Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dare I say the Dodgers' bullpen is putting it all together?

If the past week is any indication, then the answer is an emphatic "YES."

After Brett Anderson dazzled with 10 strikeouts in seven innings of one-run ball, Adam Liberatore and the returning Pedro Baez each struck out the side in the last two innings, and the Dodgers cruised to a 7-1 win in Miami.  It helped that the Marlins looked completely incompetent at times, and that their big superstar Giancarlo Stanton broke a bone in his left hand during the game.  But the Dodgers looked really good nonetheless.

We all know the book on beating the Dodgers: get their starter out of there early enough to attack their middle relief.  If you can't do that, then forget about it, because Kenley Jansen is as good as it gets at the end of the game.  For much of the season, the Dodgers looked helpless at times in getting the ball to Jansen.

Maybe that's finally turning around, as over the last seven days, the bullpen has been nearly flawless.  Yimi Garcia, J.P. Howell, Matt West, Juan Nicasio, and Jansen have all pitched at least a couple of innings without being scored on.  Baez made his return on Friday and was perfect, blowing away the three Marlins he faced.

Liberatore has bounced back from a rough start in June to lower his ERA to 2.82.  Joel Peralta is also back, and has two straight scoreless appearances.

Add it all up, and for the first time in quite awhile, the Dodgers have to be feeling good about their options in innings 6-8.  There's been so many moving parts this year that it's hard to pinpoint the exact roles for each, but here's what I would do if I'm Don Mattingly:

6th - 8th Innings: Garcia, Howell, Nicasio
8th Inning: Liberatore, Peralta, Baez
9th Inning: Jansen (duh)

I'll leave Liberatore in the late-inning role right now only for matchups.  Peralta was brought in to be that setup guy, but as long as Baez throws that hard and effectively as he showed Friday night, he deserves some chances as well. 

Nicasio was never meant to be playing such a big role, but much to his credit, he's been fantastic with a 1.78 ERA.  I think he'd be good as a bridge in the earlier innings to the setup and closer.  That can easily change if the other guys flop.

The bullpen has been maligned at various points this year, but if you're looking at the bottom line, it's that they're third in the NL in ERA (2.96) and K's (236), and second in BAA (.219).  That's pretty darn good. 

With healthier arms now, those numbers could get even better soon.

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