Game 161 of 162 took place at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night and Julio Urías clinched the National League ERA title by giving up two runs in five innings to finish at 2.16 in the Dodgers’ 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
All that’s left of the Dodgers’ historic regular season is the finale Wednesday afternoon, and the only sliver of intrigue is whether Freddie Freeman can overtake the New York Mets’ Jeff McNeil for the NL batting title. It’s not likely with McNeil at .326 and Freeman at .322 after going 0 for 4.
Otherwise, even though the Dodgers have lost three in a row to the Rockies, attention has shifted to the National League Division Series, which will begin next Tuesday after five days off.
How will the Dodgers bullpen be employed? Can a slumping hitter flip the script? Will players mending from injuries do so soon enough for inclusion on the postseason roster?
One at a time, please. Let’s start with the bullpen:
Craig Kimbrel’s steep decline from closer to possibly being left off the playoff roster triggered alarm bells a few weeks ago. But the Dodgers have pieced together enough young live arms and astonishing reclamation projects to run effective relievers out to the mound in any situation — including closing games.
Six different relievers have notched saves since Kimbrel’s last save Sept. 6. And that doesn’t include two other relievers well-suited for the role: right-hander Evan Phillips (7-3, 1.14 ERA) and left-hander Alex Vesia (5-0, 2.15 ERA).
“You’ve seen on multiple occasions guys we pick up immediately have an impact on the bullpen,” Vesia said. “It’s adding the little pieces to the puzzle.”
The reclamation projects begin with Phillips, who had a career ERA of 6.68 entering the season. He’s allowed just 33 hits in 63 innings, emerging as the Dodgers’ first choice in a late-inning, high-leverage situation.
Next is Chris Martin, reinvented at age 36 into a strike-throwing machine whose ERA is 1.52 since being acquired at the trade deadline. With the Chicago Cubs through July, Martin’s ERA was 4.31. Oh, and with the Dodgers, he has struck out 34 while walking one.
“You hear about the success rate they have here and it’s easy to be confident they are going to give you good information,” Martin said. “Most of it came down to [catchers Will Smith and Austin Barnes], the guys behind the scenes communicating with them, how to use certain stuff, where to use it, when to use it. I bought in.”
An ascent was also experienced by Yency Almonte, until this season struggling at high altitude in Colorado. After posting an unsightly 7.55 ERA in 48 appearances last season, the Rockies let him go and the Dodgers signed him to a minor league contract.
Instant transformation: Although Almonte has battled injuries, his ERA is a minuscule 1.05 and he’s given up 18 hits in 34 1/3 innings.
“They’ve all had great success this year and I look forward to watching our bullpen in the playoffs,” Vesia said.
Like Vesia, Brusdar Graterol is a young reliever traded to the Dodgers after logging a handful of major league appearances. He’s another closer candidate.
“We do a great job of preventing runs,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Our front office, they do a good job of finding talent . . . and the coaches do a great job of developing it. It’s a great formula.”
As for whether a slumping hitter can heat up in time, the Dodgers have plenty of candidates. Entering Tuesday’s game, Gavin Lux was batting .158 and Mookie Betts .215 over the last 28 days; Max Muncy was batting .158 and Chris Taylor .177 over the last 14 days; and Will Smith was batting .185 and Freeman .227 over the last seven days.
“It’s not worrisome,” Roberts said, noting that the Dodgers clinched everything they needed to accomplish several days ago. “It’s human nature, there’s an edge that’s not there given the circumstances.”
Trea Turner, however, is causing the greatest consternation. The shortstop and No. 2 batter in the lineup is essential to the offense. Yet he hasn’t homered since Sept. 11 and hasn’t driven in a run since Sept. 16, remaining stuck on 97 RBIs for nearly three weeks.
“He’s frustrated,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s trying to figure it out.”
Those on the mend include Taylor and pitchers Dustin May and Blake Treinen. Taylor, who has battled a sore neck, said Tuesday he’s “100%” certain he’ll be ready for the NLDS. Roberts said Taylor has roster value coming off the bench even if he can’t play every day.
Roberts is confident May’s back injury will have healed enough for him to contribute. Treinen, whose shoulder issues limited him to five innings all season, is iffy because even if he can make an appearance, it’s questionable whether he could be called upon a second time in a series. May and Treinen are scheduled to throw to live batters Wednesday.
Urías’ velocity was up from recent starts and he said he threw well. He made two mistakes, giving up solo home runs to Brendan Rodgers in the first inning on an 0-2 fastball and Sean Bouchard in the third inning.
“I felt mentally focused, I felt good,” Urías said. “The ERA title is something very special. The last couple of years have been a blessing, winning 20 games last year and winning the ERA title this year.”
Left-hander Andrew Heaney, almost exclusively a starter in his nine-year career, made his second recent relief appearance, giving up three runs in four innings. Bulk relief is expected to be his role in the postseason, and he’s good with it. In fact, he made it a point to tell Roberts as much a week ago.
“Any way, any role, whatever, however I can help,” Heaney said. “I wanted to make it clear, it’s not an issue.”