(Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports)
Despite being under heavy scrutiny from both the media and the fans, the Los Angeles Dodgers are still among the contending squads in an underachieving National League West, but could find themselves slipping if some of their first quarter tendencies hold true through the early summer.
Outside of Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers are pretty much a club without a recognizable identity. Kersh always seems to take the hill amid a two or three game losing streak, only to temporarily change the perspective on what has been an average team at best through the first 40 games.
As for the rotation, starters two through five have been about par for the course, except for maybe the excellence of Kenta Maeda in his first handful of starts. Perhaps a sudden infusion of Mike Bolsinger to provide rest for the others wasn’t as good of an idea as it sounded initially.
And the bullpen has been, well, the bullpen. Excluding Kenley Jansen, the relief corps could use any type of upgrade the front office will give them. To add a little depth, the Dodgers selected the contract of righty Chin-hui Tsao from Oklahoma City on Thursday, pushing Bolsinger back to the farm for some additional seasoning.
The offense has shown a couple glimpses of potency, but the general pattern hasn’t seen the entire lineup firing on all cylinders except for a few rare occasions. To add insult to injury, the Dodgers will be playing with three bench players through Friday, considering that one is used for the designated hitter, while the other, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, continues to ride the pine with an ailment in his back. Not to mention that Howie Kendrick still lacks any consistent presence with the lumber, after having to field every single defensive position on the map.
The good news is that a number of players are regaining their health and may be available to join the team soon, while several more are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel in terms of potential time frames to return. But will the change of personnel be enough to trigger a more constant performance on the field — enough to, say, control the NL West?
Scott Van Slyke may be the first to return from the disabled group, as he’s expected to begin a rehab assignment before the end of the week. Besides providing some much needed pop off the bench offensively, he also provides a valuable glove defensively both at first base and in all three outfield spots.
The biggest problem with the return of SVS is that the Dodgers may have to choose between retaining either Trayce Thompson and Carl Crawford. From a business standpoint, being that Thompson has options, it makes sense to keep Crawford on the 25-man roster. However, from a performance perspective — both offensively and defensively — Thompson wins hands down. In addition to monies owed for the 2016 season, Crawford will earn another $21,857,142 in 2017.
To make matters more complex, outfielder Andre Ethier will likely returning at some point during the summer, and will create even further headaches on the 25-man. With a career slash line of .304/.383/.507 against right-handed pitching, though, the Dodgers could desperately use every ounce of offense that he could provide.
The club also appears to be facing a critical decision regarding third baseman/outfielder Alex Guerrero, as he cannot be sent to the minors without his own consent, per the fine print in his contract. Guerrero has been rehabbing with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, with the duration of his assignment is set to expire soon.
Both Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy are on the forefront of their own respective rehab assignments, and may be cleared to join the starting rotation sooner than many think, although chances are time will be needed to ease into the flow of the daily grind for either to establish any sense of dominance.
Even though the upcoming roster decisions may seem subsidiary to some, the Dodgers, currently in a dead heat for a fourth consecutive NL West title, need to make all of the right moves to separate themselves from the pack.
Interesting days lie ahead, indeed.