Once upon a time, the Dodgers had a group of pitchers in their bullpen that they could count on to finish out ball games.
You could be fairly certain that if the team had a wide enough lead that it would be protected. These guys at the end of game who are called "relief pitchers" actually provided relief.
Then came last year, and that all changed. Jonathon Broxton was named to the All-Star team and shortly thereafter went on to have a horrendous second half of 2010. The rest of the bullpen with a last name other than Kuo or Jansen followed suit.
The team blew epic leads consistently and ultimately let the season slip away in a most depressing manner.
Entering spring training of 2011, the Dodgers sought to address the problems that last year's bullpen had. They brought in Matt Guerrier from Minnesota, and a couple handfuls of other relievers from various scrap heaps, not to mention a few minor league prospects to try and assemble a group that would be an improvement from last season.
So far, this group has left a lot to be desired—namely, RELIEF.
Through 31 games the Dodgers have used 10 different pitchers out of the bullpen. Only two of them own an ERA under 2.00—that would be Vicente Padilla and Mike MacDougal. Guerrier started out the first few weeks brilliantly, but had a bad three-run outing on Saturday night, perhaps to prove he belongs in the LA 'pen.
Will Broxton end the season as the Dodgers closer?
Perhaps the worst stat about the Dodgers pitching has to do with the ninth inning alone. Thirty-one games into the season and the Dodgers have given up 33 runs!
I don't think it needs to said, but that's not very good. Looking at that stat it's easy to why the bullpen has already recorded six losses.
The focal point for the Dodgers bullpen is obviously Broxton. This year has been slightly better than the end of last year, but not much better. He has seven saves in eight opportunities, but he's only had two outings where he didn't walk anyone or allow a hit.
He also has two losses already and was saved by a miraculous Tony Gwynn catch the other night that prevented another blown save. Perhaps the most alarming stat for Broxton is his K/BB ratio. Through Tuesday night, he has 10 strikeouts to go with his nine walks in 12 2/3 innings.
Mattingly pulled him Tuesday after he walked two batters in the ninth on eight consecutive balls. That can't be good for a guy who seemingly has major confidence issues. It seems to me that now might be a good time for a phantom DL trip.
Maybe his feelings were hurt from the sarcastic cheers he received from the frustrated fans when he left the game after getting only one out. Judging by his velocity he actually may be hurt. Either way he could probably use a bit of time off.
As for now, the Dodgers' hopes seem to lie with recently activated Hong-Chih Kuo and Padilla, who seems like he might be able to fill that closer role if needed. Kenley Jansen was sent down to the minors to make room for Kuo and to work on another secondary pitch.
Fans were hoping that he would be the guy to step in for Broxton, but they'll have to wait for that to happen. Perhaps Rubby De La Rosa will earn a call-up soon. For now, that's just wishful thinking.
Somehow, if the Dodgers have any hope of being any more than a .500 ballclub, they will have to find some relief. Everything they have tried thus far has not gone worked. This year's bullpen just serves as a reminder of how badly the season went last year, and makes us worry that this year will be more of the same.
Demoralizing late-inning losses can really take a toll on a team, so it's vital that the Dodgers get this fixed and the sooner the better.
UPDATE 5/4/2011: ESPN.com's Tony Jackson is reporting that Jonathon Broxton was sent for an MRI this morning. No word yet on the results.