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Dodgers' bullpen holds hope, concerns for close games in postseason

Dodgers' relief unit evolved as the regular season progressed, but Atlanta's bullpen has been the best in the majors. Controlling the running game, team speed and managing will be other factors.

October 03, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Although the statistics might not support Kenley Jansen's theory, the Dodgers closer believes their bullpen will make the difference during close games in the playoffs.
Although the statistics might not support Kenley Jansen's theory,… (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)

ATLANTA  -- The Dodgers had a record of 25-21 in one-run games during the regular season. They had a record of 10-5 in extra-inning games.

So what does that mean in terms of how they will fare in close postseason games in October?

Not much.

Teams such as the Dodgers are in the playoffs because they won a lot of games. Any team that won 92 games, as the Dodgers did, had to win plenty of close ones. A lot of lopsided ones too.

QUIZ: Postseason Dodgers -- what do you know?

Closer Kenley Jansen says the Dodgers will have the advantage in a close game in the National League division series, or any series beyond that.

The reason?

"The bullpen," Jansen said.

The numbers form a different conclusion. The Dodgers' bullpen earned-run average of 3.49 ranked ninth in the NL and 13th in the majors during the regular season. The Braves' bullpen ERA of 2.46 was the best in all of baseball.

Jansen noted the Dodgers' unit evolved as the season progressed. Jansen, who finished the season with 28 saves and a 1.88 ERA, didn't replace Brandon League as the closer until the middle of June.

Midseason addition Brian Wilson posted a 0.66 ERA in 18 appearances and now appears to be the team's set-up man. Left-hander J.P. Howell had a 2.03 ERA in 67 games.

"I have no doubt we'll win if we're winning by one in the postseason and the ball gets to the bullpen," Jansen said.

However, there are concerns.

Three Dodgers relievers — Jansen, Ronald Belisario and Paco Rodriguez — pitched in 75 or more games, which ranked them all among the top four in appearances in the NL. Of the three, only Jansen pitched well throughout the season.

Belisario, who had a 3.97 ERA in 77 games, was inconsistent. Rodriguez, a rookie left-hander, was virtually unhittable until he hit a wall in September. Rodriguez had a 2.32 ERA is 76 games, but gave up three home runs and posted a 6.35 ERA over his last 11 appearances.

Here are some other factors that could influence how the Dodgers fare in close games:

Controlling the running game

Tie game, late innings, the Braves have a fast runner on base. That might not be the end of the world, depending on who's pitching.

Catcher A.J. Ellis threw out 28 of 63 potential base stealers. His 44% clip was far above the league average of 28%.

Of course, even a catcher with a strong arm and quick release needs the help of a pitcher who is adept at holding runners on base.

Jansen hasn't historically provided much help, but he's working on it.

Over his four-year major-league career, 24 of 26 runners have successfully stolen against him.

Jansen is aware of the problem. Taking advice from Manager Don Mattingly and others, Jansen said he holds the ball longer now with men on base.

"If you slow the game down, the runner's going to get anxious," Jansen said. "They don't want you to hold the ball too long."

The only runners caught stealing while Jansen was pitching have been thrown out this year.

Team speed

The Dodgers stole 78 bases this season, which tied them for seventh in the NL.

However, some of their best hitters have shown they can swipe a base when necessary. Yasiel Puig stole 11 and Hanley Ramirez 10.

Carl Crawford was their greatest threat on the basepaths. Of Crawford's team-high 15 steals, nine came before June 2, when he landed on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Crawford stole two bases in his last seven games, a sign he could be regaining his form.

The Dodgers are considering using a roster spot on the light-hitting but fleet-footed Dee Gordon, who stole 10 bases in only 38 games.

Game-changing power

The Dodgers were 10th in the NL in home runs. But consider: Ramirez had 20 home runs in only 86 games, and Puig had 19 in 104.

Something else to consider: the Dodgers tied for second in the league with 20 home runs in "late and close game" situations. Those situations are defined as the seventh inning or later; the batting team ahead by one run, tied, or having the tying runner on base, at the plate or on deck.

The one NL team better than the Dodgers?

The Braves, who had 26 late-and-close-games homers and led the NL in total home runs with 181.

Managing

Mattingly admits he is still developing as a tactician.

"There are times I feel I've learned a lot and got a lot better," he said. "And there are times I feel, 'God, what I am doing?' It could be something you do in the game or something I didn't think of, even if it didn't matter later, the fact that I didn't like a situation."

But Mattingly said he would manage boldly.

"I'm not afraid to screw up," he said. "I screw up plenty. If I make a mistake, I'll just say, 'I screwed up.' I'll move on and get better. You're going to make a lot of decisions. Just because it didn't work out it doesn't mean it wasn't the right decision."

Mattingly will have the final say as to whom the Dodgers go to out of the bullpen; whether they'll pitch out in a base-stealing situation; whether the Dodgers will run aggressively when they have the chance, and which pinch-hitter might be used with a game on the line.

He and the Dodgers won't be graded on whether those were the right decisions; only on whether they work.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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