The crowd used to cheer and rise when “California Love” blared from the speakers. It’s now a struggle for those in attendance to get pumped up when the bullpen gate swings open and closer Kenley Jansen emerges.
Everyone has pushed the panic button on Wednesday night to alert the Dodgers of another blown save by him. He’s not elite anymore. His confidence is at an all-time low, his diminished velocity has exposed him and batters are no longer flummoxed by his nasty cutter. Again, the Dodgers were notified of the danger in order to protect themselves from ninth-inning meltdowns.
Jansen has been, somewhat, surprisingly and disappointingly, an untrusted arm out of an unsettled bullpen. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are 84-44, but Jansen has lost his grip on the closer reins. Everything we used to say about Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen can’t be said anymore.
There is a lot on the line for the Dodgers besides just vying for home-field advantage. They’re playing for something bigger than that and have an opportunity once more to finally and hopefully win an elusive World Series title they want so badly. So before their championship window slams shut, this is the year they can finally ride out the October storm.
Certainly, the Dodgers look unbeatable when they play with this same level of intensity. But there’s a cause for concern because Jansen can’t seem to hit his spots or consistently command his pitches. His proclivity for giving up deep flies is undeniably repetitive. His control issues account for a lot of blastoffs that are leaving the yard and traveling a lot farther. He has relied heavily on his slider, but there’s a difference in his pitching delivery.
It’s spectacularly bad for the Dodgers because Jansen is an absolute atrocity. Luckily, for him, Dodgers’ batters have bailed him out of trouble on plenty occasions and usually in walk-off fashion. He hadn’t been great in his appearances for the club, but he’d been working his way back. There’s never been a good time for him to go into a slump, but the Dodgers feel he can overcome the mental barriers.
These games down the stretch aren’t of critical importance, but the handiness of strong relief pitching is more crucial in the postseason. Now, however, even without heavy playoff implications, Jansen has to reestablish himself as a viable closer in time for October if he wants the role to still be his. The difficulties, on a positive note, come at a good time for him and the Dodgers. He’ll be given a shot to make mechanical tweaks after several rough outings and will hopefully resemble the dominating reliever we know him to be.
In 2017, at age 29, Jansen led all closers with a 1.32 ERA, converted 41 of 42 regular-season saves, giving him the highest save percentage at 98 percent, and tied former Rockies closer Greg Holland for the most in the National League. But you can certainly understand why most of us assume the vintage Jansen is gone for good. Long gone are the days where he used to retire the side in order and pick up the save.
The problem comes from the fact that he’s struggling to hold leads and finish games, when he enters in relief with a lead. Simply put, the Dodgers will win the World Series if Jansen pitches perfectly in ninth innings. In a season of thrills and excitement, Jansen has tumbled into a pit of mediocrity and this spells trouble for the Dodgers.
This is uncharted territory for him. Ever since he underwent surgery to address a heart condition, Jansen has never been the same. You believe him when he says he feels good. You believe him when he says he is confident he’ll look like his old self in closing out games.
It’s mid-August, and Jansen, the Dodgers’ worst and most inconsistent right-hander this season, has sixth blown saves in 32 opportunities with a career-high 3.70 earned-run average. It seems somewhat hard to believe, but the expected life of a closer is usually no more than two seasons in the big leagues.
The bar was set so high for him in the beginning. But relief pitching, as it has been all season, is holding the Dodgers back, and Jansen is a huge part of why the team falters late. Suffice it to say, Dave Roberts faces a tough decision with the 31-year-old.
Jansen has been anything but sharp. Nothing has really gone well for him and he hasn’t been nearly electric as before. It has not been the way he wants it to go when he comes out to pitch. He has thrown sliders more frequently, and his repertoire includes more four-seam fastballs. What you’re seeing is Jansen falling behind in the count and not being able to get ahead of hitters lately.
If his prior outings didn’t alert you, surely Wednesday night did. It is quite a rough patch he has gone through, and he still hasn’t hit his stride. As great as this team is, Jansen needs to have his good stuff.