scoreless innings this week. League was the only other reliever to not give up any runs last week.

The Dodgers may also be facing some issues with their depth at third after Juan Uribe left Friday’s game early with a hamstring injury. Justin Turner has been carrying most of the workload in Uribe’s absence although he has gone just 2-for-9. Meanwhile, Chone Figgins was close to useless in his outings, going just 1-for-6 with three strikeouts, including a fielding error. With that being said, fans will be eagerly waiting as the organization makes a decision on whether or not Uribe will go on the disabled list.

Overall: The Dodgers’ bullpen has currently given up the most runs in the league so far this season, and these troubles are especially daunting as they managed to win just one game out of a four-game series against their heated rivals. If the team wants to fully reap the benefits of having their ace back, their relievers need to step up their game.
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