Hernández: Dodgers stay perfect in postseason, but their ominous closer situation looms
Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen delivers in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)
The Dodgers are the best team in the National League, but that doesn't always mean a place in the World Series.
That is why the other part of her October odyssey is critical.
Luck is on their side.
They continued their postseason Thursday night by overpowering division rivals San Diego Padres, taking their 12-3 win at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and winning their NL Division Series.
The Dodgers set their postseason record to 5-0, with two wins against a Milwaukee Brewers club, which was one of the least deserving playoff teams in baseball history, and the last three against a low-injury Padres Cadres who didn't have the pitching to compete with them.
The triumphs have been more superficial than noteworthy, except in one respect: They will enter the NL Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves on the grounds of removing Kenley Jansen as closer.
A day after Jansen nearly threw away a three-fold lead in Game 2 of this NLDS, manager Dave Roberts was asked if he could be trusted in high leverage situations.
Roberts replied, "I won't make that decision yet."
That was managers saying for no.
The Dodgers can't count on Jansen to close here, they can't count on him to close there, they can't count on him to close anywhere.
It is obvious.
In fact, that was the case last year, which is why the franchise's all-time save leader was relegated to a mop-up role in an elimination loss against the Washington Nationals.
The Dodgers should have made the downgrade permanent over the winter, but they refrained from doing so.
Julio Urías has the arm and stomach to close, but the Dodgers continued to strive to develop him as a starter.
Blake Treinen, signed as a free agent, was basically a $ 10 million reclamation project. Brusdar Graterol, acquired in a deal with the Minnesota Twins, had only 10 major league games.
Andrew Friedman wasn't about to put his standing with his superiors on either, especially when his superiors were still responsible for the last two years of Jansen's $ 80 million deal.
The awkward situation this year, almost certainly, as the Dodgers thought they could replace Jansen in the regular season with 162 games if necessary.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.
The regular season was cut from six to two months, leaving the Dodgers with less time to move emotionally.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen leaves the hill during a game against the Colorado Rockies on September 19. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Jansen never looked right this season as opponents seemed to be improving his signature cutter many times, but he converted his first seven rescue options and recorded an ERA of 0.77 in his first 13 games. He was recovering from a mid-season slump and didn't give up any runs in the last two weeks of the regular season.
When the postseason started he was even closer.
The Dodgers looked like they would pay for their indecision in the off-season.
They may have spared the first two rounds of these playoffs. Jansen's reduced speed against the Brewers in the wildcard round was alarming, so Roberts said that while Jansen was even closer, that didn't mean it would be the ninth inning.
The second game in the series against the Padres gave the Dodgers the excuse to take a clean break.
Jansen started the game in the ninth inning with a three-run lead over the Dodgers. He left with two outs, a runner first and a lead of one.
The unpredictable Joe Kelly was asked to record the finale, which he did after loading the bases with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado.
Scary as that ninth inning was, the reality was it couldn't have turned out better for the Dodgers.
The types of games that shutdowns tend to be painful defeats. The Dodgers were given the evidence they needed to make a change without losing a game.
This will help them as they move forward.
Problems remain, however. You have no definite replacement. Treinen has days when he cannot go on strikes. Graterol doesn't miss enough bats.
With no days off scheduled in the NLCS, Urias will likely have to start like Thursday or serve the majority of the innings of a given game.
But the Dodgers will at least be free from their longstanding commitment to ask Jansen to record the final outs. This is a win for them arguably more valuable than any of the five games they have won so far.
Hernández reported from Los Angeles
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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