The Dodgers bullpen remains to be one of the biggest concerns of the team this season — certainly more than the starting rotation and position players. Like any pitching staff, they have their ups and downs, but their depth gives them the option to experiment and get creative with the players’ roles.
With Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler probably making the starting rotation, it leaves nine spots to be filled up by the bullpen (assuming the Dodgers go with 12 pitchers). Though a few question marks remain about who will ultimately make it on the 25-man, there are several names who are almost guaranteed locks.
Kenley Jansen, though he has gone through his fair share of struggles, will likely make the roster and be the go-to closer. The right hander tallied 33 saves in 2019 while blowing a career-high eight saves. Still, skipper Dave Roberts remains confident Jansen can perform when necessary. When Jansen is not closing out games, he can also be used strategically based on specific matchups.
In last year’s postseason, Jansen was nearly untouchable in the NLDS and NLCS. Combined, he pitched 6 2⁄3 scoreless innings, allowing only two hits while dealing 10 strikeouts. It wasn’t until the World Series that he got into a bit of trouble. The then 31-year-old closer blew a pair of saves in Game 3 and 4, each in the form of an eighth inning home run. The Dodgers ultimately came back to win Game 3 after a long 18-inning battle, but they dropped Game 4 after thee Red Sox rallied in the following inning.
It’s obvious that Jansen won’t be available to appear in every game this month, so there are a couple players who could step up to fill in his position as necessary.
Joe Kelly — assuming he’s healthy — could very well be turned to for finishing off opponents. He makes short and sweet appearances, with one inning being his average. With the Red Sox in the 2019 World Series, he was the Dodgers’ worst nightmare — he shut down the offense in high-leverage situations, becoming a vital piece to the Red Sox’s success. In total against LA in the Fall Classic, he pitched six scoreless innings, only allowing four hits to get by him while raking up 10 strikeouts.
Another option is Julio Urías. The Mexico native is the utility man of the pitching staff, as he is able to fit into different roles as needed. In addition to being the long innings guy, Urías can be the setup man as well as the closer. Though his expertise lies as a starting pitcher, his role in the 2019 postseason will be out of the bullpen. The young pitcher has experience pitching in the playoffs, and his track record isn’t too shabby. In 2018, he appeared in seven games across the NLCS and World Series, combining to allow four hits and two runs over 6 1⁄3 innings of work.
Another lock to make the postseason roster is Pedro Baez, who is one of the more reliable relievers on the Dodgers squad. He is coming off of a stellar September where he earned a 0.91 ERA. He pitched 9 1⁄3 innings and only allowed one run in the entire month. It must be the Fall season he likes, since he pitched quite well last October. In 10 games last year (across all three series), he pitched 11 1⁄3 innings and allowed two earned runs while striking out 14 batters. It’s really the home runs that get him down, so as long as he limits the long ball, he will be lights out.
Next is Rich Hill, who is will likely get the nod for Game 4 of the NLDS if it’s necessary. He’s included in this preview, since he will only be held to about 3-4 innings, due to his knee injury and not being built up completely. It’s likely Urías will be the one to provide long innings after a Hill outing.
Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda will be the starters-turned-relievers, as per usual in the postseason.
Earlier this month, Dave Roberts confirmed Stripling will pitch out of the bullpen come October, which means I can assume he’s a lock. It will be his first postseason since 2017, after being left off the roster last season due to a crowded bullpen and pitching struggles. Stripling, 29, has flip-flopped between being a starter and a reliever this season, proving he is ready and willing to provide the team with whatever they need out of him. With the exception of a rough outing on Sept. 25 in San Diego, he is coming out of a decently successful month. He pitched 14 innings and allowed 13 hits, one walk and four runs while delivering 17 Ks.
Maeda will look to continue his October success as he enters his third season as a postseason reliever. His usual role is to provide the team with a shutdown inning in each outing. In last year’s NLDS against the Braves, he made one appearance — a scoreless inning. He performed well in the World Series, combining to allow four hits, one run and six strikeouts over three games.
Now that seven of the nine bullpen spots are filled, questions remain as to who will get the last two jobs.
Adam Kolarek has potential of making the roster as the Dodgers’ lefty specialist. He has a clear-cut role on the squad, making calculated, one-off appearances against left handers. The last pitching spot will likely be a battle between Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Caleb Ferguson. The two Dodgers rookies will provide the team with more versatility, since they have both bullpen and starting pitching experience, but Ferguson would provide the Dodgers with a strong lefty arm.
This is a decision that can fully depend on who wins the NL Wild Card, but Dave Roberts sure has a lot of factors to weigh. The official NLDS roster will likely be announced the morning of Game 1 on Oct. 3. True Blue LA will provide up-to-date postseason coverage straight from Dodger Stadium.