Batting Around: Should Dodgers stick with Craig Kimbrel or give closer’s role to someone else?

Throughout the season the CBS Sports MLB experts will bring you a weekly Batting Around roundtable breaking down pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. Last week we discussed sites for a potential Field of Dreams style game in the future. Now we’re going to debate the Dodgers‘ closer situation.

What should the Dodgers do about their closer situation?

R.J. Anderson: At some point, they have to consider parking Craig Kimbrel. He’s allowed at least one run in four of his last five appearances, and his struggles date back even further than that. Evan Phillips would seem like the logical candidate to take over for now, although maybe the Dodgers wait until Blake Treinen is back before massaging him into the ninth? Whatever the case, it’s hard to see them entering the playoffs with Kimbrel closing games if he’s pitching like this.

Matt Snyder: It can’t be Kimbrel. There’s just far too little command, even when he manages to throw a few strikes to consecutive hitters. This cannot be counted on when everything is under a microscope in the postseason. Evan Phillips has been amazing this season, especially since late May (he’s only given up one run in 30 appearances since May 26). Giving him a shot would make sense. Both Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol have the stuff and are on minor-league rehab assignments. Treinen has experience as an elite closer on a playoff team (2018 A’s), too. 

Right there are three easy options to try in the next few weeks. The good news for the Dodgers is they have plenty of margin for error. There’s no chance they are going to lose their lead in the NL West and they are going to end up with the best record in baseball, clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Let Dave Roberts and the front office play around with it for a bit. Dustin May is returning from Tommy John surgery and will be plugged into the rotation upon his return. His stuff could play very well in late-inning relief in the playoffs, should they decide his arm could handle the difference. Youngster Ryan Pepiot has gotten action as a spot starter and May will take over in the five-spot in the rotation, but Pepiot’s stuff could play in short relief. 

Finally, let’s get nuts: Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw recently said he’s focusing on October as he deals with a back injury. Maybe he’ll only be able to pitch in short spurts. They’ll have a full rotation because they are so stacked with depth. What about trying Kershaw in short relief upon his return and then maybe having him serve as playoff closer? 

That would be really fun. 

Mike Axisa: The Dodgers have such a huge lead in the NL West (and for a Wild Card Series bye) that I’m tempted to say they should just stick with Kimbrel and give him time to figure things out, but September is two weeks away. Kimbrel’s had close to five months to figure it out and he hasn’t. He’s too much of a liability. Blake Treinen has been out since April 14, but he’s on a minor-league rehab assignment now, and would be the obvious closer alternative. As long as he’s back to being himself post-shoulder injury, of course.

Evan Phillips is the best reliever the Dodgers have, so making him the closer would be a straightforward move. He’s so valuable as a fireman who faces the other team’s best hitters in the game’s biggest situation though. You’d rather Phillips face the middle of the order in the eighth inning than the bottom of the order in the ninth, you know? I think the Dodgers should give Treinen the first crack at closing. If that doesn’t work out, then mixing and matching is the way to go. They did it in 2020 — five different pitchers had saves for the Dodgers in the 2020 postseason — and there’s no reason they can’t do it again in 2022. 

Dayn Perry: I prefer the most dominant reliever to work the tight save situations, and that’s Evan Phillips. His increased emphasis on the slider and the introduction of a cutter to his repertoire this year has allowed him to reach new heights, and I think his level of dominance in 2022 is generally sustainable. He’d be my guy. That said, Kimbrel’s underlying numbers are pretty strong, and I think some bad luck is driving that high ERA. It wouldn’t shock me at all if he gets right in time for the postseason.

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