Phil Spector, the infamous music producer turned convicted murder, penned the classic and often-quoted, â€œTo Know Him Is To Love Himâ€ in 1958.
Though the hit song â€“ made famous by artists like The Teddy Bears and Nancy Sinatra â€“ was intended for a pop audience, few believe the â€œhimâ€ could apply to the Dodgersâ€™ bullpen.
If Phil Spector re-wrote the song from his prison cell today, he might say that to know the Dodgersâ€™ bullpen is to love, dread and fear them.
He might be right. Chris Hatcher, J.P. Howell, Jim Johnson, Joel Peralta. Need I say more?
Itâ€™s no surprise the Dodgersâ€™ bullpen has struggled since the All-Star Break. Through Aug. 27, according to MLB.com, the pen ranks 23rd in the league with a 4.16 ERA. The same pen is 20th in the league with a WHIP of 1.31. And, just to pile it on, opposing hitters are batting an incredibly high .249 against the bullpen.
Put simply, the Dodgersâ€™ bullpen has been horrible of late. Itâ€™s impossible to not yell at Manager Don Mattingly when he brings in the wrong reliever at the wrong time. Itâ€™s even more difficult to imagine a 2015 postseason without Dodger relievers blowing games night after night, a recurring nightmare of last yearâ€™s postseason series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Something has to change.
After this weekâ€™s sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, there is hope that the pitching staff can turn it around before the team embarks on its projected postseason run.
This week has seen the bullpen improve. In the past three games, the pen has pitched 7 2/3 innings and only given up one run, leaving them with an estimated ERA of 1.17 â€“ nearly three runs lower than their season average.
Mattingly wisely chose to use 3-4 relievers per inning when necessary against the Reds.
Was it efficient? No. Averaging one reliever per out could be catastrophic.
Did it work? You bet. Luis Avilan made Jay Bruce look foolish.
As the Dodgers enter the September playoff push and fend off increased pressure from the pesky San Francisco Giants, the bullpen needs to regain its confidence. Here are three things that need to happen for the Dodgers to cement their place as a legitimate contender in the playoffs:
- Shake it up.
Only one job in the bullpen is solidified, and thatâ€™s Kenley Jansen as closer. Everything else is up for grabs. Mattingly should use September as means of shaking up the bullpen. Try using Johnson as a setup man. If it doesnâ€™t work, try Baez, Howell, or Nicasio. Try anyone â€“ the point is that all bullpen roles need to be filled come October.
2. Use the four-out save.
During tough series against Giants, Pirates and other rivalries, the Dodgers will undoubtedly need an arm that can get outs. When itâ€™s right, Mattingly should bring in Jansen for four-out saves. Using a trusted arm to get crucial outs is what the Dodgers need.
3. Ride the hot hand.
Tuesday marks the expansion of MLB rosters. Letâ€™s hope the Dodgers try out some fresh faces out of the pen in September. If a young reliever gets hot, select him for the playoff roster. Relying on a sagging veteran wonâ€™t help out the team when itâ€™s vulnerable. It might be necessary to leave out names like Howell and Hatcher if the need arises.
The Dodgers, bursting at the seams with a $300-million payroll, have the tools necessary to bring L.A. its first championship since 1988. One hopes the pen will live up to its name as a group of raging bulls, anxiously waiting to dominate their opponents in front of a packed stadium of bloodthirsty spectators.