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Dodgers succeeding despite bullpen woes

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Helps us Craig Kimbrel, you’re our only hope

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers are good. They’re on a 103-win pace. And despite some injuries to the offense and starting pitching staff, other players have stepped up.

That brings me to the bullpen.

Man, where to begin? After years of having one of the top bullpens in baseball, the Dodgers are squarely in the middle of the pack in 2019, without many signs of improvement coming.

Kenley Jansen is pitching a bit better than last season, but we may have seen the last of “best closer in MLB” Kenley. Especially with his home run problem. Dylan Floro, before Wednesday night’s poor outing, was sporting a sub-0.50 ERA. Pedro Baez has been the best reliever (by fWAR), but even he can’t pick up enough slack for some of the guys who are struggling.

Scott Alexander has a decent ERA and FIP, but his ground ball rate is down 5 percent from last season. He’s missing fewer bats and, in fact, may not be the next prime-Zack Britton. Caleb Ferguson has dealt with a sore oblique already this season, but he’s done a complete 180 from his outstanding rookie season. He has an ugly 6.47 FIP, isn’t commanding his pitches and is giving up far too much loud contact. Yimi Garcia has been relegated to (mostly) mop-up duty and probably isn’t long for the 25-man roster.

And then we have Joe Kelly.

One of the Dodgers’ big free-agent signings. He got off to an abysmal start and has rebounded ... but only a little bit. His 7.79 ERA and 4.48 FIP are quite bad and it turns out he isn’t the guy who mowed through the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series.

So, what’s the fix?

Ross Stripling is pitching out of the ‘pen now, but he could be back in the rotation at a moment’s notice if one of the five starters get hurt. Julio Urías is back from administrative leave, but it may not be wise to count on him since we don’t know what the outcome of MLB and law enforcement’s investigation will be. Dennis Santana and JT Chargois are in Triple-A, but Santana is struggling a bit as a starter and Chargois is only effective against right-handed hitters. Maybe Josh Sborz gets an extended look at some time, but he’s not going to be the savior of the bullpen. The same could be said for Jaime Schultz. Tony Cingrani could come back and be the guy the Dodgers traded for in July 2017, but he’s been dealing with a sore shoulder for the better part of a year, so it remains to be seen how he is when he comes back.

That leads us to the most obvious answer: Craig Kimbrel. The Dodgers — and 20 other teams — will probably be burning up David Meter’s phone once the amateur draft passes (June 3-5), because teams won’t have to give up a draft pick and international slot money to sign the 30-year-old reliever on a Hall of Fame trajectory. I’m not sure if they’ll make a big play for him, but he’s out there.

Aside from aggressive promoting some minor-leaguers, the fix might have to come via the trade market. It’s a bit early in the season to really go too deep into trade possibilities, but there could be some solid arms available in the next 6-to-8 weeks.

The bullpen has a chance to be good, but it hasn’t been thus far. The Dodgers have been able to weather that, but it isn’t a sustainable strategy. Something will have to improve before the July 31 trade deadline. And remember, there are no waiver trades anymore, so virtually any bullpen help from outside the organization has to be acquired in the next nine or so weeks.

Just think how good this team would be with a better crop of relievers ...