Dodgers Worst Enemy: An Anemic Offense or a Second-Rate Bullpen?

(Los Angeles Times photo)

Believe it or not, some people saw a bit of logic when the Dodgers ignored their suspect bullpen while trying to upgrade their offense at the non-waiver trade deadline last month. After all, there were some internal moving pieces which would improve the relief corps, and the addition of two of the best available offensive weapons would seemingly allow the squad to slug its way into the postseason.

But, as the middle of August has already crept in, nothing appears to be working according to the pre-deadline plan. The Dodgers, who many pundits once believed to be among the deepest clubs in baseball, have now lost five straight contests and are two full games off the division lead. A glut of outfielders and catchers throughout the farm system is not helping one of the organization’s biggest weaknesses—reliable relief pitching.

While it’s easy to point fingers at the front office crew for not acquiring any bonafide bullpen help last month, it’s tough to say how much of an effort Andrew Friedman and his troops put into the task. They were known to make statements that reflected their confidence in their in-house options, as players like Julio Urias and Josh Fields were returning from injuries while, conceivably, there were plans to move arms like Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda into the bullpen when the need arose.

Nonetheless, the ninth inning has been nothing short of a nightmare lately, and whatever strategy skipper Dave Roberts and his staff try to utilize ultimately backfires. Maeda, Zac Rosscup, JT Chargois, Dylan Floro and Scott Alexander have been the casualties during the last week, with the last two losses to the Giants ranking among the most excruciating of the season. All-Star closer Kenley Jansen was placed on the disabled list last Friday, and in the five games since, the relief crew has allowed 11 runs and 20 baserunners over just 12 innings of work. The bullpen wasted seven shutout innings from Walker Buehler last Saturday and eight innings of stellar pitching from staff ace Clayton Kershaw on Monday, making the losses seem even more painful.

If there was indeed a primary problem, it tough to indicate which one it is. The offense has already proven it can produce, as made evident by the 21-run output on August 2 against the Brewers. But the lineup changes on a daily basis, and sometimes the hottest players find themselves on the pine amidst their most torrid streaks of the year, while the slumping players are often out there every single night. And, when the team does score enough runs to apparently secure a victory, the bullpen sometimes passes out runs in the ninth inning like it was giving away turkeys at Thanksgiving. If there were any easy answers, they would have already been drawn up and incorporated.

Over his last 54 AB, outfielder Matt Kemp has just three hits, calculating to a .056 batting average. Utility man Max Muncy is hitting just .153 with 29 punchouts over his last 59 AB, after taking the National League by storm in the first half of the year. Yasmani Grandal, who arguably had a career-best month in July, is hitting just .162 in August. Machado started out strongly upon his arrival, but has put up a slashline of .216/.273/.294 over his last 51 AB. To make matters worse, all of these players generally appear smack dab in the middle of the Los Angeles lineup. What’s more, super-utility man Enrique Hernandez has frequently been appearing in the cleanup spot as of late, despite hitting just .215/.293/.426 on the year. Having been known as a lefty-killer for most of his career, his splits against righty pitching this season are actually better than those against southpaws.

Some fans have already began to panic, but there’s plenty of time for the Dodgers to turn things around, as there are still 41 games remaining on the regular-season schedule. Even though the strategy of using Maeda late in games has backfired early, it may show signs of improving later on. Stripling is suffering from minor issues in his back, but may be a viable option in the near future. Urias and Fields are both getting near their respective returns, while Jansen may be much closer than recent reports have indicated.

Yet, whether or not the offense can live up to its own end of the bargain through all this remains to be seen. There’s no time like the moment to establish some momentum, and a nice little surge of victories would definitely be beneficial before the division-leading Diamondbacks come to town for a potentially pivotal four-game set on August 30.


14 thoughts on “Dodgers Worst Enemy: An Anemic Offense or a Second-Rate Bullpen?

  1. OK, I’ve got the solution. You know how some buildings don’t have a floor marked 13? They just go from 12 to 14 because some people are superstitious and don’t like to rent on the 13th floor? From now on, we go from the 8th inning directly to the 10th inning. Inform the umps and the scoreboard people that they are not to refer to an inning number 9. Chargois, Ferguson and Floro all pitched very well last night. Maeda is used for the 9th and blows it. This is the solution that saves the season for us. Please hold your applause.


  2. It’s time to give Verdugo his shot. Put Kemp on the DL with a bruised ego. Send Barnes down and bring up Farmar. He can’t be any worse than Grandal at catching a baseball and has to be better hitting one than Barnes. Bench Kiki, Taylor and Muncy and use a concistant lineup and see what happens. Can’t get any worse!


  3. Might be time for the Dodgers to implement the “opener” option since they really don’t have anything left to lose other than a playoff spot this season. Could be a good way to keep from blowing so many of these quality outings from their starters the last several games. Btw, I DEFINITELY see Farhan “We’ll just mix-and-match with what we got in that bullpen!” Zaidi getting the boot this upcoming offseason no matter what happens. How dare he chose to ignore the ballclub’s ongoing late-inning bullpen problems by just loading up on an already loaded (and now totally underperforming) offense instead! Bet management will never take Jansen’s health for granted ever again after this rather embarrassing setback, ugh…


    1. Front office decisions are done by committee from what I know and the guy who makes the final decision on something as big as adding a high-end reliever would probably be Andrew, not Farhan. I doubt anyone goes, no matter how the season turns out, unless it’s their decision to leave for something better.


      1. Well that was disappointing news to hear, Jeff. Guess the Dodgers are screwed one way or another at this point. Front office really only had one job to do this season and that was to give Jansen some much-needed backup in those late-innings (8th inning in particular). And now with Jansen out indefinitely with that recurring heart problem of his, they’ve been officially caught with their pants down. For their own sakes, they better pray hard they can dig up another Morrow from among their current “in-house” options because I sure as hell don’t see one on the radar that fits the profile…


      2. I’m writing this after the 8th inning and tonight was Ferguson’s turn although he only managed to let them tie the game. I think that makes Goeddel temporary closer by elimination. The bullpen guys have had an unbelievable streak of horrible pitching in pressure situations and they should be called out for it. That said, I’m placing equal blame on the offense for this bad streak. They have dramatically underperformed. We’re going to really enjoy it when everyone comes out of this funk at the same time. I say we’ll win the division by about 5 games.


  4. It’s a team effort. August relief pitching 6.63 ERA and a handful of BS’s. Offense? They’ve only hit .235/.317/.417/.734 since the All-Star Break. Starters in that period doing ok though. Maybe when we go to a 6 man rotation they alternate closing on their mid start throwing day.


  5. Bellinger is a huge part of the problem. He is something like 3 for 24 with the bases loaded. If you go a step forward, those innings that end with Bellinger leaving the bases loaded, the other team scores 2 or more runs over 50% of the time. It is an automatic swing for the other team every time!


  6. Wow! That was a must win! Even with the 7th straight bullpen giveaway! Welcome to the meltdown club Caleb! We haven’t had a 2time offender yet! But there’s still time before Kenley gets back. Good thing for Dodger brass that Kenley doesn’t have an opt out this year!


    1. We’re assuming that when Kenley comes back, he comes back like Kenley of 2017, never again to blow a save. Remember that he started this year in not the greatest form. I wouldn’t be astonished to see him join the meltdown club before he regains his form. Even assuming he has some rehab appearances, it just isn’t the same as facing MLB competition.


  7. I’ve been one of the main guys here calling out Baez for the last couple of years and if it had been up to me he wouldn’t have even been on the roster last night and available to finish the game. But I have to give the guy credit. Two scoreless, hitless innings when we really needed him. Good show Pedro!


  8. No continuity with the line up. No sooner does a player get hot (Dozier comes to mind and Turner just the other night) he gets relocated to the pine. I get keeping everyone involved but my god if your horse is hot ride him!!!


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