The good news is with 25 games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Dodgers still maintain a 12-1/2 game lead over the Diamondbacks in what has progressively become an interesting race in the National League West. The bad news is that Los Angeles runs into Zack Greinke on Tuesday evening in the middle game of a three-game set at Dodger Stadium. Greinke seeks to notch his 17th win of the season and keep the momentum rolling for the Snakes, who have now won 11 straight and 13 of their last 14 contests.
Against Robbie Ray and the Arizona bullpen on Monday night, the Dodgers managed a mere three hits the entire game. Ray, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, lasted 7-2/3 frames while striking out a whopping 14 Dodger batters. Yet, the biggest story of the game wasn’t Ray, but rather one J.D. Martinez who went deep four times over the course of the 13-0 romp. In the process, Martinez became the 18th player in major league history to notch four long balls in a single game.
“We got our butts kicked, all around,” manager Dave Roberts said in the post-game press conference.
The Dodgers have now lost nine of their last 10 contests, and what was once a 21-game lead over the Snakes on August 25 is very rapidly decreasing.
Despite the healthy divisional lead, loyal fans of the Dodgers have hit the social media waves hard as of late, pointing fingers at a wide variety of causes for the slump. Many have indicated that they believe the Yu Darvish trade was a “mistake,” while others place the blame on Roberts and his usage of several farmhands in the daily lineups, which often appear to be unstable. Others have been calling for the exodus of some of the bullpen crew, most specifically hard-throwing righty Pedro Baez, who was charged with four runs on Monday after surrendering back-to-back long balls without even recording an out.
In the greater scope of things, it’s difficult to pinpoint one particular area which is the cause of the current slump. Outside of Clayton Kershaw‘s return from the disabled list on Friday, and the first three innings from Rich Hill on Monday, the starting pitching for the Dodgers has been downright horrible. Prior to the opener against Arizona, the Dodgers starting rotation tallied a 7.96 ERA over its previous eight starts, including Kershaw’s outing. Take CK’s start out of the mix and the collective ERA was well north of 9.00.
Baez has shouldered the brunt of the blame lately for the relief crew. After allowing exactly one home run in each of the first four months this season, he allowed two in August, and in turn has allowed three home runs in only two September games.
Nevertheless, Baez may not be the worst of the group. Righty Josh Fields also surrendered two bombs in Monday’s debacle. Fields has now given up 10 long balls over an even 48 innings, compared to Baez’s nine over 55-2/3 frames. Fields’ FIP is currently sitting at an ugly 4.70, while Baez comes in just below at 4.61. At one point, many pundits believed that both were locks to make the postseason roster. Even Brandon Morrow, who has been one of the most dependable relief arms for the team this year, gave up two earned runs on three hits and two walks while only recording a single out in the second leg of the doubleheader on Saturday.
The bullpen, which has been the best in the bigs all year long, suddenly appears to be quite vulnerable.
And among all the pitching woes, the offense has become virtually non-existent. The lineups in general may not be to blame; however, it’s blatantly obvious that the team has been struggling since the normal 1-through-4 quartet has been broken up. The Taylor, Seager, Turner, Bellinger combination has yielded a very high success rate this season, yet Seager and Bellinger have not appeared together in the same starting lineup since August 18. In hopes that his sore elbow heals quickly, Seager started a throwing regimen on Monday and is anticipating a return during the Rockies series this coming weekend.
In the same breath, in the absence of Seager, it certainly doesn’t warrant success when the club runs out a .212 hitter in Enrique Hernandez, or a .213 batter in Curtis Granderson in the ever-important two-hole. Hitting in the seventh or eighth slot? Sure. But batting second in the heart of the engine room? Certainly not productive.
Perhaps all of the roster additions are causing somewhat of a lapse in focus among the players. For Monday’s affair the Dodgers dressed 36 players, and are expected to add four more in Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson, Walker Buehler and Kyle Farmer over the coming days.
Regardless, considering the current divisional lead, it’s obvious that winning isn’t exactly as high of a priority as keeping the regular players rested and healthy. If it was, the coaching crew wouldn’t be throwing guys like Wilmer Font and Fabio Castillo in high-leverage situations, especially when there are at least 10 other guys with better stuff and more experience to utilize. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they have the wiggle room to give these youngsters some looks while saving the energy of the veterans. But the same time, that’s one of the chief purposes of spring training and Cactus League. Honestly, the club could be taking the expanded roster thing a bit to the extreme. Looking back years ago, it was just an honor for a handful of the farmhands to ride the pine and intermingle with the big leaguers. It’s definitely not that way anymore, as the club will be dressing a whopping 40 players by week’s end.
As for the here and now, the Dodgers will turn to Hyun-Jin Ryu to combat Greinke in hopes of re-establishing a bit of much needed momentum. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. local time.
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