CINCINNATI -- One Los Angeles Dodgers source said it is unlikely the team will be able to trade for an impact reliever this month since they have been "blocked all month" by teams lower in the standings. In a perverse twist, the team's recent five-game slide could increase their odds a tick.
Teams are awarded waiver claims in reverse order of the standings in the league of the player in question. The New York Mets have now caught the Dodgers with an identical record of 67-56 and, of course, the San Francisco Giants are only two games behind in the loss column. Don't look now, but the Arizona Diamondbacks are only five back.
Tanking, though, seems like a bad move to try to land a veteran, overpaid reliever who might or might not help in these last 39 games, so what else can the Dodgers do about a bullpen that has been their biggest deficiency for four months now?
You really can't argue with the need. The Dodgers now have the worst bullpen ERA (4.20) in the National League aside from the Colorado Rockies and Atlanta Braves. Closer Kenley Jansen blew a save Sunday in a game -- with a brilliant 10-strikeouts performance by Clayton Kershaw -- that could have turned the tide. Chris Hatcher gave up the winning 10th-inning home run.
Granted, the offense isn't producing much, but you've occasionally got to be able to pull out tight, low-scoring games and the Dodgers rarely can because of the bullpen.
Though Jansen had been pitching well, was on a week's rest and wasn't hit hard, the team wasn't giving him any free passes, not at this time of year.
"Kenley's not going to make excuses and we're not going to make excuses either. He knows he's got to come in and do the job," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "The great thing about Kenley is he has a short-term memory. If he gets the chance, he'll be ready to go Tuesday."
Some of it his purely bad luck. Opposing hitters have a .319 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), second-highest in the league, against the Dodgers relievers. Some of it is bad pitching. Dodgers relievers are giving up more than a home run per nine innings. Only three teams in the league have done that.
There is a fair amount of hope things will improve with no changes. With Kershaw and Zack Greinke pitching as well as they have, the bullpen isn't particularly taxed. Plus, Dodgers relievers have the highest strikeout-per-nine in the league and only four teams are walking fewer people.
But, of course, Dodgers fans don't want to hear that and simply trusting in a regression to the mean when the season is reduced to six weeks seems risky. Change will come, but it might come from within. The most interesting potential fix is to promote the team's best pitching prospect, 19-year old Julio Urias.
Since the Dodgers have little interest in adding the actual Francisco Rodriguez, perhaps they could add the guy who could have the kind of impact K-Rod once had in helping the 2002 Los Angeles Angels win a World Series. Rodriguez was 20 at the time. He had a wipeout slider and a mid-90s fastball. He pitched in fewer than six innings for the Angels that September, but he was so unhittable -- 13 strikeouts and only five base runners -- that the Angels put him on their postseason roster.
Urias' impact could be similar. He's a starting pitcher, of course, so it would take some getting used to, but teams have been breaking their top pitching prospects in as relievers fairly routinely lately. It didn't seem to affect Carlos Martinez's development in St. Louis. He came up at 21, pitched mostly in relief for two years and now he's one of the most dominant starters in the major leagues.
Urias is 3-4 with a 3.21 ERA at Double-A Tulsa. He has 80 strikeouts and 15 walks. Opponents are hitting .224 off him. Coming out of the bullpen, his mid-90s fastball probably would play up. His breaking ball and changeup could be devastating weapons. The Dodgers have to worry about Urias' confidence if he comes up and fails, but the first thing everyone in the organization always says about him is that he has poise well beyond his years. He has been dominating older hitters since he was 16.
It seems more and more likely the Dodgers will have Urias in their clubhouse in September. At the very least he'll get a look at where he figures to end up soon and, at the most, he brings a live, fresh arm and helps turn the tide.
The other guy who could help is Mike Bolsinger, who has been pitching in a hybrid role in Triple-A Oklahoma City since the Dodgers demoted him after they traded for Mat Latos and Alex Wood. Bolsinger had one game in which he struck out nine Tacoma Rainiers in seven innings. His curveball, one of the best in baseball, could be an effective weapon out of the bullpen. He could also give the bullpen length and spare other arms for higher-leverage situations in games that get out of hand.
Changes are coming, no doubt. To sit back and wait risks the Dodgers' chances, not only in the postseason but of even getting there.