At the climax of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ eight wins in nine games capped by a six-game win streak that was snapped with back-to-back losses to the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend, L.A. had its highest winning percentage of the season.
But their usually dominant pitching staff conceded a combined 14 runs in the two losses, and they’ve dropped to second in the National League wildcard standings.
Yet even through the mini losing streak, the Dodger bullpen continues to dominate, anchored by closer Kenley Jansen.
Jansen didn’t get a save opportunity in either defeat. If he had, it’s highly likely L.A. would still be on that win streak. With 21 saves and a 1.48 ERA this season, opposing lineups don’t get a break when the likes of Clayton Kershaw come out of ballgames.
“My guys have been grinding the whole year,” said Jansen. “And sometimes you have to back them up, pick them up, do whatever it takes.’’
The Dodgers pitching staff and bullpen in particular are great even without Jansen; the team’s opposing batting average, strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings are all second best in baseball.
But with 10.38 K’s per nine, Jansen is more than a full strikeout better than the team average and leads all Dodger relievers.
And among closers, Jansen is tied for the league lead in wins with 3, is second in WHIP at .69, and is third in strikeouts-to-walk ratio at 8.8, with the next-closest guy way behind at 5.9.
Jansen’s in a contract year; he will undoubtedly be one of the most coveted free agents come the offseason. Instead of protecting his arm however, he pushes it more than any other closer; Jansen leads the league in four-out saves. He’s been an absolute workhorse; no other Dodger has even one save.
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts has had plenty of problems to sort out within his pitching staff. Injuries have decimated the starting rotation, and while Julio Urias is showing incredible improvement and ability, his appearances have required a lot out of the bullpen.
With Jansen, however, Roberts never needs to worry.
“There’s no better closer in the game, in my opinion,” said Roberts.
Just as the legendary Mariano Rivera did, Jansen throws primarily one pitch: a cutter. And like Rivera, with that cutter he makes opposing hitters like downright foolish.
Jansen recently broke Eric Gagne’s franchise record for saves. Yet despite Gagne’s dominance in the City of Angels through the early 2000s, there’s one thing missing from his resumé: a World Series appearance, which has eluded the Dodgers since 1988.
As long as the rest of the pitching staff can keep a lead, however, Jansen gives the team a legitimate opportunity to get there.