By Don Wanlass
It was the team’s weakest link going in to spring training and it still is.
The Dodgers have the best starting rotation in baseball and one of the best hitting lineups in the game as well.
But the Dodgers’ front office, rival teams, media and even most casual fans know that if the Dodgers have a weakness it is relief pitching. And, after losing seven of their last nine and losing three games in a row for the first time since August 2019, everyone knows the Dodgers suffer after removing their starting pitcher.
Dodgers starting pitchers have lost only three games all season. The bullpen has lost six.
It’s gotten so bad that Kenley Jansen, who gets booed every time he takes the mound at Dodger Stadium, is still the team’s best and most consistent reliever.
During the Dodgers’ recent skid, the bullpen has pitched 27 2/3 innings, and given up 20 runs, 16 earned for an earned run average of 5.20.
Left-hander Victor Gonzalez has the best earned run average of any of the relief pitchers who have appeared in more than one game. His 2.57 ERA is slightly better than Jansen’s 2.61.
Scott Alexander, another left-hander, is the only other reliever with an ERA under 3. His is at 2.79. Alexander has been the workhorse out of the bullpen, making 11 appearances in the team’s first 24 games.
Gonzalez and Jimmy Nelson have each appeared in 10 games, Jansen and Blake Treinen have appeared in nine each and Corey Knebel, who is now on the injured list, has pitched eight times.
The Dodgers, who have the highest payroll in baseball, don’t like to pay much for relief pitchers and it shows. Only five pitchers coming out of the bullpen — Jansen, Treinen, Knebel, Alexander and David Price — are paid more than $1 million a season and Price’s $32 million salary was earned as a starting pitcher most of his career.
Jansen has been the leader of the Dodgers bullpen since 2012, when he saved 25 games. He has 317 career saves, 308 in the last 10 years. Hall of Fame relief pitchers Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter have fewer saves than Jansen.
Craig Kimbrel of the Boston Red Sox is the only active player with more saves and he has 352.
But Jansen hasn’t had an ERA under 3 for a whole season since 2017 and his other stats have dropped off since then, coinciding with the velocity of his fastball. Still, he has only one blown save and a loss in nine appearances this year.
The Dodgers were hoping that Knebel would regain the form he displayed in 2017 when he saved 39 games for Milwaukee, but Knebel missed the following season with Tommy John surgery and has recorded only 18 saves since.
He went on the injured list last week with a muscle injury that will keep him out for several months, manager Dave Roberts said.
Treinen saved 67 games with Oakland over three seasons from 2017 to 2019, but he hasn’t been consistent enough to make Roberts think he can take Jansen’s place as the closer.
Brusdar Graterol is a hard-throwing youngster who the Dodgers feel could eventually be a solid closer, but he got off to a slow start this year after an off-season bout with COVID-19 and is just rounding into shape.
So the Dodgers are stuck with Jansen at the top of their bullpen and the team is suffering because of it.
The loss of Cody Bellinger in the middle of the lineup isn’t helping things, either. Bellinger suffered a hairline facture in his lower leg when he got stepped on running the bases three weeks ago.
His bat is sorely missed and is absence is forcing bench players like Edwin Rios, Matt Beatty and Luke Raley into bigger roles. Those three are a combined 13 for 89, a .146 batting average with 2 home runs and 5 runs batted in.
Justin Turner and Corey Seager are the only regulars hitting higher than .260 for the Dodgers, who haven’t started clicking on all cylinders yet.
That being said, the defending World Series champions are still 15-9, tied for first in the National League West with the Giants, not the Padres, and tied for the best record in baseball with the Giants, Oakland and Boston.
Things could be a lot worse, bad bullpen or not.
GETTING HEALTHY: That’s the biggest concern for the Lakers and the Clippers less than four weeks from the start of the NBA playoffs.
For the Lakers, Anthony Davis returned to the lineup in the past week and is starting to shake off the rust after missing 30 games.
LeBron James apparently is not far behind Davis. He could be back by next week.
That will give the team less than three weeks so see how new center Andre Drummond fits in with James and Davis.
Drummond doesn’t need the ball to be effective. His strengths are defense and rebounding and he gets a lot of his points after grabbing offensive rebounds.
In 10 games with the Lakers, Drummond is averaging 11.4 points and 10.4 rebounds a game. That lightens the load for both Davis and James.
His arrival has sent Marc Gasol to the bench, but Gasol still has the experience and ability to make the difference in a playoff game, if needed.
The one thing about James’ injury is that it gave Talen Horton-Tucker more minutes to develop. The second year swingman from Iowa State is up to 8.7 points a game, with a career high of 24.
He is one of the few Lakers scorers who can get his own shot. Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ben McLemore are better at spotting up and shooting.
Horton-Tucker can find his own shot. He just needs to make better decisions at times on the court.
As the playoffs near, I still don’t see a team that can beat the Lakers four times in two weeks if they are at full strength. And with Staples Center opening up for fans, the Lakers should be energized for the playoff run.
The Clippers also need to get healthy. Patrick Beverly’s broken hand is still healing and the team is giving Kawhi Leonard’s foot time to heal.
The Clippers are still third in the NBA’s Western Conference, six games ahead of the fifth place Lakers. The addition of DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo have deepened the bench, but the Clippers need the energy that Beverly provides and the scoring that Leonard provides if they are going to last past the second round of the playoffs. If they do, there’s a good chance they will see the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
ODDS AND ENDS: The National Football league conducts its draft starting April 29 with the first round.
The Rams don’t have a first-round draft pick so they will sit out the opening night, barring a last minute trade that does not seem likely to happen.
The Chargers have the 13th overall selection in the opening night of the draft and eight more choices the next two days. Their biggest needs are at offensive tackle and corner back and they should be able to find a starter at either spot in the first round.
The Chargers also hope to bolster their special teams, especially during the last four rounds May 1.
The Rams have six picks spread over days two and three of the draft. They need more depth on the offensive line. …
Javier Hernandez scored twice during the 2020 season and was a major disappointment for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
In two games in 2021 he already has five goals and the Galaxy are 2-0 after defeating the New York Red Bulls, 3-2 April 25. Head coach Greg Vanney made an adjustment at halftime of the season opener April 17 and Hernandez has scored five goals in 135 minutes since.
The Galaxy travel to Seattle to play the Sounders at 6 p.m. May 2.
The Sounders are coming off a 1-1 tie with the Los Angeles Football Club April 24. LAFC faces the Houston Dynamo May 1 in Houston. …
Shohei Ohtani might become the missing piece the Angels need to make a bigger splash in the Southern California sports market.
Now in his fourth season with the Angels, Ohtani is playing more than ever before and achieving things that haven’t been achieved since Babe Ruth did them in the early 1920s.
Ohtani was 2 for 3 with two runs batted in and pitched five innings April 26 as the Angels defeated Texas 9-4. He was touched up for al four runs, but is now 1-0 on the year in three starts with a 3.29 ERA.
At the plate, Ohtani has hit seven home runs in 21 games, the same amount he hit in 44 games last season.
Ohtani is hitting in the games he pitches this season, something he hasn’t done since he played in Japan.
Now if only the Angels could find a few more pitchers, they might be able to improve on their 11-14 record.