The Los Angeles Dodgers are rocketing toward their 10th consecutive MLB postseason berth. As of this writing, the Dodgers are 18 games up in the NL West standings and have the best record in baseball. Come October, the Dodgers can rise to the occasion and taste glory if one component of the roster can be lights out.
If the Dodgers are going to win their second World Series in three years. then it will be the bullpen that will be the key to their title run.
In the modern game, you no longer see that many starters chew up innings. Teams now carry relievers for all occasions. Managers have a myriad of ways to finish a game, and in October it’s no different.
In the last five World Series, the winning team has relied more and more on their bullpen to get 27 outs. The winning team’s starters accounted for 60% of the wins, but pitched just 52% of the innings. That means, while starters got the credit, it was the bullpen protecting those wins.
Last year’s World Series champs, the Atlanta Braves, had their pitchers split the four wins, but the bullpen accounted for 32.1 innings while the starters handled just 20.2. When the Dodgers won in 2020, the bullpen handled more of the innings (28) compared to the starters (25.2). In essence, the bullpen needs to be near-bulletproof.
This October will likely be no different for the Dodgers. When the 2022 season started, LA was looking to rely on Walker Beuhler, Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw to be the main anchors of their starting staff … but in late August, it’s looking very different.
This past week, Beuhler was shut down for the season after the team announced he needs elbow surgery. Kershaw has been on the injured list again for the second time this season due to a bad back. Only Urías is the likeliest to make it to October intact.
While the Dodgers have gotten career years from Tyler Anderson (13-2) and Tony Gonsolin (15-1), neither has the postseason pedigree that draws confidence. All that means is manager Dave Roberts will have to rely on his bullpen to help his inexperienced starting staff.
The Dodgers’ bullpen is one of the best in baseball, ranking in the top for save percentage, holds, inherited runs scored (IS), and IS percentage. One sore spot, though, is the closer role. Craig Kimbrel has struggled in his first season with the Dodgers, carrying a 4.46 ERA with four blown saves and a -0.4 WAR.
Roberts will have to handle Kimbrel in October as he did in Jansen in 2020. Dodgers fans may reminisce about Jansen’s regular season success, but can’t deny that one of the keys to winning the World Series was Roberts keeping Jansen on the bench in Game 5 as well as the title-clinching Game 6.
This year with Kimbrel’s struggles, Roberts will have to remember to ride the hot hand again if he’s going to lift his second World Series title. In other words, he needs to put his faith in the collective bullpen — not just in his closer.
It may be too early for predictions, but if the Dodgers’ bullpen is lights out in October, there’s a very good chance for this year to end with more hardware.