When the Dodgers traded for Craig Kimbrel late in spring training, they were hoping for some stability at the back of the bullpen from the guy with 372 career saves and a 2.18 career ERA. Instead, Kimbrel has been perhaps the least stable part of their bullpen, posting a 4.36 ERA and blowing four of his five one-run save opportunities.
It hasn’t cost the Dodgers much in the big picture — they hold a 19.5-game lead in the NL West and are on pace for a team-record 113 wins. With the gap between the Dodgers and their closest followers, no individual game holds that much importance.
It’s a different story in October, though. In the postseason, you don’t get a head start for winning 113 games. Every series, you have to get to three or four wins before the other team does. And that means that, while there’s no such thing as a “must-win” game right now, October is made up almost exclusively of must-win games.
And that means you want a closer you trust closing out those games.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has stuck with Kimbrel as the closer all season, with the goal of getting him back to the dominant closer he has been most of his career. His raw “stuff” remains very good, and Roberts has expressed confidence that with improved command and a slight tweak to his approach, he can be the guy they trust with the ball in the ninth inning.
On Wednesday, though, Roberts was asked a slightly different version of the question: Who will be the closer in October? And Roberts gave an answer that was newsworthy, if not for its groundbreaking nature, at least for its forthrightness.
As quoted by J.P. Hoornstra in the Orange County Register, Roberts was blunt in his assessment of the situation:
“My expectation, my hope is, it’s Craig,” Roberts said when asked who would close games in October. “It should be a meritocracy. It should be about performance. I do believe that if he’s closing games, we’re better for it.”
Again, it’s not exactly new information. It’s been clear for a while that the Dodgers’ goal is to keep getting Kimbrel in the game and hope the work he’s putting in will start paying off in games. But when Roberts says the Dodgers are “better for it” if Kimbrel is closing games in October, he means the Dodgers are a better team when Kimbrel is pitching well enough to have earned the right to close games in October.
In the end, if Kimbrel doesn’t right the ship in the next 39 games, he won’t be closing close games in October, when every game matters. But the Dodgers are going to continue giving him every opportunity to get right, because while they’ve been historically good this year even with a mediocre Kimbrel, they could be that much better with Kimbrel Classic.
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