Sunday, June 22, 2014

It all could come down to the bullpen for the Dodgers

One night after Kenley Jansen's horrific blown save against the Padres, the Dodgers bounced right back behind seven shutout innings from Josh Beckett.  Saturday was a solid night, as Dee Gordon scored twice and stole his 39th base, Hanley Ramirez drove in two, and Justin Turner had two hits.  Jansen even got the save, regaining some momentum from the night before.

The Dodgers have been better in June with an 11-8 record, but one issue remains that could hold them back: the bullpen has got to get better.

The last two games in San Diego are the perfect example.  Friday night was just brutal to watch.  Dan Haren was pretty good, giving the Dodgers 5 2/3 innings for three runs.  J.P. Howell and Brandon League both got a couple of outs to get into the eighth up 5-3.

Before the season, if you were to be told that the Dodgers have a two-run lead heading into the eighth, you would've been happy since Brian Wilson and Jansen were coming in.  But reality has been much different than on paper, and both have underachieved.

Wilson was very fortunate to escape the eighth unharmed, as Scott Van Slyke, subbing for an injured Yasiel Puig, made a great running catch in right to prevent a run from being scored.

Then Jansen blew the save in the ninth, getting knocked all over the place, and raising his ERA from 3.72 to 4.55 in the process.

On Saturday night, the Dodgers found themselves up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth.  Don Mattingly rightfully didn't put Wilson back in there, but Paul Maholm gave up a leadoff triple to Cameron Maybin, and a two-out walk to Seth Smith.  League came in and immediately let both runs score on two singles.  Thankfully Jansen was much better in closing it out the next inning.

Right now, the bullpen is clearly sticking out as the weak link.  The offense looks better with guys like Gordon, Hanley, and Matt Kemp swinging the bats better.  The defense has settled in, save for Hanley's error during Clayton Kershaw's (almost) perfect game.  The starting rotation has been superb all along.

Then there's the bullpen, which still can't seem to figure things out.  Ideally, Wilson should've been one of the top setup men in baseball, but that certainly hasn't been the case.  His ERA has actually gone way down to 5.33, but an enormous 1.89 WHIP shows that way too many men reach base against him.  He looks like he's ready to implode at any point again.

The guys behind him have been a mixed bag as well.  The best has been Howell with a 1.89 ERA and 16 holds.  League had a good stretch to lower his ERA to 2.21, but still doesn't look comfortable in tight situations late in games.  Chris Perez has been awful with a 5.61 ERA, and doesn't deserve any big innings at all.

Jamey Wright has been good with a 2.43 ERA, although his role is hard to figure out since he was supposed to be a long reliever.  Does Donny strictly keep him for that role, or use him as a setup man occasionally?  It's a tough call.  The other long reliever, Maholm, looks lost with a 5.04 ERA.  I wonder if he'll be sent packing.

Two guys relied upon for most of last year were Chris Withrow and Paco Rodriguez.  Well, Withrow is done for the year with Tommy John surgery, and Paco is in Triple-A.

Jansen is going through some tough times for the first time in his career.  He used to just show up, blow everyone away, then leave.  Now, it looks as if hitters are more comfortable against him, and know what to expect.  Supposedly there was a mechanical flaw that was being worked on after Friday's meltdown, so maybe that will work.  I still think he needs to mix his pitches up more as I've said for awhile now.  Mariano Rivera he is not, so throwing the same cutter over and over won't work all the time.  It's time to accept some change.

I definitely expect Ned Colletti to be active over the next month-and-a-half in acquiring relief help.  I can't imagine they can continue to watch games like these last two nights where the offense and starting pitching gets a lead, and they have to scratch and claw to hold on.  That's pretty frustrating.

For in-house replacements, there's guys down at Triple-A like Paco, Jose Dominguez, and Pedro Baez who could get another shot in LA.  Don't forget about those names.

The bottom line is that the Dodgers need to try something new with the 'pen.  Most guys haven't pulled their weight, so some fresh arms will only do them good.  We all know Colletti isn't afraid to pull the trigger on trades and roster moves, so keep an eye out for what happens.  It should be interesting.

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