The Dodgers Bullpen Deserves an NLCS MVP Trophy of Their Own

They say one of the biggest reasons the Dodgers have advanced to the World Series for the first time in a generation is because this team delivers a different hero every night. That’s true, and the boys with the big bats often receive all the accolades.

Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig – one can check off just about every name in the lineup as a man whose home runs and RBIs have led this team across the long summer, through the playoffs, and now, into the Fall Classic. Last night, Turner and Chris Taylor were named as co-NLCS MVPs. It was the first time that award has been split between two players, and why not? Their performances at the plate against the Cubs earned it.

This story isn’t about them, however. There was another group of Dodger Blue heroes that didn’t receive the press conferences and gold trophies, but their hard work – and near-perfect work – is a very big reason the Dodgers stand atop the National League mountain today. Those mostly unsung heroes don’t even sit in the dugout during the game. They watch and wait from inside the Dodgers’ bullpen.

The bullpen was one of the reasons why past Dodgers teams couldn’t quite get over the final hurdle and into the Fall Classic for the past couple of years. The question since 2015 has been, “Who is going to be the bridge between the starting pitcher and the best closer in baseball, Kenley Jansen?  This year, through masterful late-season trades and the creative transitioning of a starter to a bullpen arm, the Dodgers have finally answered that question.

The Dodgers acquired the two Tonys – Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani at the last trade deadline of the season, and although both got off to slow starts, they evened things out, found their grooves, and became lights out just as the season was coming to a close. They did not miss a step in the NLCS. Watson and Cingrani combined to pitch 3.1 innings, and they struck out three while allowing just one hit, and no runs.

Kenta Maeda went from the starting rotation to the bullpen, and the move proved to be genius. Maeda pitched three innings over three games, struck out three (two in one inning in last night’s clincher), didn’t give up any hits, and he even picked up a win.

Brandon Morrow was the middle relief workhorse. He put in 4.2 innings of work, gave up one hit and struck out seven. Right-handers Ross Stripling and Josh Fields did their part as well, working scoreless innings in their appearances.

And then, of course, there’s the big man, Kenley Jansen. Kenley pitched 4.1 innings, striking out EIGHT batters, and not giving up a single hit or a run. He also picked up a save and a win in the series. His strike outs per nine innings (K/9) stat was an astounding 16.62.

All told, the bullpen gave up only four hits, and struck out 22 across 17 innings. Their ERA? 0.00 – perfection.

All hail the boys swinging the big bats – but don’t forget the men with the golden arms who protect the leads and nail down the wins.

 

Oscar Martinez

Oscar Martinez

I was born in the shadow of Dodger Stadium and immediately drenched in Dodger Blue. Chavez Ravine is my baseball cathedral, Vin Scully was the golden voice of summer all my life, and Tommy Lasorda remains the greatest Dodgers manager ever. My favorite things are coffee, beer, and the Dodgers beating the Giants. I also blog about my baseball card hobby at All Trade Bait, All the Time.

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31 thoughts on “The Dodgers Bullpen Deserves an NLCS MVP Trophy of Their Own

  1. As many of you know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. The last time was shortly after the trade deadline as I recall commenting ‘positively’ about the acquisition of Yu Darvish. In fact I recall Badger ‘waking up’ when hearing about the trade for Yu Darvish.

    I watched the Dodgers continue to dominate the league throughout August but look anything but that in September. Many wonder what would transpire once the playoffs begin.

    I just want to point out a narrative that many (including Dodger brass) have stated for some time that the playoffs are a crapshoot. Do you still feel the playoffs are a crapshoot? Having the best record in the league and having 2 wild card teams beat up on each other and then playing the winner is a huge advantage, oh yeah you also have home field advantage. While team #2 and team #3 get to beat up on each other and hopefully go the distance in their series. If the #1 seed takes care of business they should be well rested and their rotation should be set for the championship series. Huge advantage. It’s not a crapshoot, it’s strategic.

    Let’s see. Royals in 2015….best record in American League. Made it to WS and won. Cubs in 2016…..best record in National League. Made it to WS and won. Dodgers in 2017….best record in National League. Made it to WS and ?.

    It’s not a crapshoot. The Royals made trades to improve their WS run….remember Zobrist and Cueto. The Cubs made trades to improve their WS run…..remember Chapman. The Dodgers FINALLY made a trade to improve their WS run….it was Yu Darvish.

    The missing link the last few years has been the #3 spot in the rotation. This year the Dodgers have a QUALITY #3 starting pitcher.

    Even this series with the Cubs could have been different w/o Darvish if the Dodgers pitch Wood in game 3 and lose and come back with Maeda in game 4 and lose and Kershaw still pulls out game 5. So they return to LA up 3 to 2 with Hill and Wood going games 6 and 7. How comfortable is everyone then? Probably not very!

    IMO, there are 3 major differences(players) with this year’s team. 1.)Cody Bellinger 2.) Chris Taylor & 3.)Yu Darvish. None of which started the season on the opening day roster.
    Amazingly those 3 alone change the whole complexion of this team. Cody Bellinger gives them a true big bopper that they have been lacking and with his presence in the lineup everyone else’s play has been elevated. Chris Taylor has been a consistent performer and a quality leadoff man that has set the table for the top of the lineup. Yu Darvish gives them that dominate ‘Ace’ type of pitcher that they have sorely missed in the #3 spot in the rotation for the past few years.

    Whether they match up with Houston or New York as both have short right field porches left handed pitching will be at an advantage. It’s possible that Yu Darvish has done his heavy lifting for the Dodgers but I will say this, IF the Dodgers win one of Yu’s starts they will win the World Series.

    1. Glad to see you back Chili. I tend to agree with you. I think the crapshoot excuse is just sour grapes narrative that management sells to fans. Like your boss telling you that there’s not much bonus coming because the market is unpredictable, yada yada.

    2. Why do any of us watch sports?

      ……..?

      Ok, hard question, I admit. I’ll give you the answer. …..It’s because the outcome is unpredictable. If we knew with absolute certainty that a team would win or lose, why would we even watch?

      2001 Mariners. …..They didn’t even make it to the World Series. Go look up their regular season record.

      The fact that the Dodgers have an outstanding team increases their odds of winning the World Series, but does not guarantee it.

      Small sample sizes. The team that over the course of a 162 game season shows excellence with a winning record is not ensured of that same success in a short series against other quality teams.

      It’s a crapshoot.

      Actually, even in the game of craps there are things you can do to increase your odds. For one, don’t bet the hard way or bet the horn….sucker bets. The best odds in Vegas are in craps betting the Pass Line. ….In the end, though, the house will always win, because those are the odds long term.

      Some of you folks don’t like that reasoning. You want to argue that there should be a guaranteed outcome, because if the outcome is not a World Series victory, you can still blame this front office.

      “It was that stupid Granderson trade!”

      I think the Dodgers have the best team I’ve ever seen them have. I think they are favorites to win the WS, but I’m still nervous. Houston has a great team. I think Aaron Judge and the Yankees are absurdly over hyped because the Sports Entertainment Industrial Complex has a hard on for everything Yankees/Red Sox, but he could hit a few out and the Yanks could beat the Dodgers.

      If the Dodgers don’t win the WS, it’ll be very disappointing, but I still will think they had a great team this year.

      All an organization can do is put the pieces in place to increase the odds, to maximize the chances that a team can win the World Series. I think the Dodgers have done a great job in doing that.

      1. You totally missed the point Patch. And Chili has pretty much refuted your point in advance. It’s not about y guarantee and never has been. Chili is saying you need to get the odds in your favor. And I suggest you follow and watch some sports other than baseball. Baseball is about only sports where you hear that postseason is a crap shoot. Personally I think football is the total crapshoot and can tolerate football management saying stuff like that, but for other sports, it’s a cop out.

        1. Nope! I understand Chili’s perspective completely, because he’s been beating that drum ad nauseum, over and over, repetitively and in perpetuity. His whole argument should be read within the context of his opinion of what this FO has done.

          “Chili is saying you need to get the odds in your favor.” Did I not just make that same point painstakingly and with an actual craps analogy? Yes…correct. And that’s exactly what this front office has done…this year, last year, and the year prior. So we’re in agreement. End of discussion.

  2. The bullpen was outstanding. They could have easily given the MVP award to the entire crew. The Cubs did not score on them the entire series. 5 games, and no runs! That’s amazing in and of itself.

  3. Another one bites the dust. Baker out in DC. Tigers hire Gardenhire, and Tony LaRussa is leaving the Diamondbacks front office. Going to be an interesting off season for sure. Yanks-Astros here shortly, and the beat goes on.

  4. New blog thread starts more often than Kike went yard last night. How about 1 new blog start per day, I know you are all excited but your stepping all over each other the last few days. “Settle Down, Beavis!”

  5. The bullpen has been very good in the post season, except the one time Stripling came in, in the bottom of the ninth.

    It was also good to see Stripling redeem himself, after that one bad inning!

    I think he might have been over used a little, so his body and arm, might not be responding, like it did for him most of the season.

    He did pitch in a lot of high leverage situations early in the season, and he was mostly good, up until September.

    And Maeda, Morrow, and Kenley, have been phenomenal in the post season!

    1. My take on the bullpen goes back to the guys making decisions and refining their skills. The FAZ by providing the right mix and finally going away from their own favorites like Hatcher, Roberts and Honeycutt.

      One big deal last year was how Roberts and Honeycutt managed a bullpen that was essentially the same as the prior year, with a weaker rotation, and got them into the NLCS.

      The Dodgers also took matchup usage to an extreme this year. Roles are no longer based on the inning number, which is kind of random. Instead reliever are assigned roles based on where the opponents are in the batting order and leverage level, and that is the right way. Everyone is a setup man potentially.

      Soon we will have new lingo for relievers. High leverage righties (Maeda), low leverage righties (Fields and Stripling) , high leverage lefties (Cingrani), low leverage lefties (Watson), an effectively two closers (Morrow and Jansen), because you might have to use one in the 6th to hold down the heart of the lineup and again in the 9th. Don’t let the low leverage guys face the heart of the lineup in the 6th – you end up burning two or three relief pitchers that way, not to mention pissing off and demoralizing your starter who likely exited with one or more men on base. The rest of the league will learn.

      Too bad we didn’t get Chapman last year – I think we would have gotten into the WS with him. But it’s a much better team and a much better bullpen this year overall and I am enjoying the ride. 4 wins to go!

      1. That was a very good analysis except for the end about Chapman. Someone either here or that other blog made a good point: that the FO has not just assembled a team based on numbers, but have also gone after high character guys…Utley and Granderson. Passing on a low character guy was probably the right move. What kind of influence would Chapman have had on Puig I wonder.

  6. My review of the ALCS Game 6:

    1. Severino is similar to and better than Tajuan Walker, but not by much. Same strategy can be employed against him. Severino’s high fastball has late-life and gets lots of pop ups. Lay off the high and outside pitches, and he will struggle to hit the strike zone. Like Walker, Severino does not seem able to control his sliders and usually just buries them in the dirt.

    2. Yankee’s baby-faced Green is a Morrow-type pitcher and he is on a roll. Good fastball with control, and a wicked slider. We will have trouble with this guy.

    3. Verlander suffers from the Kershaw syndrome. He throws a lot of strikes, and you can pounce on him the third time, or fourth time around if you can get walks. When stressed he seems to overthrow his sliders and leave them up – at 85-88 mph these sliders can be crushed. Verlander nearly gave up a game tying 3 run homer to Frazier in the 7th.

    4. The Astros bullpen sucks. Not impressed with Giles at all – he seems like Baez. The balls seem very straight, and he does not throw his sliders enough (maybe because he’s getting over-worked). Peacock, who was employed in a high leverage situation, is only as good as our Avilan.

    5. Also not impressed with Yankees’ Betances and Robertson. I think Roberson may be overused and can be hit, but he does throw strikes. Betances is all over the place. Just keep fouling off his fastballs and make him throw strikes with his sliders (which he can’t).

    6. The Astros batters are better than the Yankees batters, in my opinion. But they don’t have much speed when they bat McCann and Gattis, and both seem to me to be Grandal and Granderson-type hitters, just with better bat speed. I think we will have major problems with Altuve – he is just too short and his bat is too fast. In late game situation I would not throw him any strikes, and our pitchers will struggle to do so other than maybe Maeda as his pitches to the corners and has that nasty slider to RH. Also, I am not sure how well Cingrani and Watson matches up with their lefties; unlike the Cubs their lefties don’t chase all that much, but they do seem to want to hit HRs all the time. We have to play good defense and get force outs and double plays against them.

    7. The Yankees lineup seem to be all big meaty fastball hitters, and they seem to be very RH heavy. I think Darvish, Maeda, Morrow and Kenley all match up well against them and they tend to pop out a lot on the high pitches.

    1. YF

      Great review of the pitchers we may be facing in the World Series.

      About Verlander, I think we need to lay off his high fastballs because they are out of the strike zone most of the time, and not many hitters can catch up and get a hit, off one of Verlander’s high fastballs.

      And our players were swinging at Verlander’s high fastballs, when they faced him earlier this year, and they didn’t do anything with them.

      And most of the time, those high fastballs will be called balls, so they should let them go, and make Verlander throw them, in the strike zone!

      It is much easier to hit a high velocity fastball, that is down.

      Also if we face the Astros we won’t have to play in cold weather, like we might have to do, if we face NY.

  7. To Chili’s point about the 3 big differences. I make that 4, and add Morrow. He’s been as valuable as those other guys. He’s flat out a 2nd closer on this team!

    1. And to add to what Bobby said, it was very smart to think about using Maeda against righties in the post season, because this year, Maeda has numbers against righties, that rank with some of the top five pitchers, in all of baseball.

      And Morrow has better numbers against lefties then righties, so Maeda and Morrow, are a great tandem to use in high leverage situations.

  8. I agree whole heartedly with Patch’s take. Playoff and championships are a total crap shoot. The best team does not always win, sometimes the best team does not even get there. And that is in any sport. The Giants, as we well know, won the Championship twice as a wild card team. That is the hardest route to the title. But even when baseball had no playoffs and it was just the one team from each league, the mighty sometimes fell. The 88 Dodgers were not as good offensively as the A’s, but the Dodger pitching proved to be the difference. And some heroics from definite platoon guys like Mickey Hatcher. The 1914 Boston Braves crushed the mighty A’s. And they beat their best pitchers. Boston was not supposed to be on the same field as the A’s. the 59 Dodgers were supposedly over matched against the Go-Go Sox. All through sports history the underdog has risen up, be it a magical performance or just plain grit. No matter who the Dodgers face, NY, or the Stros, each will present their own challenges. A Bucky Dent moment, or a Kike Hernandez outburst may be what leads this team to a title. We have to wait and see and they have to play the games.

  9. The one thing all of us on this site share is the fact that we are all Dodger fans. We all have a passion for the team. We also all have differing opinions. I doubt any two of us think the same on any subject. While I am not a big saber metric person, I do see where FAZ has used it in their evaluations of talent. Sometimes the way they look at things does not meet my eye test. But it is their team and the way they do things. I think, in my opinion of course, that it over rates some players, and undervalues others. I have not always been on board when they have made trades. But after the fact, some have worked out and others not so much. But no baseball trade is a sure thing. Granderson may be a class act in the club house, but he is a first rate failure on the field. And he was traded for because of his success against Arietta and Scherzer. Well, Arietta made him look like a untalented rookie. Grandal is supposed to be one of the best framers in the business. But his inconsistency has gotten him benched for much of the playoffs. Barnes started 4 of the 5 games against the Cubs. They did not miss Grandal one bit. The game he started he had 1 official at bat and walked 3 times. They still lost that game. What can you say about Kike. For the last 2 seasons, although he has hit lefty’s well, his overall numbers are terrible. Then he goes and has the game of his lifetime. He will be forever cemented in Dodger lore. But is he that good? Doubtful. But then again, scrubs have risen up to do great things before, and they will do it again. As a person, I think Kike is a very likeable guy. He had a great 1st season in Dodger blue. If he can recapture that, he will be a Dodger for some time. They did jettison some dead wood during the season, Hatcher and Romo, a fan favorite in SVS, and those were obviously good moves. Getting Darvish at the last minute was a master move. Did not look that way at first, but Yu has taken to the changes Honey made to his delivery and he is a much better pitcher now than when they first got him. Cingrani and Watson have been excellent. The under the radar move for the bullpen was bringing up Morrow when his contact stipulated that if he were not in the majors he had to be released. That one little transaction paved the way to Jansen in the 9th, And until Pedro Baez started his self implosion, it worked to perfection. Putting Maeda in the BP over Ryu for the playoffs has worked too. The final test is less than a week away. We are all on pins and needles waiting to see who the opponent is. Yanks or Stros, does not matter who, I believe this team is ready for them.

    1. Nice take. I agree with Michael. We’re all Dodger fans. I am generally supportive of the FO, because I think Friedman and Farhan are just really smart guys and they do their homework. That doesn’t mean they don’t whiff. They’ve miscalculated on some moves, and honestly gotten lucky with others (Chris Taylor for Lee…didn’t think they expected he’d be this good. Same for calling up Bellinger).

      I’ll make the same argument for winning in the playoffs. No guarantees. All you can do is do your homework, prepare, work hard, assemble the right pieces and, more often than not, success will follow. Same thing for trades or acquisitions. If you do your due diligence, research, are shrewd and it’s all part of a larger overall plan, a lot of those moves will work out in the end….not all…but more than some.

  10. I just think the composition of this team deserves more accolades another bow.

    As Michael noted, the Grandal/Barnes partnership at catcher is great and a tremendous value (Grandal still in arb years.)

    Also as Michael wrote, they turned the declining asset of SVS into a young bullpen arm.

    They’ve made the most out of the young assets that they dealt. Turning them into a #2 starter, and a starting 2nd baseman.

    I’ve posted this twice, but it still boggles my mind. The team somehow turned Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon and Olivera into Barnes, Hernandez, Grandal and Wood. If you want to see something even scarier than the new Jigsaw movie go compare the salaries on BOTH sides of that equation.

    Brrrrr.

    Finally, the team made it through the defending champs in 5 games, without Seager and Gonzalez. That’s pretty amazing.

    Even if the team loses in the WS, it’s a tremendous and awesome year.

    There’s going to be serious cost-cutting into next year. So Buehler, Verdugo and maybe Urias will have to step up into the Darvish/Ethier/Ryu gap….

  11. Great posts. Right now everybody is just doing their job the right way. The starting pitchers are getting us to the 5-6 innings in good shape. The bull pen is in lock down mode. The batters are grinding out at bats. They foul off pitches until they get their pitch. Nobody is talking about our defense. We did not commit an error in the games against Chicago. When you play all parts of the game well, good things happen.

  12. The team as it is now constituted is not what was envisioned at the beginning of April. Wood was not a starter, Bellinger, and Taylor were in the minors. The starting LF most of the time was Andrew Toles. Gonzo was entrenched at 1st. Gonzo’s bad back gets a lot of credit for the biggest change which was Bellinger sliding into the first base position every night. Taylor solidified the outfield, especially when he moved to CF more or less permanently. They made some astute moves at the deadline and before. Calling up Morrow when he had not done well at AAA turned out to be brilliant. They also cut loose a couple mistakes in Romo and Hatcher. The FO has not always made great moves, some have been totally surprising. Taylor was just filler to begin with. But what they have accomplished this year definitely deserves kudos. Some of the players I have not liked so much, but that’s more a personality thing, or character thing with me. Others have performed in a less than stellar fashion as Dodgers. And we all know who they are. All in all there is a lot to be proud of with this Dodger team.

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