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Can the Dodgers win a World Series with Kenley Jansen continuing to struggle as their closer?

Jorge Castillo, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

LOS ANGELES -- For the first time in his major-league career, a decade-long period of stable excellence, Kenley Jansen was booed at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. The fans, after years and years of cascading the closer with cheers, flipped their tone when they watched Jansen surrender a go-ahead home run to Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez. It was the latest installment in an unsettling season for the former All-Star. The dissent had been building up. It boiled over Wednesday.

"I get it. Boo me," Jansen said before the Los Angeles Dodgers' 3-2 walk-off win over the Blue Jays on Thursday. "Yeah, (shoot), I'd boo myself. I didn't want the results. I was effing myself out there."

The reactions, from spectators and performer, did not derive from a poor outing in late August with the Dodgers holding a gigantic lead in the National League West. Los Angeles emerged with a 20-game lead in the division anyway while no other division leader in majors boasted one in the double digits. The game was irrelevant. But in the backdrop sits this question: Can the Dodgers seize another pennant in a weak National League and topple an elite American League team to win the World Series with the 31-year-old Jansen as their closer?

That question can't be answered until October. But this weekend could provide an approximation when the New York Yankees, owners of the best record in baseball, descend on Los Angeles for a marquee three-game series the entire industry will shift its focus to. It could be a World Series preview. It will be a chance for Jansen and the Dodgers to test themselves against a fellow behemoth.

Before that, the Dodgers (84-44) spent their Thursday night concocting their 12th walk-off win over another, less threatening American League East opponent.

The rally started with Max Muncy working a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Cody Bellinger smacked a double. Corey Seager followed with another double to score both runners before Enrique Hernandez, on his bobblehead night, cracked a line drive to center field to score Seager.

 

Kenta Maeda was strong over six innings. He limited the Blue Jays to two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out nine. The Blue Jays (52-77) scored in the second inning on Derek Fisher's RBI groundout and in the sixth when 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. clobbered a first-pitch curveball for his 15th home run.

That was it for Toronto against Maeda. But Jacob Waguespack, making his seventh career start, was better. The right-hander held the Dodgers to one hit, one walk, and a hit batter in seven scoreless innings. The Dodgers put one runner in scoring position against Waguespack -- in the third inning -- before they busted out in the ninth inning.

The win developed without Jansen emerging from the Dodgers' bullpen. The right-hander's next performance will come sometime this weekend against the Yankees, the next challenge in a season that has become about adjusting to a thorny reality in preparation for October.

After successfully relying on his cutter so much to dominate for so long, Jansen, recognizing the pitch is not as lethal anymore, has begun acquiescing to the Dodgers' brass, mixing his pitch selection and sequencing to become more unpredictable. The evolution started with throwing sliders more frequently at the beginning of the campaign. Over the last month, the repertoire has included more four-seam fastballs.

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