Several weeks ago, the Dodgers lost two out of three games at home against the cellar-dwellers of the NL East, the Miami Marlins. At that particular point in time, there was still a sense that the club was on an upswing, with many pundits making the claim that “it’s impossible to win every single game, even against the worst clubs in the majors.”
But now, smack dab the middle of May, the Dodgers are hosting the Cincinnati Reds, who were possessors of the worst record in baseball at the beginning of the series. After winning the first two contests of the four-game set, however, the Reds have relinquished that honor to the White Sox, totally at the expense of the Dodgers.
Los Angeles has found itself losing five out of its last six games, and to say that the natives are getting restless would be an understatement.
Some fans are so disappointed that they have begun calling for the head of skipper Dave Roberts, the superior motivator and leader who impressively guided the 2017 Dodgers to their first World Series appearance in 29 years.
So what’s wrong with the 2018 version of the Boys in Blue? Is it that easy to address one area of performance in hopes of putting the team back on a winning track?
Maybe it’s a matter of confidence and enthusiasm in the clubhouse. Sometimes, the human mind has a way of working in strange ways. And, undoubtedly, the collective human mind is far more powerful than what many give it credit for.
Last year’s regular batting order—the lineup which arguably may have had the best top-of-the-order quartet in the MLB—is decimated. The regular two-hole hitter, Corey Seager, is gone for the season. Justin Turner, who delivered in the clutch batting third so many times during last year’s epic campaign, hasn’t appeared in a contest all season. Drawing comparisons to last year’s squad isn’t realistic in the least, as it’s a completely different animal.
A lot of the numbers don’t make any sense at all. The Dodgers are sixth in the National League in batting, two spots ahead of the Diamondbacks, who are tied for the best record in the National League. But you wouldn’t know it by watching an entire Dodgers game, as the team’s real struggle seems to be driving home runners when in scoring position.
Believe it or not, from a starting pitching perspective, the Dodgers are ranked fifth in the National League with a 3.60 ERA— a number certainly not expected for a club which is six games under .500. Perhaps the real problem is the bullpen, which ranks 11th on the senior circuit with a 4.42 ERA. Without question, it’s a totally different crew than the unit which was so strong last year. Yet to pin all of the blame on the relief corps would be absolutely senseless.
More times than not, when the starting pitching is been stellar, the bats are asleep. When the offense produces what seems to be enough runs to cruise to victory, the bullpen falters. When the relief crew does its job, there’s no timely hitting. None of these three components ever appear to be working hand-in-hand.
Personally, I do my fair share of complaining, but not so much that I think it’s time to start shaking up the coaching staff—that’s ridiculously extreme. I stick more to critiques of the batting order. Like, why would the team hit Yasmani Grandal in the three-hole when he’s probably the streakiest hitter on the club? Why hit Joc Pederson second when he appears to be guessing wrong more than 50% of the time? Why continue to bat Chris Taylor leadoff when he’s hitting a mere .230 and his numbers continue to plummet? Why use a different batting order every single night instead of trying to create a bit of continuity?
As constructive as these questions sound, the answers are obvious. Grandal hits third because there aren’t an overwhelming number of better options. Who has the potential to be a better two-hole hitter than Pederson? Is Chase Utley really that much more effective than Taylor batting leadoff?
Maybe the absences of Turner and Seager are having more of an effect than many perceive.
There aren’t any concrete answers, at least at this point of the season. Perhaps some of it is psychological in the sense that the squad’s ace starting pitcher is on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time. Or maybe it’s a subjective reaction by the players, knowing that management’s highest priority was staying under the luxury tax threshold while all of the elite teams around the league were busy upgrading player personnel over the winter. Or, conceivably, perhaps all the team needs is a simple spark, like the return of Turner to the middle of the daily batting order.
Whatever the case may be, the best approach is probably to focus on one game at a time instead of trying to repair the entire machine with one short twist of a screwdriver. Individual players need to step up their personal games before any congruent team effort will be noticeable. While it’s certainly understandable why the Dodgers aren’t running away with the division, the club has just too much talent to be six games under .500, even with all of the injuries. There are certainly a lot of things that must change before improvement is evident, but for now, the best we can hope for is a victory in the next game.