Last week, I wrote about how the 2020 Dodgers are talented, but October is scarier than ever. Now, let me balance it out with some good news about this particular postseason that could really play into the Dodgers’ favor.
Earlier this month, MLB and the MLB Players Association announced that the 28-man rosters in place for this pandemic season will be preserved all the way through the World Series. No team stands to benefit from this more than the Dodgers, because no team has the depth of the Dodgers.
Now, two obvious caveats: We’re only talking about a 30-game stretch for the 2020 Dodgers, and ERA is an inadequate tool for measuring bullpen effectiveness. All things being relative, it should give you some idea of the dominance of this group of Dodger relievers.
On top of that sterling 1.82 bullpen ERA, the Dodgers have stranded 51 of 60 inherited runners. They’ve been remarkable.
The Dodgers have used 12 relief pitchers in 2020. Seven of them have a WHIP below 1.00. Nine of them have an ERA below 2.00. And that’s with Dodger starting pitchers averaging just below five innings per start.
Forgive me for skipping a careful study beyond this point, but it seems to go without saying that the depth of the roster has boosted the Dodgers’ overall bullpen performance. Rarely, if ever, does Dave Roberts need to use a pitcher on back-to-back days. Everyone’s pitching well, which makes it easier for Roberts to spread the innings around, which makes it easier for everyone to get rest, which makes it easier for everyone to keep pitching well.
(By the way, for all the grief some people have given Roberts for his bullpen management, maybe he deserves a shoutout for how he’s manipulated his staff in 2020. In particular, Roberts doesn’t seem fazed by the new three-batter minimum rule at all, often finding a way around it by continuing to make mid-inning pitching changes that give him flexibility in the next inning. I know — he still has to win a World Series — but so far this year, he and the Dodgers have been artists.)
And so the good news is, nothing about this approach really has to change when October arrives. Even if MLB ends up holding every round of the playoffs in a bubble with no off days needed for travel, the Dodgers can continue to mix and match.It’s unrealistic to expect the Dodger bullpen to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA the rest of the year. But if the relievers can remain reasonably effective, it means the Dodgers don’t need to bank on their starting pitchers to give them seven or more dominant innings. That’s good, because aside from maybe the ascendant Walker Buehler, the Dodgers don’t have anyone who reliably can. Clayton Kershaw is revitalized in 2020. Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urías are showing flashes of greatness. But it’s going to be rare that any of them should be pitching beyond the sixth inning in October.
For quite some time, the Dodgers have been able to brag about having unparalleled depth in their organization. Amid unprecdented challenges on the road to the World Series, this might be the year they can finally take full advantage.