The good news is there are 34 games remaining on the regular season schedule, which is more than enough time for the Dodgers to climb back atop the NL West division. The bad news, however, is that whatever strategies the team tries in hopes of fixing its existing problems, nothing at all seems to work.
There’s no question the offense needs to shoulder some of the load for the club’s current standing, but the bullpen has been the biggest culprit for the team’s demise. Some would even say that the Los Angeles relief corps is plummeting at a rate that would make it among the worst in baseball.
Seemingly, closer Kenley Jansen has thrown as badly as he has in a long time, surrendering three home runs in back-to-back appearances while notching the losses in the contests against the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday, leading to the Cardinals’ first sweep in Los Angeles in 12 years. Many believe Jansen’s problem to be rust due to a 10-day absence because of a-fib, yet skipper Dave Roberts believes it is a matter of execution. Regardless, chances are good that Jansen will rebound quickly, yet the future of the remainder of the bullpen remains to be seen.
While many of the contending clubs around baseball were loading up on relievers left and right at the non-waiver trade deadline last month, the front office crew of the Dodgers remained relatively quiet on the relief front, aside from a relatively insignificant trade for 35-year-old righty veteran John Axford. It was apparent, even to most of the fan base, that the team needed a bonafide eighth-inning guy to accompany Jansen at the backend. However, at the time, the Los Angeles management team believed there were enough internal options to fortify the bullpen in order to achieve a successful stretch run.
“I don’t know that we’re going to evolve into a team that has a pure eighth-inning guy, as opposed to kind of, matching up and playing out the end of the game that way,” Farhan Zaidi said. “We may look at different ways to play out the pitching staff, maybe some unconventional ways to do it, because we have a lot of guys who can give quality innings. Everything is going to be on the table.”
One of the moves made was bringing righty Kenta Maeda into the bullpen, yet in his first relief appearance against the Giants on August 14, he was touched up and tagged with the loss. Maeda looked very impressive in Monday’s 5-3 loss to St. Louis, yet the coaching staff decided to go with Alexander and Jansen during the late innings in the finale on Wednesday.
In a subsequent move to fortify the relief corps, All-Star right-hander Ross Stripling was shifted to a relief role, but recent back problems have kept him from pitching in that role.
While it’s certainly easy to point the finger at the front office, it’s tough not to trust its judgement, especially after securing five consecutive division titles and the franchise’s first World Series appearance since 1988. Still, Andrew Friedman has always been labeled as one who prefers to build his bullpen economically from within, but that particular philosophy may finally end up coming back to haunt him this year.
Even if the bullpen can be mended to some degree, there’s still the offense, which some believed would be among the most prolific in the majors after acquiring Manny Machado and Brian Dozier at the non-waiver deadline. The bats have shown glimpses of their potential, but for the most part, they’re still underachieving. Whatever logic is used in constructing the nightly lineups and strategies against the opposing starting pitchers doesn’t seem to be working, mainly with runners in scoring position. Small ball seems to be a philosophy of the past while launch angles and long balls appear to be the modern-day trends, at least to Los Angeles management.
There’s no doubt that the 2018 Dodgers have a run or two left in their tank this year. There are seven games remaining against the division-leading Diamondbacks which could change the landscape of the division in a hurry—to either extreme.
Nonetheless, whatever Zaidi meant by “everything being on the table,” now is as good a time as any to start showing that particular hand.