Bullpens in spotlight as Cubs visit Dodgers

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

The giveaway only a scant few will anticipate takes place Thursday at Dodger Stadium, where, mercifully, the game is enough of a draw in its own right.

When the Los Angeles Dodgers play host to the Chicago Cubs in the opener of a four-game series, the first 40,000 fans will get a Joe Kelly bobblehead, although, presumably, some might decline.

Kelly has a 7.59 ERA in 22 relief outings, and his most recent appearance, Monday against the Los Angeles Angels, might have been his worst.

He struck out three in his one inning and did not have a ball hit against him more than 60 feet, but he walked three, uncorked a pair of pitches to the backstop and gave up two runs that were the difference in the first of two consecutive 5-3 defeats to the Angels.

For all the Dodgers' prowess this season, one of their few weaknesses is their bullpen. It is an issue the Cubs know, as well.

Kelly represents the Dodgers' issues best. Los Angeles will enter a potential playoff preview series against the Cubs with a 4.34 ERA from its bullpen, in the bottom half of National League teams. The Cubs are right there with them at 4.30.

"Our guys have the stuff and we have enough diversified looks to be really good down there," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, according to the Orange County Register. "We're not doing it. We haven't done it to this point consistently enough."

Also of issue for the Dodgers is a left hamstring strain for Corey Seager that likely will keep the shortstop out at least a month. The Dodgers are expected to use Chris Taylor at shortstop until Seager returns. In the bullpen, the choices aren't as obvious.

The Dodgers have lost 23 games this season. A member of the bullpen has taken the loss in 13 of those contests.

The Cubs addressed their bullpen issues by signing free agent closer Craig Kimbrel last week, but he isn't expected to join the active roster until next month.

Brandon Morrow is out following elbow surgery, so Pedro Strop has been the default closer, but he has a 4.85 ERA in 15 appearances with two losses and two blown saves. However, since his return from the injured list after recovering from a left hamstring strain, Strop is 3-for-3 in save chances.

After the Chicago bullpen gave up a combined eight earned runs in 5 1/3 innings during consecutive defeats to the Rockies earlier this week, the relievers gave up one run in two innings Wednesday during a 10-1 victory. But that lone tally in the ninth inning prevented the Cubs from recording a shutout.

Adding to the bullpen woes was that dependable right-hander Steve Cishek was carted off the field pregame Wednesday when he was hit in the knee by a ball while playing catch. The injury wasn't believed to be serious, but he might be out for a few days.

While the Cubs went 6-1 on their most recent homestand, they will enter the long series at Los Angeles having just ended a five-game road losing streak. Going back further, the Cubs have lost seven of nine away from home.

"It's only a matter of time," said Chicago reliever Carl Edwards Jr. (5.40 ERA), according to mlb.com. "We're all going to be clicking. Once we get Kimbrel here with us, we'll just see how it goes."

The Dodgers will send Clayton Kershaw (5-1, 3.00 ERA) to the mound Thursday. He is 5-2 in 10 lifetime starts against the Cubs with a 2.57 ERA. The Cubs will counter with an ace lefty of their own, Jon Lester (5-4, 3.56), who is 4-4 in 10 starts against the Dodgers with a 3.22 ERA.

--Field Level Media