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Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen the key to the San Francisco Giants’ dwindling playoff hopes?

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I have a good friend who’s a diehard Los Angeles Dodgers fan. I’m not necessarily proud of this fact, but it does give me a clear insight into what Dodgers fans are thinking and feeling at any point during the season.

Suffice to say, they’re feeling pretty darn smug right now.

But when not gushing over Zack Grienke’s hard sinker or “this new Cuban guy we just signed,” there is one thing about their team that makes Dodgers fans especially nervous: the bullpen. L.A.’s relievers—and Don Mattingly’s inability to manage them—have been a source of consternation for Dodgers fans for a few years now. Mattingly’s mismanagement came to a head last year with his decision not to pull a tired Clayton Kershaw in the Dodgers’ dramatic collapse against the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLDS because he allegedly didn’t trust going to the bullpen.

If the Giants hope to have any shot at the NL West title this season, they’re going to need a near historic breakdown from the Dodgers down the stretch. And the best chance for this happening starts with their bullpen.

If the Giants hope to have any shot at the NL West title this season, they’re going to need a near-historic breakdown from the Dodgers down the stretch. And the best chance for this happening starts with their bullpen.

Of course, the Dodgers have probably the best 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation of any team in baseball, but after that things get sketchy. Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, and Mat Latos (yeah, that guy), have been wholly unreliable and often struggle to last late into games, forcing Mattingly to call to the pen.

Going off ERA, the Dodgers have the 22nd ranked bullpen in the league at 4.03 while sporting an abysmal 64% save percentage. The Giants SV% sits at 79% for comparison. The Dodgers have also used 20 different relievers this season but have only received consistent performances from late reliever J.P. Howell and stud closer Kenely Jansen. Middle relievers Juan Nicasio and Pedro Baez have shown flashes of promise (as in last week’s sweep of the Giants), but are also prone to imploding and surrendering big leads (see: Thursday’s game against the Padres).

It’s worth pointing out that under former GM Ned Colleti, the Dodgers had the most expensive bullpen in the history of baseball. That turned out to be mostly a disaster, and L.A.’s new front-office looked to build this year’s bullpen on the cheap, which also was mostly a disaster. Instead of signing ultimately disappointing big-ticket names like Brian Wilson and Brandon League, the new regime added supposedly undervalued veteran arms like Joel Peralta and Jim Johnson. Both have been awful this year, especially Johnson, who holds a 13.91 ERA but still somehow manages to get innings.

Since the Dodgers failed to make any significant bullpen upgrades at the waiver deadline, this is the group they’re stuck with. Overall, the team is playing pretty excellent baseball right now, but a bullpen that struggles to hold leads in high-pressure situations could leave the door open for the Giants to make things interesting heading into that final four game series at AT&T.

And even if L.A.’s shaky bullpen isn’t enough to help the Giants claw their way back into the playoff race, Dodgers relievers should still provide Giants fans a warm, fuzzy schadenfreude when they inevitably blow it against Cardinals in this year’s NLCS.

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