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This Dodgers Bullpen is Better Suited for October Success

2019, despite ups and downs, superior to 2018 squad.

Joe Kelly reacts to closing out a ballgame at Dodger Stadium.

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. 

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. 

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.

Written by Marshall Garvey

8 Comments

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  1. “He deserves praise for wisely staying away from Vazquez, but his vindication with the relief corps will only be determined next month.”

    What an absurd statement.

    Wisely? How about, “luckily.”

    The Dodgers spent hours on the phone, over several days, trying to acquire Vazquez. This is like praising somebody for not buying a ticket on the Titanic, the safest ship that had been built at that point in world history.

    • I guess I chose to forget that. You’ve got me there, but I am just relieved that didn’t work out in any case. Thank god the Pirates wouldn’t budge on Lux!

      At that time, though, I did voice frustration more over the fact that the urgency for bullpen help was created by Friedman’s bad track record leading up to it. Still upset we didn’t get Ryan Pressly last year but, as I say here, the chips may have fallen into place.

  2. And ultimately you can praise Friedman for not meeting that high asking price, despite many insisting he go all-in.

    • Marshall, from what I understood was that all the other team’s GM’s told Freidman that if Lux is not part of any deal, then no deal at all. At this point no team is going to ask for anything less even come this off season.

  3. Marshall, yes Vazquez would of ended up being a blunder. Kind of like how the Floro and Houston thing went right? Personally I wasn’t only fixated on Vazquez, as the Braves go Green from Detroit,Melancon was available, the lefty that went to the A’s..Greinke apparently was available, and there are many more that could have Helped. What I will say for friedman so far, is he kept May, and so far May looks like the Next Bob Welch…At least let us pray he is, and let us also Pray he doesn’t get given to the A’s for a box of rocks because Friedman won’t pay him come time.

  4. The 7th, 8th, & 9th innings are what I called the “Home Run Derby Zone” for Dodgers relievers. Come playoff time facing the other division winners, any of these guys could easily give up a home run at anytime:

    Kenley Jansen, Dylan Floro, Yimi Garcia, Kenta Maeda, & Ross Stripling. Call the fire truck.

  5. Brandon, don’t forget Baez and Kelly they also have been known to let em fly…As long as any of these guys don’t walk someone like all of them seem to be doing lately. I say make
    Kenley the 6th guy, Gonsolin the 7th, May the 8th and Baez 9th. Depending on strength on lineup and also who each team has on the bench, keep Kelly and ferguson and Maeda and Kalorek for situational.

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