Since taking over as President of Baseball Operations in 2014, Andrew Friedman has been resourceful and brilliant in assembling every last part of the roster. But if there’s one area where he doesn’t get a passing grade, it’s the bullpen. As I observed a few months ago, his track record is mixed at best.
2019 has furthered that frustration, As the playoffs near, many fans are dreading trying to capture those 11 wins once again with what seems like an underwhelming pen. Friedman drew much derision for not making an all-in move at the deadline to improve it. In one instance, though, that proved a blessing.
Yet the fatigue amongst the Dodger faithful belies the reality that this bullpen may in fact work just fine this October. At the bare minimum, they are stronger in this area than they were in 2018. It’s not the best they’ve had in this run, as they had a truly lockdown relief crops top to bottom in 2017.
Brandon Morrow pitched in 14 of Dodgers' 15 postseason games, including all 7 in World Series. "Whenever the phone rang, I threw the ball."
— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) November 2, 2017
But the 2019 squad could be the one that gets it done, against all odds. First, they stand to benefit from a surplus of starting pitching. Kenta Maeda, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias, and potentially even Rich Hill can all provide long innings, with Maeda and Urias boasting superb playoff records in relief.
Tuesday’s game in San Diego provided a potential blueprint for how a game four of any series can be won, starting with Hill’s fiery determination and effectively doing a bullpen game thereafter.
Floro aside this is a blueprint for how to do game four this postseason. Also, will Kelly be ready for October?
— Marshall Garvey (@MarshallGarvey) September 25, 2019
The pen has also been quietly boosted by an overlooked acquisition. Lost in the then-furor over not getting Felipe Vasquez was lefty Adam Kolarek coming over from Tampa Bay. In his time in Dodger Blue, he’s gone 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA and 0.882 WHIP. Caleb Ferguson’s recent uptick also makes him a viable lefty candidate for October.
Lastly, there should be more optimism over the 2019 pen due to what isn’t there as much as what is there. Last year, the Dodgers tried to win a World Series with Scott Alexander as the core lefty and Dylan Floro as a late-innings righty. Especially after Alexander nearly blowing game three, and the two of them combining to squander game four, this is truly laughable in retrospect.
This year, the team has Kolarek in place of Alexander, and Joe Kelly (given he’s healthy) over Floro. Other names responsible for ballooning the team’s bullpen ERA this season like Yimi Garcia, J.T. Chargois and Zac Rosscup won’t be there either.
This isn’t a mea culpa admitting I’m wrong about criticizing the majority of Friedman’s bullpen moves. He did a poor job constructing last year’s pen, and it fell apart in the World Series. It’s reasonable to think he could have been more proactive since the 2017 off-season. He deserves praise for wisely staying away from Vazquez, but his vindication with the relief corps will only be determined next month.
The only big concern is the closer’s role. I’ve already said Kenley Jansen should be on a short leash this postseason, and I stand by that. After a back-and-forth season that yielded a career-high in blown saves, it’s unreasonable to think he’ll just suddenly plow through October like he did in 2016.
I do not disagree with anyone doubting October because of Jansen’s struggles, especially if Roberts sticks with him unconditionally when he shouldn’t. But altogether, the bullpen has the potential to prove a quiet strength in the pursuit of title #7 next month.