SAN FRANCISCO — If the Giants season is down to its final few outs on Thursday night, there’s a very good chance the Dodgers will be in a closer game to Kenley Jensen.
Is it possible that the Giants want their longtime nemesis on the mound in balance with the NLDS?
The answer is not as simple as it used to be.
Jansen has 35 career saves against the Giants and was as quick as ever when he dismissed the team on 14 pitches in Game 3 on Monday night. But Jensen, who threw the Giants hard, was found out when he failed to complete a full innings of three Giants comebacks earlier this season.
Is that something the Giants can analyze if needed in Game 5 and potentially recreate what could be the most important innings of their season?
Giants manager Gabe Kapler said his philosophy is to take a look at the pitchers’ most recent outings, look at their season as a whole, and even take a look at their history while formulating a hitting approach.
“And then I look at those three buckets, as if putting it all together,” Kapler said.
The Giants have a lot of data when it comes to Jensen, especially looking at this season. Jensen has pitched nine times against the Giants, counting to Game 3, and there was no middle ground.
Jensen pitched in the Giants’ three comeback victories, allowed 10 runs in 1 innings (a 48.60 ERA) and scored five runs. Jensen did not allow a run in six other appearances, dismissing nine with three walks.
Jensen has been one of the most successful closeers in major league history, making 350 career saves in the regular season (13th in MLB history) and another 18 in the playoffs.
The 34-year-old has generally been tough on the Giants as well. Game 3 was a reminder when he overcame Mike Yastrzemsky, Buster Posey and Crawford in the ninth inning of the Giants’ 1–0 victory at Dodger Stadium.
But a glimmer of optimism for the Giants on a potential doomsday against Janssen is that, for the first time in more than a decade, when they face him, he experienced consistent success against the three-time All-Star.
Between late May and late July, when the NL West race really began to heat up, the Giants inflicted three losses on the Dodgers, a period of five performances that Jensen was called in to record the final outs.
They weren’t alone. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jensen struggled so badly in the middle of the season that his job as the Dodgers’ ninth-inning specialist landed him in serious trouble.
Veterans had a big part in that unrest.
On May 28, a day after recording an 11-pitch save against the Giants, Jensen entered the 10th inning of a 5–5 tie and was dismissed only two, Lamonte Wade Jr. getting an RBI single and a two-run double. over Ivan Longoria in an 8-5 win over San Francisco.
On July 21, Jensen entered the ninth inning with a 2–1 lead, but Buster Posey singled out for the lead and Wilmer Flores led homer after three pitches. A later, Jensen made a single and consecutive run to load the bases and was eliminated from the game, which the Giants won. The save was Johnson’s first blow against the Giants since September 12, 2013.
On July 22, Jensen entered the ninth inning with the Dodgers lead (3–1) and was away from completing another save that never happened. Thyro Estrada and Wade Jr. had RBI singles and Jensen was also running for a run in the Giants’ 5-3 win.
The July 22 defeat to the Giants was a turning point for Jensen. After that game, he had his third straight blow save chance on aggregate, going 3–0 with 17 saves and a 1.17 ERA for the rest of the regular season. Louis in the Dodgers NL wild-card game, recording all three outs with strikeouts, and conceding only one run in his last 23 appearances.
Jensen’s velocity has picked up again this season, but his late-season turnaround can also be credited with changing his approach. He’s throwing his cutters more, complementing his slider and two-seam fastball potentially disastrous.
Overall, it was Jenson’s best season statistically since 2017, when he finished fifth in Cy Young Award voting. He had a 2.22 ERA with 38 saves and an average of 11. There were 2 strikeouts per game.
“Those are two weird outings, to be honest with you,” Jensen told reporters last week when asked about his struggle against the Giants. “For me it just continues to focus even more, takes my focus even less.”
Giants can relate. San Francisco made 43 comebacks this season, including six wins after the eighth inning. The three of them were up against Jensen, adding another intriguing layer to the Game 5 storyline.