LOS ANGELES — Last week provided a glimpse of what the Dodgers hope might happen in October. Otherworldly pitching and some timely hitting was enough to overcome a bullpen slip up, producing five wins in six games against a pair of fringe contenders in the National League.
*Both the Cardinals and Diamondbacks have winning percentages that start with .5, meaning thanks to the muddled NL middle they very much have a chance to play October baseball.
The Dodgers’ approach at the trade deadline wasn’t one of desperation, with their only addition a lefty specialist in groundballer Adam Kolarek from Tampa Bay. What the Dodgers did at the trade deadline was bet on their internal relief options, which could include a third straight October transition from rotation to bullpen for Kenta Maeda, and might even include one or both of Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May, the club’s top two pitching prospects who would also presumably bring their upper-90s heat from a starting role to relief.
The faith from the organization also extends to Kenley Jansen, who is no longer the dominant closer of years past. Now in his second straight season pitching as a mortal, Jansen allowed a two-run home run in the ninth inning on Friday for his fifth blown save of the season. His 83.8% conversion rate is his worst as a closer since 2012 (80.6%), with a 91.4% save rate in the six years in between.
Jansen has relied on his cut fastball to a maniacal extent throughout his career, throwing that pitch 86.8% of the time. He had great success with it, too, so it’s understandable he kept going to that well. From 2010-17, Jansen’s cutter held opposing batters to just a .175 batting average and .278 slugging percentage.
In 2018-19, batters are hitting .216 with a .428 slugging percentage against Jansen’s cutter, including .252 and .473 this year.
The new Kenley
“It’s tough in the sense that you’ve been a one-pitch pitcher your entire career, and you’re still trying to evolve, and have comfort with sequencing and keeping hitters honest,” manager Dave Roberts said. “In the early part of his career he just overpowered the league, and there was some unfamiliarity there. Now you have to continue to evolve, and that’s what players have to do.”
Evolving for Jansen means mixing in his slider — up to 11.5% usage this season, with batters just 1-for-23 against it and whiffing on 40.9% of the swings — and his two-seam fastball, a pitch he throws 11.4% with batters 3-for-16 and a 47.5% whiff rate.
But it also means making sure the cutter is still effective. That didn’t happen Friday, with Roberts describing the home run pitch as “not having any life to it.” Enter Rick Honeycutt, who worked with Jansen Saturday on some mechanical fixes in a 10-pitch bullpen session, all cutters. Jansen said the main fix was making sure to incorporate his lower half more in his delivery, something that has strayed during his most vulnerable moments.
“Right now the thing that’s really hurting me is not hitting my spots consistently like I used to,” Jansen said.
“The last couple of years have been the most difficult for him in maintaining his delivery and consistency,” Roberts said. “It’s something that he’s not afraid to put in the effort to work through it. That’s what we’re betting on.”
Jansen was right back on the mound Saturday, his first back-to-back outings in nearly three months. It was a non-save situation, but Roberts felt Jansen would improve with more regular work. Since the start of July, Jansen had two appearances on four days rest, two games on five days rest, and one on six days rest (the latter helped by the All-Star break). He got through this frame scoreless, allowing only a single.
For Jansen the regular work is just part of the process, one that includes constant video review, trying to maintain a delivery that will allow him to stay on target, and working on better pitch sequencing to keep hitters off balance. It’s less about finding the old Jansen, but rather about figuring out how the new, more ordinary Jansen can survive.
“Don’t look in the past, or what happened earlier this year. Just looking forward,” Jansen said. “Don’t think, ‘I’m close’ or whatever, just continue to improve and get better. Today was okay, it was great, but now it’s just continue to improve and find my consistency.”
Jansen is no longer the elite closer he once was. But he can still be effective, just in the way that normal, more flawed pitchers can. The Dodgers are banking on it.
The Dodgers avenged their only sweep of the season, returning the favor by winning all three games against the Cardinals. LA pitching allowed only two total runs in three games to St. Louis, a series that saw Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May each make just their second major league start. And this was their bad starting pitching series of the week.
Arizona came next, and the Dodgers won that series, too, the only loss coming with Jansen’s misstep on Friday. The week was bookended by drubbings, including four home runs on Sunday. In between the offense scuffled, but the pitching was so great that it didn’t really matter much. When you allow eight total runs in six games as a team, it’s a fantastic week.
Even though it’s early August, we are compelled to inform you that the Dodgers’ magic number to clinch a seventh consecutive National League West title is down to 25.
Batter of the week
One week ago, Joc Pederson snapped an 0-for-24 skid with a double in his final at-bat Sunday. That turned things around for the outfielder, who was 8 for 16 during the week with a home run, a double, and a .600 on-base percentage.
Honorable mention goes to Justin Turner, who homered twice Sunday, giving him nine since the All-Star break, in 114 plate appearances, compared to 10 home runs in 333 PA before the break.
Pitcher of the week
In a week chock full of worthy candidates, Kenta Maeda stood out with his best mound performance in nearly three months. Maeda entered Saturday with a 7.32 ERA since the All-Star break, and after getting chased in his previous start in the third inning he worked with Honeycutt on both a mechanical adjustment in his arm slot and on his pitch selection, mostly to throw more fastballs.
After working on what he called “a little bit of everything,” Maeda tossed seven shutout innings against Arizona, allowing only three singles while striking out six. Left-handed batters, who hit .257/.337/.442 against Maeda on the season, were just 2-for-13 (.154) against Maeda on Saturday.
“With Kenta we use the word conviction a lot, with all of his pitches,” Roberts said. “When he is throwing [the fastball], the execution was there. You could see it against the left-handers especially, whether they were taking a fastball or late on the fastball. His fastball has life.”
With two total runs allowed by the starters in six games, there is plenty of honorable mentioning to go around. We’ll settle here for Hyun-jin Ryu (seven scoreless innings Sunday) and Tony Gonsolin (six scoreless on Monday, in his first home start).
Week 20 results
28 runs scored (4.67 per game)
8 runs allowed (1.33 per game)
.908 pythagorean record
Season to date
648 runs scored (5.40 per game)
456 runs allowed (3.80 per game)
.655 pythagorean record (79-41)
Everything comes ...: Noted Dodgers destroyer (and really, noted every team killer) Paul Goldschmidt was 0 for 11 against the Dodgers in the three games in Los Angeles last week, just his second hitless series against the Dodgers in his career (also: May 1-3, 2018 with Arizona). Goldschmidt is 0 for his last 17 against the Dodgers, and finished 2019 just 2 for 26 (.077) with a home run against them. He entered the season hitting .304/.378/.556 against LA.
... at a price: While the Dodgers were able to buck the odds and neutralize Goldschmidt this season, they haven’t been able to contain one of the players traded for Goldschmidt. Carson Kelly hit a game-tying home run off Kenley Jansen on Friday night — his second such shot against Jansen this season — and then homered again in the 11th to deliver the Dodgers’ only loss of the week. Kelly is hitting .258/.324/.613 with three home runs against Los Angeles in 2019, and if you think about him as extending the Goldschmidt chain of domination it makes much more sense.
Stop and pop: Russell Martin threw out Jarrod Dyson trying to steal second base on Saturday. It was only Martin’s third caught stealing in 20 attempts against him this season, but was impressive nonetheless.
Dodgers challenge call that Jarrod Dyson is safe at 2B in the 4th; call overturned, runner is out. Powered by @Mitel. pic.twitter.com/qGJ6qjHouo— MLB Replays (@MLBReplays) August 11, 2019
Russell Martin caught Jarrod Dyson stealing second in the fourth inning (with help from a slick tag by Corey Seager). Russell's pop time to second was 1.87 seconds -- tied for the fastest by any Dodgers catcher since Statcast started tracking in 2015.— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) August 11, 2019
It was just the ninth time Arizona has been caught stealing all year, in 76 attempts. Dyson was 25 for 27 in steals before that out.
Tuesday: Alex Verdugo was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained oblique, and is expected to miss at least two weeks if not more. Tony Gonsolin was optioned to Triple-A one day after his gem. Recalled from Oklahoma City were Edwin Rios and Caleb Ferguson.
Sunday: Hyun-jin Ryu was activated from the injured list on his first day eligible, and Casey Sadler was optioned to Triple-A.
- Monday: Dodgers 8. Cardinals 0
- Tuesday: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 1
- Wednesday: Dodgers 2, Cardinals 1
- Friday: Diamondbacks 3, Dodgers 2 (11)
- Saturday: Dodgers 4, Diamondbacks 0
- Sunday: Dodgers 9, Diamondbacks 3
Week 20 batting
Week 20 pitching
Previous weeks in review: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19
The week ahead
The Dodgers are back on the road this week, running the Mike Mordecai gauntlet with three games each in Miami and Atlanta. The TBS broadcast on Sunday will be blacked out in the Los Angeles market.
Week 21 schedule
|Mon, Aug 12||Tue, Aug 13||Wed, Aug 14||Thu, Aug 15||Fri, Aug 16||Sat, Aug 17||Sun, Aug 18|
|Mon, Aug 12||Tue, Aug 13||Wed, Aug 14||Thu, Aug 15||Fri, Aug 16||Sat, Aug 17||Sun, Aug 18|
|Off||at Marlins||at Marlins||at Marlins||at Braves||at Braves||at Braves|
|4:10 p.m.||4:10 p.m.||12:05 p.m.||4:20 p.m.||4:20 p.m.||10:20 a.m.|
|Kershaw v.||May v.||Buehler v.||Maeda v.||Ryu v.||Kershaw v.|