Relievers help LA keep Wild Card lead since Clayton Kershaw injury
By Matt Kelly
On Sunday afternoon, Kenta Maeda became the first Dodgers starter to throw a pitch in the seventh inning since ace Clayton Kershaw back on June 20.
That's a statistic that perfectly encapsulates how important Kershaw has been to a starting rotation that was seemingly decimated by injuries before the season even began. It also speaks to how much the Dodgers' bullpen has stepped up in his absence, helping Los Angeles go 8-3 since Kershaw went on the disabled list June 30.
"We all know how early the [bullpen] phone is ringing, but the good thing about it is how all those guys' character is," said Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on Saturday. "Whatever inning the phone rings, certain guys just have to pitch. Guys don't complain, they just want to win ballgames.
The Dodgers head into the All-Star break well positioned for a late-season run. The team stands at a season-high 11 games over .500 and holds a firm grip on the National League's top Wild Card spot -- in large part thanks to a bullpen that was much maligned in the opening weeks of the season. The recent heroics of LA's relievers have earned them the Bullpen of the Week award presented by The Hartford.
As part of the MLB Prevailing Moments program, each Monday throughout the 2016 season, MLB.com is honoring the "Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford." An industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James, constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team-bullpen performance.
Here's how the Bullpen Rating System is compiled for each week. For reference, a weekly score of 100 is considered outstanding:
• Add 1.5 points for each out recorded
• Add 1.5 points for each strikeout
• Add 5 points for a save
• Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
• Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed
• Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed
• Subtract 1 point for each walk
• Subtract 5 points for a blown save
The Dodgers won their second Bullpen of the Week award this season going away -- scoring a total of 157 points. Los Angeles relievers allowed just six earned runs in 36 innings of work, striking out 40 batters and walking only seven. Jansen earned three saves this past week, placing him into a tie for the second-most saves in the Majors with 27. Since he blew a save against the Giants on June 11, Jansen has tossed 14 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and two walks.
Los Angeles' bullpen displayed an ability to withstand adversity and succeed despite unexpected circumstances. Here's a look at their biggest obstacle:
The unexpected: The Dodger Stadium stands were filled to capacity Monday to see the hometown team take on the AL East-leading Orioles on Independence Day. Unfortunately, rookie starter Julio Urias did not pitch his best on this big occasion, allowing five runs on six hits and two walks in just 3 1/3 innings. With his team down, 5-2, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was forced to go to his bullpen to get the final 17 outs against the AL's most homer-happy offense.
How they prevailed: A combination of five relievers (Louis Coleman, Pedro Baez, Joe Blanton, Adam Liberatore and Jansen) saved the day for Los Angeles, tossing 5 2/3 shutout innings and allowing just two Orioles hits the rest of the way. Jansen struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth, preserving a come-from-behind 7-5 victory and sending the fans home happy and putting an emphatic exclamation point on a Fourth of July win.
The Pittsburgh Pirates' bullpen placed second in the BRS Standings with 114.5 points last week. Closer Mark Melancon has converted his last 23 consecutive save situations, and his 111 saves since the start of the 2014 season are the most of any pitcher in the Major Leagues.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.