Sunday, October 5, 2014

Through two games, middle relief is still a big problem

The Dodgers are fortunate to be even at 1-1 in the NLDS, as they can thank Zack Greinke and Matt Kemp for stepping up big in Game 2.

Who has not stepped up big?  Middle relief, as they have once again been exposed as the true weakness of the Dodgers.

Even when guys like Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell aren't in the game, they're still impacting it in a big way.  Take Game 1, for example.  With a tiring and suddenly ineffective Clayton Kershaw hobbling in the seventh, Don Mattingly left him in to try and get through it.  Well, it clearly didn't work, and the Dodgers ended up blowing a big lead and losing.

Why was Kershaw left in?  Mostly because he's Clayton Freakin' Kershaw, but that's not the only reason.  The other one was because there's basically no one to turn to in that spot.  Kenley Jansen is the closer, so you can take him out of the equation.  The rest are either young, unproven arms, or veterans whose best days are clearly behind them.

When one of those middle relievers did get into the game, the result was horrible.  Pedro Baez got the call in the seventh with two outs and the Cardinals up 7-6.  He immediately walked Randal Grichuk, then watched Matt Holliday wallop a three-run shot into left measured at 410 feet.  That proved to be the fatal blow.

On Sunday night in Game 2, it was Howell's turn to flounder.  The lefty faced three straight lefties, and here were the results: single by Oscar Taveras, two-run homer by Matt Carpenter, single by Jon Jay.  And that was it.

The Dodgers have at least gotten a few outs from Brandon League (4) and Scott Elbert (2) without giving up runs, but the rest has been terrible.  Baez and Howell each have ERAs of 27.00, while guys like Jamey Wright, Carlos Frias, and Wilson haven't gotten in yet.  But it's not like they've given anyone much of a reason to put them in.

Fair or not, Mattingly has made the wrong decision with his bullpen in both games, as it's allowed the Cardinals to climb back into each one.  Baez tried to overpower Holliday, and it didn't work.  Howell has clearly regressed from earlier in the year and can no longer get big outs.  Opposing hitters just sit back and tee off of him.

What can be done?  For starters, Howell should not be in there in situations like Sunday.  Elbert has barely pitched this year, but so what?  He's on the roster for a reason, has better stuff, and should be given the chance in those spots.

For Game 3, I would make sure Wright, Frias, and Dan Haren are all ready to go when needed.  Hyun-Jin Ryu is making his first start since September 12, and even that lasted only one inning.  Mattingly shouldn't hesitate to give the ball to one of these three to start an inning where they'd probably be most comfortable, especially for a starter like Haren.

And no, I would not under any circumstances advocate using Wilson as a late-inning answer.  He's been the wrong answer all season long.

If the Dodgers survive this round and Howell still can't get anyone out, then I would yank him for Paco Rodriguez in the NLCS.  But that's down the line, so let's take care of the Cardinals first.

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