The Dodgers relieve struggling Craig Kimbrel from the closer role

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Craig Kimbrel
USATSI

The Dodgers are 104-46 heading into Friday’s game against the Cardinals. They have already clinched the NL West and will finish with the best record in baseball and franchise records for wins in a season. They can always approach more wins (116, which they could tie if they win, though that’s unlikely).

What could derail them?

Well, ninth inning problems are definitely on the list of possibilities. On that front, manager Dave Roberts told reporters Friday that Craig Kimbrel has been relieved of the closer’s role. Answers to possible questions:

  • Kimbrel understands the move and wants to do what’s best for the team (via Dodgers Insider,
  • Roberts did not name a new closer, instead using multiple relievers in the role (Via Juan Toribio,
  • Roberts has yet to discuss how he plans to tackle Punk in the playoffs (Via Bill Plunkett,

Kimbrel has saved 22 games in 27 chances, but that’s far from telling the whole story. He has a 4.14 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, which are pretty terrible for approaching a 100-plus hit team, but, again, they don’t tell the whole story.

Control was an issue with 23 walks, five hit batters and seven wild pitches in 54 1/3 innings. From night to night, you never know if Kimbrel can throw strikes. Command is also a big problem. If he strikes out the throw, he still misses the points. His pitch is also inconsistent. Sometimes he can find the fastball, sometimes he can’t. Sometimes it’s the curve that he finds (or doesn’t find). This seems to vary for the away trip, where they figure out which pitch is acceptable to use that night and leave.

Unsurprisingly, the result is contradictory. There are stretches where he gets zeros on a nightly basis, but stretches where he gives up at least one run in every outing. Latest cycle:

  • From August. 4 to August. 16, Kimbrel appeared in five games and allowed a run in four.
  • He then departed for nine.
  • He has now given up a run in three of his last four outings, giving up five runs (four earned) on three hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings.

As far as ninth inning options go, Roberts has some good candidates. Evan Phillips has been brilliant all season. Lefties Alex Vecia and Caleb Ferguson also deserve consideration. Chris Martin has excelled since being acquired at the trade deadline. Brusdar Graterol has the look and feel of a big-time closer. Blake Treinen has been close to being elite before, though his health isn’t counted on right now and shouldn’t be counted out for long at this point.

Expect Roberts to play with the back-end of the bullpen in the coming days, as Oct. 11.

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