For the past three years the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen has been their biggest weakness, leading to them winning just one playoff series prior to 2016. This season the trend reversed despite the Dodgers not adding an elite reliever over the winter.
They signed Joe Blanton and Louis Coleman, with both of the right-handers easily exceeding expectations. For Blanton, it was his second stint with the Dodgers, though the first came as a starting pitcher.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman gave the returning relievers a vote of confidence prior to the season beginning. He believed they’d benefit from experience gained in 2015.
The Dodgers bullpen went on to lead the Majors with a 3.35 ERA and 590.2 innings pitched. According to Andy McCullough of the LA Times, a pair of NL executives recently credited the Dodgers bullpen success to its depth and manager Dave Roberts:
The Dodger bullpen’s improvement over previous seasons appears “more about depth than a massive jump in quality,” one National League scout said. Added another NL scout, “When you look on paper, the talent looks about the same. You have to give credit to how they’ve been managed.”
Los Angeles’ bullpen came up big in the National League Division series, throwing 22.1 innings in the five games against the Washington Nationals. In that span, relievers posted a 2.82 ERA and helped lift the team to a trio of one-run victories.
What’s more, Luis Avilan, Pedro Baez, Josh Fields, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias and Blanton combined to throw 14.2 scoreless innings in the series.
Blanton and Kenley Jansen were the Dodgers’ most dependable relievers during the NLDS. Blanton allowed just one in hit in five scoreless innings over four games. Jansen was called on in the seventh inning of Game 5, and he turned in a career-high 2.1 innings and 51 pitches.
Blanton struggled in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, as he gave up four hits and five runs in 0.2 innings of work. He was stung by the long ball — allowing a grand slam followed by a solo home run.
But other than that, the Dodgers bullpen has thrown 5.1 scoreless innings through the first two games of the NLCS.