For the first time in a long time, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a massive question mark at closer. Despite what disgruntled fans said at the time, Kenley Jansen was a beacon of consistency for over a decade, and even when he was struggling, he was still the defined closer.
That’s not the case this season. Andrew Friedman had a rare swing and miss in replacing Jansen with Craig Kimbrel, who has pitched pretty poorly all season and has not given fans any sort of confidence in the ninth inning outside of his “Let It Go” stretch.
Regardless of how they are dressing it up to the media, the Dodgers leaning on Kimbrel to close out postseason games would be malpractice by manager Dave Roberts. It’s his job to put the best guy out there for the job, not the guy who is being paid a big salary.
So what’ll be the plan when October arrives? The bullpen is fairly thin, so this question is a lot harder than many might realize. But roles will change over the next couple of weeks and could put the answer in focus for Roberts.
At the very least, Dodgers fans suspect there will be some sort of closer-by-committee situation when the competition is elevated beginning with the NLDS.
There are several Dodgers who should be closing playoff games over Craig Kimbrel
3. Dustin May
This is the biggest “if” of the bunch and several things would have to happen. First, Tony Gonsolin would have to return before the playoffs and be able to slot into the starting rotation comfortably for a postseason series.
If that happens, the Dodgers would have a four-man rotation of Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson and Gonsolin, with Andrew Heaney filling in as the four-inning Urías-type fifth starter.
That shifts Dustin May to the bullpen, where he can thrive. May’s stuff is obviously electric and if he can focus on being his best for 2-3 innings at most then he could have elite results in October. While he has not been perfect in his return, he could end up being a lights-out member of the ‘pen that can come in and get the final 3-9 outs for the Dodgers.
The numbers do not lie: May is virtually unhittable when facing the order for the first time. Batters are hitting .086 with a .460 OPS and 31.1% K rate against May the first time through the order this season. In pitches 1-25, opposing batters are hitting even worse, clocking in at .050 with a .346 OPS.
With May’s injury, his nasty stuff, and tendency to dominate the first time through, using him as a high-leverage late-inning reliever would be far better than Kimbrel. But there are more traditional options as well.