There is always a recurring thing that happens whenever the Los Angeles Dodgers steps in the bright lights of postseason baseball: in the biggest stage, they falter. Most will just easily point their fingers to Clayton Kershaw, who suddenly turns human in October after being a demi-god from March through September.
However, it is really also very easy to point to the inability for the Dodgers bullpen to close out games, most especially the tightest ones. When Kenley Jansen was considered a top-5 reliever in baseball a few years ago, there was nobody else to lock down the 7th and 8th innings that Dodger fans will just sit back and chill. When Jansen fell off the cliff both velocity-wise and performance-wise in 2018 and 2019, it left them much more vulnerable as there was literally no unreliable relievers aside from Jansen other than Pedro Baez. Also, Jansen was also pretty infamous for blowing late leads in the postseason, especially in the past couple of years.
After winning the NL West once again this year, Dodgers starting rotation is not going to be a big issue for them heading to the postseason as they are still as loaded as anyone in baseball with Walker Buehler leading the charge. The lineup also will not be an issue as well with the addition of superstar Mookie Betts. However, this year marked the first time that the Dodgers bullpen looked dominant as well. Playing against the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wildcard Series in a new, 16-team playoff format, it will definitely be an easier affair with stud rookie reliever Devin Williams out for the series.
While the game was shadowed by the fiesta known as the Yankees vs. Indians Game 2, the game was still considered as a tight game heading into the 5th after Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia hit a two-out, two-run home run off Buehler in the 4th inning.
After being pushed hard by the Brewer hitters that resulted to his his pitch count already at 73 pitches after just 4 innings of work, Buehler was pulled out of the game. Previous year’s Dodgers will shudder when they see their ace hitting the showers after just 4 innings of work and the Brewers lineup, while not being world-beaters in 2020 as they only ranked 24th best in all of baseball in batting WAR according to FanGraphs, are still going to see 5 innings worth of Dodgers bullpen.
However, this is not your older brother’s Dodgers that we are speaking of. This is the 2020 Dodgers bullpen that we are mentioning. First, let’s take a look at where the Dodgers bullpen square up against their competition this year:
The Dodgers bullpen as a whole did not get a ton of strikeouts this year but they sure induced soft contact and not allow any free passes, result to their dominance at that front this year. In the 5th inning, lefty Julio Urias entered the fray and while Betts got the ball rolling with his 2 doubles against Brewers starter Brent Suter, it was Urias who stole the show and was considered as the game’s MVP, pitching 3 shutout innings of 3-hit ball with no walks and 5 strikeouts.
He definitely did not want to make it clean today, as he had a Brewer reach base in every inning that he faced. However, he did not seem fazed whatsoever, getting out of the inning unscathed, getting Tyrone Taylor to pop out to end his 3 innings of masterful work, pumping his mid-90s gas and flipping his hammer curveball.
Afterwards, it was the combination of Blake Treinen and Jansen to close out the final two innings. While both relievers had runners on base in their outings, the game did not feel as tense as it usually was in years past as both got out of the inning without allowing a runner in scoring position, with Jansen striking out Christian Yelich in the final frame to earn the save.
Both enjoyed a resurgent 2020, with Jansen posting his lowest hard hit rate and lowest exit velocity induced via Statcast and Treinen pitching like he was the star closer that he was for the Athletics a couple of years ago. Jansen credited his resurgence by taking a sabbatical to the Northwest with Driveline Baseball and leaning less on his cutter and firing more four-seamers in the upper third of the strike zone. Treinen also posted his lowest exit velocity induced this year where he leaned on his slider much more this year as opposed to his cutter.
There are also more success stories this year out of the Dodgers bullpen such as Jake McGee who like Treinen enjoyed a resurgence, young fireballer Brusdar Graterol, sidewinding lefty Adam Koralek, Caleb Ferguson who had his best season cut short by undergoing Tommy John surgery, Dylan Floro who bounced back after a tough 2019, the always fiery Joe Kelly and others. After fielding a concoction of different relievers from left and right over the past couple of years to have better depth in their bullpen, this year’s version certainly hit the right notes and while the back-half of the game featured a Brewer on base, it seemed like they got that game in the bag. To be honest, it felt boring, but hey, this is boring in a good way!
|RP WAR Rank||T-6th||3rd (1.5 WAR behind 2nd)||21st||9th||3rd (0.1 WAR behind 2nd)|
It might seem be overreaction after just one game after what is considered to be a pretty spotty lineup, but this year’s Dodgers is the most complete that I have seen them so far. They got a stud rotation, a world-beating lineup, and finally, a stud bullpen. They say bullpen wins championships in baseball (take it from a Giants fan), and finally, it looks like the Dodgers finally found the missing piece of the puzzle in order for them to get over their three decades-long title drought.
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