Dodgers don’t have a designated closer, but they love their flexible bullpen – Press Enterprise

LOS ANGELES — A deep, reliable bullpen is a must-have in October for teams with championship aspirations.

But a closer to pass the ball in the ninth inning, game after game? Not so much.

Of the last eight pitchers to throw the last pitch of a World Series, only two — Atlanta’s Will Smith last year and Kansas City’s Wade Davis in 2015 — scored more than eight times in the regular season. Five did not have a single save. Four of those pitchers didn’t have a save during the regular season because they spent it starting games — Julio Urias (Dodgers 2020), Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox 2018), Charlie Morton (Houston Astros 2017) and Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants 2014).

Nineteen active pitchers have more than 100 career saves – a list topped by Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. Only one has thrown the last pitch of a World Series – Sergio Romo (137 career strikeouts) for the Giants in 2012.

For nine straight years, from 2013 through last fall, the Dodgers built their postseason bullpens with Jansen, the man at the end — though he was supplanted by Urias in 2020. This time, however, they enter the postseason without a designated closer, Kimbrel demoted from the ninth inning role in September after five months of inconsistency and anxiety.

“I think it’s probably our deepest staff, 1 through 13, and I think we’re going to have a lot of different ways to prevent runs,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said of the postseason win without ‘ a closer “My feeling is that we’re going to do anything and everything we can to prevent runs and one of the remaining guys that hasn’t been called up will pitch the ninth. We trust a fair number of guys to get those heats.”

That was a pretty big number that those heats got during the regular season. Kimbrel led the team with 22 saves before being demoted. But 11 other pitchers had at least one save. The last nine saves recorded during the regular season were recorded by nine pitchers.

Evan Phillips was not one of those nine, although he collected two saves earlier in the season.

If the Dodgers decided to make their best reliever the new closer, the decision would be easy — it would be Phillips. The 28-year-old Phillips, who was released by the Baltimore Orioles last August and waived by the Tampa Bay Rays in a two-week span, has morphed into a shutout reliever with the Dodgers this season.

He led the team with 64 appearances while posting a 1.14 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. Phillips has thrown his slider 44% of the time since joining the Dodgers.

But Phillips has emerged as the heir apparent to the Blake Treinen role — the “fireman” reliever sent out to face the toughest stretch of an opposing lineup in the highest-leverage moments before the ninth inning, ‘ a key component of the Dodgers’ bullpen construction in the Friedman era. Of Phillips’ 64 regular season appearances, only nine finished the game.

“I really don’t think it bothers anybody,” Phillips said of entering the postseason without a closer being identified. “I think we saw that (Friday) with the (St. Louis) Cardinals. They have two guys they rely on late in games. It didn’t work out in their favor today (the Phillies scored six runs in the ninth inning to win Game 1 of their wild-card series on Friday). But I just think this is the new era of the bullpen – understanding which guys have advantages where. Then it is up to the manager and coaches to deploy us properly.

“Hopefully we have three, four weeks of baseball ahead of us. So maybe someone emerges as ‘The’ guy in the ninth inning. But that doesn’t even sound appropriate for what we’ve been doing for the past month or so. I think you’ll continue to see a mix of guys. I’m not sure if we’ve had the same guy finish the game since we made that transition. I think we showed we have a lot of guys who are capable.”

Deploying the clutch of high-leverage relievers — primarily Phillips, Brusdar Graterol, Tommy Kahnle, Chris Martin, Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia — “properly” is the challenge of what the Dodgers will attempt this postseason, which will begin when they ‘ a best-of-five National League Division Series against either the New York Mets or the San Diego Padres on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. Call it a ‘closer-by-committee’, if you will. But it will be more of a close-through analysis – and process of elimination – on a nightly basis.

“Mark (Prior), Doc (Dave Roberts), Connor (McGuiness), Danny Lehman, Josh Bard – their ability to create margin for error by getting games and guys in their best lanes only increases the chances of us being able to will be to perform on it,” Friedman said. “Do we want a locked-in, no-doubt-about-it, ninth-inning guy? Yes – everyone in baseball would. We have a lot of talented guys and we feel like we’ll be in a really good position to get 27 outs and give our offense every chance to win games and win series.”

Even if he is only the trigger for the complicated decision-making process, this approach will place an even greater onus on Roberts if the decisions about the ninth inning do not bring the desired result – and Roberts is already very familiar with his October raise. second guess decisions.

“It’s kind of the whole mindset of just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t make it right,” Roberts said of this year’s approach. “So it may not be traditional.”

Picking the right pitcher for each game until you run out of outs is easier than working backwards from a dedicated closer, he maintains.

“I think it’s easier in the sense that you have your best potential option for that point in the game and you feel confident to deploy him and take a turn or two off,” Roberts said. “The way the back turns out, you can make a decision at that time. But having roles and being cornered is harder to navigate.

“There are guys that we feel good about with guys on base, versus right-handed, left-handed hitters, that feel good about certain guys in a clean inning, certain guys to do an up-and-down. I just think having as many options as we have with neutral arms – which we do have – makes life a little bit easier.”

This isn’t the first time Roberts has said this is the best postseason bullpen he’s had as a manager. He said it in 2019 – and the Dodgers lost to the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. He said it last year – when he stretched a thin group of starting pitchers to cover innings out of the bullpen and lost in the NL Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves.

“I think I would say this is the deepest bullpen we’ve had again,” Roberts said when reminded of that. “And I say deepest because it’s the most neutral bullpen we’ve ever had (against left-handed and right-handed hitters). So I think it just allows us to not go to the pit too many times that we’ve been guilty of before, going with your best arm. Lineups, as they are now constructed, there are many who are flipping out left and right, staggering (same-handed hitters). So it is important to have the neutrality.

“The roster we have in the ‘pen, it’s as good a group of guys as we’ve had.”

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