Craig Kimbrel’s near meltdown raises the question: Should Dodgers trade for a closer?
On Friday night at Coors Field, however, they were reminded of one of the biggest issues they have to address.
Though the Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies for a second straight night, prevailing 5-4 behind early two-run home runs from Will Smith and Trayce Thompson plus a strong seven-inning start from left-hander Julio Urías, the game finished much closer than it should have been.
Tasked to protect a three-run lead at the end, closer Craig Kimbrel almost blew another save by giving up two runs in the ninth.
“We’re always evaluating,” Roberts said when asked about Kimbrel after nearly another disastrous outing from the veteran. “He’s our closer, but performance matters, especially at the back end of the game.”
The Seattle Mariners made the first big move ahead of Tuesday’s MLB trade deadline, acquiring All-Star pitcher Luis Castillo from the Cincinnati Reds.
Despite the late dramatics, the Dodgers are 67-32. They maintained a 12-game lead in the division. And since losing back-to-back games in Denver last month, they have won 22 of their last 26, including each of their last three and the first two of this four-game series.
“To win a couple games” at the outset of an eight-game trip, Roberts said, “couldn’t start off any better.”
Friday night, however, almost took a turn for the worst.
Leading 5-2 since the third inning, thanks to Urías’ impressive start and a scoreless eighth from setup man Evan Phillips, the Dodgers seemed to be safe when Kimbrel came trotting into the game.
The right-hander started the inning with a groundout, gave up a single to Kris Bryant, but then struck out C.J. Cron to put the Dodgers on the cusp of an easy win.
Then Brendan Rodgers bounced a base hit to right. José Iglesias drew a full-count walk to load the bases. And Randal Grichuk drove in two with a line-drive single to left, drawing the Rockies to within one run.
Facing another full count in the next at-bat, Kimbrel threw an inside fastball that Ryan McMahon sliced the other way.
Off the bat, it looked like his flare might drop near the line in left field. But then, at the last second, Thompson came flying in with a sprinting catch — his momentum carrying him into the netting in front of the stands after making the final out.
“I feel like I got a good bead on it, was just trying to secure it,” Thompson said. “I don’t know if it was the end of the game or whatever, but I didn’t feel fast running for it. Was just trying to make a play.”
Though Thompson’s catch saved the Dodgers’ win, it did little to quiet the mounting questions surrounding Kimbrel.
The future Hall of Famer has converted 18 of 21 save opportunities but also has a 4.37 earned-run average and 1.51 walks plus hits per inning pitched.
He needed 29 pitches to escape Friday’s jam, again struggling to land his breaking ball and find consistent fastball command.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee that players could lose job opportunities if baseball loses its antitrust exemption.
And had Kimbrel walked McMahon, Roberts was planning to pull him, something he’s already had to do once this month in the middle of a save opportunity.
“I gotta look at the film,” Roberts said afterward. “But certainly, to get three outs and go near 30 pitches, it just isn’t good enough, and Craig knows that.”
Asked whether, through a potential trade or an internal candidate, the Dodgers will have to address the closer role, Roberts said the team is continually evaluating.
“No one knows that more than Craig,” Roberts said. “We as an organization are always trying to get better. I’ve always said that. And he’s got to continue to work on some things to be more efficient and be more effective.
“That’s just facts.”
It seems unlikely the Dodgers will make a costly splash for a big-name reliever in the next four days.
Rather, they’ve largely been linked in trade rumors with starting pitchers — such as Luis Castillo, before he was dealt by the Cincinnati Reds to the Seattle Mariners on Friday night in this deadline’s first big trade — or in star-studded pursuits of phenoms like the Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto or the Angels’ reigning American League most valuable player, Shohei Ohtani.
For a team that is virtually assured of reaching the postseason, and already seems to be gearing up for a deep October run, those are the kind of moves that could put them over the top.
But it doesn’t mean there aren’t still small cracks in their foundation — with Friday highlighting one of the biggest questions they’ll have to answer as they coast down the stretch.
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