The Dodgers season ended on a sour note on Saturday night, as nearly all non-championship years do, but if there was any silver lining from Game 6 against the Cubs it was Kenley Jansen concluding his dominant 2016 campaign with another superb outing in relief.
Jansen pitched the final three innings on Saturday, retiring all nine batters he faced, including four by strikeout. It ended a remarkable 10-day run for Jansen that saw him...
- record the longest save of his career (2 innings, in Game 2 of the NLCS)
- pitch the longest outing of his career (3 innings in Game 6 of the NLCS)
- throw his most pitches in any outing (51 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, at 2⅓ innings the second-longest outing of his career)
In between, he also had a four-out outing in Game 3 of the NLCS, striking out two to close out that contest. In those last 10 days, Jansen pitched 8⅔ innings, tied with Rich Hill for second-most on the staff, allowed no runs, struck out 14 and threw 120 pitches.
“I’m really proud of Kenley's growth and just really solidifying as an elite closer in the game, there just should be no mistake now and on the biggest stage to go out there and throw three innings and to be so unselfish and to be dominant, says a lot about his character and obviously his skill set,” manager Dave Roberts said in his postgame press conference.
After holding opposing batters to just .150/.194/.252 during the regular season — second-lowest OPS allowed in baseball, minimum 30 innings, behind Zach Britton — Jansen saw postseason batters hit .125/.239/.250 against him.
The Cubs were 1-for-20 (.050) with 10 strikeouts against Jansen.
Jansen put up a 3.09 ERA in 11⅔ innings during the postseason, and his 19 strikeouts tied (with Rich Hill) for ninth-most by a Dodger in any one postseason. The top eight pitchers on the list, and 26 of the top 27, are all starters.
“Without [Kenley] and core at the back end, our season would have been dramatically different,” Roberts said.
After six outings longer than one inning during the regular season, Jansen had five such outings in the postseason.
"It gave me more confidence, knowing I can pitch two, three innings. It will help me grow I'm proud of myself. I'm just going to stay hungrier and hungrier,” Jansen told Alanna Rizzo on SportsNet LA after Game 6. “Now it's the offseason. I just have to go take care of my body, get stronger, and try to do better next year.”
The big question of course is just where Jansen will pitch next season and beyond. He will become a free agent after the World Series, and after posting another dominant season -- 1.83 ERA, 1.44 FIP, 47 saves, 104 strikeouts, 11 walks in 68⅔ innings — Jansen is about to become a very rich man.
Back before he came to terms on a 2016 contract, avoiding arbitration, I looked at what a multi-year deal for Jansen might look like. I still believe what I wrote then — that at his combination of age and relatively low career workload, Jansen is as good of a risk as any reliever for a long-term contract, and with his continued elite performance in 2016 Jansen will be highly coveted as a free agent.
Not that he was necessarily thinking about that on Saturday.
"We just wanted to win the championship bad for the city LA, but we fell short,” Jansen told Rizzo. “My mind is still on that, so it still hasn't kicked in, what's going to happen in the future.”