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Dodgers Dugout: Opening up the reader mailbag

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 31.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 31.
(Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and we are less than a month away from the start of the playoffs. Finally.

Reader mailbag

I took the early part of this week off from the newsletter to gear up for the playoffs (newsletter goes almost daily during the postseason) and noticed a lot of recurring questions from you in my emails. Let’s address a few.

When are the Dodgers going to demote Kenley Jansen from closer?

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If they haven’t by now, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen soon. But there’s a bigger problem with demoting him. Let’s say they decide he’s not going to pitch in save situations anymore and will pitch earlier in games. You can lose a game just as easily in the seventh inning as the ninth inning, so demoting him is not really solving the problem, it’s just moving the problem to a different part of the game. It seems unlikely that they would make Jansen a mop-up man, so just prepare to get nervous when he pitches the rest of the season.

Would you demote Jansen?

I would do whatever I thought was best for the team. It’s easy to sit in my living room and make decisions when I don’t have to deal with 25 personalities on the team or the chemistry of the team. That being said, I would be very comfortable with Joe Kelly, Pedro Baez or Casey Sadler getting a save opportunity or two down the stretch and going with more of a closer-by-committee. It’s obvious Jansen isn’t the same pitcher he once was. He seems to get extremely anxious whenever there is a runner on second base, and his pitches haven’t had the same velocity or movement for a long time. Despite all the proclamations that everything will eventually click into place, I think the pitcher he is now is basically the pitcher he is going to be.

What will the playoff bullpen look like?

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A lot can happen before October, but the main part of the bullpen will probably be Jansen, Baez, Kelly, Sadler, Kenta Maeda and Adam Kolarek. A lot will depend on the answer to the next question.

What will the playoff rotation look like?

The first three are obvious: Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu. As for the fourth starter, candidates include Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Rich Hill (if he can return from his injury in time). Hill is scheduled to throw about 30 pitches on Friday in a simulated game. Whoever doesn’t get the nod will probably end up in the bullpen, except for Hill, whose arm may not be up to daily or even every-other-day bullpen use. Also keep in mind that May has a 2.82 ERA as a starter and a 27.00 ERA as a reliever. A lot is going to depend on what happens between now and the playoffs.

What’s wrong with Hyun-Jin Ryu?

In his last four starts, Ryu is 0-3 with a 9.95 ERA. He has struck out 21 in those 19 innings but given up 31 hits. Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser, whom most of you don’t get to hear, had an interesting discussion about his struggles during his start on Wednesday. Hershiser said it could just be one small mechanical thing that is throwing off his release point, or throwing off the rotation of his body. But no one really knows what the exact problem is, or it would be fixed. Perhaps it is mechanical, perhaps he is tired, perhaps opposing hitters figured something out about him. But his pitches are definitely more up in the zone than they were earlier. The Dodgers have a staff of people who get paid to figure this stuff out, so hopefully it can be figured out and fixed. Because if he continues to pitch this poorly the rest of September...... well, let’s not go there yet.

Can Gavin Lux be on the postseason roster?

Even though Lux wasn’t on the 40-man roster by Sept. 1, he could still be added to the postseason roster. He could replace someone who is on the disabled list who is eligible to be taken off the list but is still injured. So, worst-case scenario, if Max Muncy isn’t ready by the playoffs, the Dodgers could add Lux to the postseason roster in place of Muncy.

Of course, Lux has played only three games so far, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

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What’s wrong with Cody Bellinger?

Let’s take a look at his numbers (AVG/OB%/SLG%) each month:

March/April: .431/.508/.890
May: .319/.413/.585
June: .272/.391/.576
July: .265/.386/.566
August: .235/.335/.582
September: .286/.444/.714

Since Aug. 20, he is hitting .204/.361/.449

So what’s wrong? Here are some key quotes from this story by Jorge Castillo.

“I think the thing that I see is with Cody coming into this season, his mindset was to be a really good hitter and be consistent with his approach, his mechanics and his work,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And for me, when you try to slug, there’s pitches and at-bats that you miss. Whether you foul them off, you pop them up, you swing and miss. And so I think that getting him back to the mindset of being a good hitter and appreciating the fact that his swing has built-in loft that he’ll in turn slug.”

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Dodgers hitting strategist Brant Brown suggested keeping up with Christian Yelich, Mike Trout, Pete Alonso and others slugging for the home run crown could have diverted Bellinger from his approach. Roberts said he suspected the MVP battle “might bleed into it a little bit.”

“I get it all,” Brown said. “You want to be able to be that guy. But at the same time, like we’ve expressed to him, when he wasn’t trying to be that guy, he was that guy. When he’s trying to be that guy, he’s not that guy.”

Opponents have also been steadfast in pitching around Bellinger when possible. His 86 walks were tied for eighth most in the majors through Wednesday. His 19 intentional walks were first. When pitchers dare to attack, they’re testing Bellinger in different ways, hoping to find and exploit a hole. One strategy has been attempting to jam him inside with fastballs to avoid letting him extend and unload his power.

“It’s a risk-reward for them because if they don’t quite get it there, there can be some damage,” Brown said.

Is it possible that the starting pitchers are struggling because a new guy, Will Smith, is catching them instead of Russell Martin or Austin Barnes?

Anything is possible. Dodgers pitchers have an ERA of 2.99 with Martin catching, 3.41 with Barnes catching and 4.06 with Smith catching. But to lay the struggles at the feet of Smith is unfair. It’s not like these guys suddenly forget how to pitch when Smith is catching them, and pitchers are able to shake off signs if they want to.

Where’s Alex Verdugo?

He had a setback in his rehab from an oblique injury, only now his oblique is fine and his back is bothering him. He was supposed to return in time for the series against Baltimore early next week, but “there’s still time as far as getting ready to finish out the season,” Roberts said. “But to see him playing in a game in Baltimore is not going to happen.” Will he be back in time to be ready for the playoffs?

“Right now, there’s no concern,” Roberts said. “I think with Alex, with his mechanics, his bat to ball, I don’t think it’ll take him a whole lot of at-bats. It’s also the thought of being able to stand in the outfield for a couple of hours, a few hours, to kind of build that up. But as far as time left on the calendar, we still have plenty of it.”

What about Rich Hill and Max Muncy?

They are progressing nicely from their respective injuries and, if all goes well, will be back next week.

Where is Andrew Toles?

He is still out dealing with a personal matter.

Will the Dodgers win the World Series?

I have no more information on this subject than I did at the start of the season. Can they? Of course. Will they? If you forced me to say one way or the other right now, I would say no. I believe they have the best team in the NL, but I would favor the Yankees or Astros over them in the World Series. Heck, they could face Washington in the division series and lose because the Nationals have such great starting pitching. Of course, the Dodgers could also sweep their way to the World Series, while the Yankees and Astros get upset and suddenly we have a Dodgers-Tampa Bay World Series.

The Dodgers are once again the favorites to win the World Series according to most sports betting agencies. Other sites give them a 25.4% chance to win the World Series, far higher than any other team (the Astros are second at 14.1%).

A lot of fans focus on the negatives of the Dodgers, and they certainly have some negatives, without focusing on the negatives every other team has as well. Injuries, who is hot and who is slumping will have a lot to do with who wins. Right now, the Dodgers have as good a chance as any other playoff contender to win it all.

Numbers

Most home runs in a season, Dodgers:

49: Shawn Green (2001)
48: Adrian Beltre (2004)
44: Cody Bellinger (2019)
43: Gary Sheffield (2000)
43: Duke Snider (1956)

Ask Ross Porter

Ross Porter will once again answer reader questions this season. All you have to do is email me your question at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. I will forward the email to Ross, and he will answer some each week. Take it away, Ross.

Steve Elling of Orlando, Fla. asks: Why don’t teams have captains? Have the Dodgers had one since Pee Wee Reese?

Ross: There are no current team captains, as players prefer team leaders with whom they can communicate better. Derek Jeter and David Wright were the last captains, and only eight teams have had captains this century. After Pee Wee, the Dodger captains were Duke Snider (1962), Maury Wills (1963-66) and Davey Lopes (1978-79)

Philip La Farge asks: Ross, who was the first Latino player on the Dodgers?

Ross: in Brooklyn, it was Dolf Luque in 1930, and in Los Angeles, Sandy Amoros in 1959. Both were Cuban. Source: baseball-reference

Jeff Toss asks: Is there a time limit for a rain delay, and what is the longest one?

Ross: An umpire shall not call a game until at least 30 minutes after he has suspended play, and may continue indefinitely. In 1990, the White Sox and Rangers waited 7 hours and 23 minutes and never played.

Bob Lundquist of Arroyo Grande asks: Ross, the Sept. 1 roster expansions are being reduced from 40 to 28 next year. Why?

Ross: Bob, with 40, many losing teams would use triple-A players over a 30-day period when playoff spots are being decided. That would be unethical. They could have kept it 40 and managers would designate 28 for each game. There will be a 14-pitcher maximum.

Numerous inquiries: Why don’t the Dodgers bunt more?

Ross: You may be surprised as I was to learn the Dodgers lead the Major League in sacrifice hits with 50 — 48 by pitchers. Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda are three of the four leaders, with 12, 12 and 11, respectively. The only Dodger position player with a sacrifice hit is Chris Taylor, who has two. The entire Angels team has three. Bunting is not very popular as managers don’t want to give up an out to advance one base. Studies show that a runner at first base with no outs is more likely to score than a man at second base with one out. Most hitters are not good bunters and don’t practice bunting. The Dodgers lead the National League in home runs and rely on that power to get them runs.

Follow Ross on twitter at therossporter.

More KTLA games

Four more Dodgers games will be televised on KTLA Channel 5 this season:

Saturday, 6 p.m. vs. San Francisco

Saturday, Sept. 14, 4 p.m. at New York Mets

Saturday, Sept. 21, 6 p.m. vs. Colorado Rockies

Saturday, Sept. 28, 1 p.m. at San Francisco

Up next

All times Pacific

Tonight: San Francisco (Jeff Samardzija) at Dodgers (*Clayton Kershaw), 7 p.m.

Saturday: San Francisco (Tyler Beede) at Dodgers (Tony Gonsolin), 6 p.m., KTLA Ch. 5

Sunday: San Francisco (Dereck Rodriguez) at Dodgers (Walker Buehler), 1 p.m.

* left-handed

And finally

Eric Karros hits two home runs in Game 2 of the 1995 NLDS. Watch it here.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston. Subscribe to this newsletter by clicking here.


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