Things looked bleak in Los Angeles not too long ago.
Both baseball franchises -- the Dodgers and the Angels -- had spent an exorbitant amount of money improving their teams in the offseason. Yet both teams struggled mightily out of the gate.
The Angels have not been able to rebound from a disappointing start, but the Dodgers all of a sudden have opened a comfortable 7 1/2-game lead in the NL West.
The Dodgers were 12 games out of first place in the division on June 21, but since then, the team has rattled off an MLB-best 37-8 record -- including a 15-game road winning streak, the longest such streak in the NL since 1957.
A few factors have led to the Dodgers’ turnaround. The arrival of Yasiel Puig gave the team a jolt of energy, and Hanley Ramirez returning to the lineup was a huge plus.
The team’s starting pitching and middle relief has also been spot on, led by consistent performances by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Ricky Nolasco, Hyun-Jin Ryu, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez.
But one name that gets lost in the shuffle on the star-studded Dodgers’ roster is 25-year-old closer Kenley Jansen, who has been as important a piece to the Dodgers’ turnaround as any.
Jansen’s numbers may not exactly jump of the page. He’s 4-3 with a solid 2.01 ERA and 17 saves in 20 save chances. But he has struck out 84 batters in 58 1/3 innings and has a miniscule 0.84 WHIP.
He’s gone through stretches of dominance this season, but since June 21 -- the start of the Dodgers’ turnaround -- Jansen has been unhittable. He took over once Brandon League, who signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract this offseason to close, was demoted from his role.
Jansen has allowed only three earned runs in 22 appearances. It turns out that two of the runs were meaningless as Jansen still picked up the save in those games. In the other game he gave up a run, the Dodgers won the game in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Jansen his second win of the season.
He also has 35 strikeouts during those 22 appearances. In his four appearances in the month of August, Jansen has averaged 2.5 strikeouts per inning, which is unheard of. He’s shaved nearly a half of a run off his ERA during this stretch as well.
As the Dodgers gear up for the postseason, Jansen will continue being an important cog in the team’s bullpen. Not bad for a guy who started the season in a set-up role to a high-priced free-agent closer.
So while names like Kershaw, Puig, Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez may steal all the headlines in L.A., the name Jansen has been just as vital to the team’s complete turnaround.
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