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Dodgers

Dodgers’ creative bullpen plan more effective than Nationals’ in NLDS

Dodgers reliever Adam Kolarek delivers during Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals on Thursday.
Dodgers reliever Adam Kolarek delivers during Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

On the last day of July, Dodgers head of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was not a popular man among fans.

The Dodgers needed bullpen help. He knew it. You knew it.

The casual Dodgers fan at a sports bar complained, or called into talk radio. The typical retort included a reference to 1988, the last time the Dodgers won the World Series, the apparent lack of urgency in the front office, and a verbal glance at the Washington Nationals.

This was the sentiment, more or less: “They traded for three relievers! Why not us?”

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The Dodgers have four new relievers, albeit only one from the trade market. And with the Dodgers one victory from eliminating the Nationals in the division series, the Dodgers’ way to play baseball might just be the right way.

Your National League Division Series, in a nutshell:

The starters for each team have pitched 17 innings. The Dodgers’ starters have given up five runs. The Nationals’ starters have given up four.

The relievers for the Dodgers have pitched 10 innings and given up three runs.

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The relievers for the Nationals have pitched nine innings and given up 14 runs.

Fourteen!

On July 31, the day of the trade deadline, the Nationals acquired three relievers: Daniel Hudson from the Toronto Blue Jays, and Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland from the Seattle Mariners.

Hudson has emerged as the Washington closer, and he and Sean Doolittle are the only relievers trusted by the Nationals. Elias was injured and ineffective, and he is not on the playoff roster. Strickland is, and he has given up three home runs in two innings.

Can’t blame the Nationals for trying. They had to. Their bullpen ranked last in the league in earned-run average at the trade deadline, at 5.97. They finished the regular season with a modest improvement — still last, but with a 5.66 ERA.

The Dodgers’ bullpen, maligned though it might have been, finished the season first in the league, with a 3.78 ERA.

Friedman did not cast a wide net in his search for arms at the deadline. He decided he needed quality more than quantity.

“The small list of guys we really targeted and spent a lot of time and energy on,” Friedman said when the deadline passed, “were guys that ultimately didn’t move.”

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Not Felipe Vazquez, the Dodgers’ prime target, a trade that would have required the surrender of Gavin Lux — then their top prospect, now their starting second baseman. And not Brad Hand, or Kirby Yates, or Edwin Diaz, or Will Smith. Earlier in the summer, they declined to sign lingering free agent Craig Kimbrel.

Vazquez is facing multiple felony charges, including sexual assault of a minor. Kimbrel was 0-4 with a 6.53 ERA with the Chicago Cubs. Hand, Yates, Diaz and Smith weren’t traded at all.

Patrick Corbin’s meltdown in Game 3 of the National League Division Series could doom the Washington Nationals’ pitching strategy against the Dodgers.

The four relievers added by Friedman: Kenta Maeda, from the starting rotation; Dustin May, from the minor leagues; Julio Urias, from a swingman role after a serving a suspension for domestic violence; and Adam Kolarek, from a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kolarek, acquired to patch a bullpen weakness against left-handed hitters, has faced Juan Soto, the Nationals’ best left-handed hitter, three times in this series. Kolarek has retired Soto each time.

The quartet has combined to pitch 7 2/3 innings in this series, giving up one run. On Sunday, Maeda, Urias and Kolarek covered three innings without giving up a run.

On Monday, the team that did not trade for three relievers at the deadline could be the one that wins the series.


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