After Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over the Rockies, the Dodgers find themselves maintaining a stronghold on the second-place spot in the National League West with a tidy 60-40 record. Heading into Sunday’s games, Los Angeles trails the struggling first-place Giants by two games. The Dodgers have 62 contests remaining on their regular season schedule.
The 2021 MLB Trade Deadline is less than a week away.
Without question, the narrative for the Dodgers for the entirety of the year has revolved around injuries. From the earliest days of the season, some fans have been thinking to themselves how good this team would be when it finally returned to full strength. However, that day has never really arrived, as one injury always appears to lead into a carousel of others.
Other fans have shifted their thoughts to the summer deadline, wondering if the organization has any plans to upgrade its player roster. Aside from the minor acquisition of Billy McKinney last week, things have been relatively quiet. Nevertheless, as we all know, for as much as a team might want to upgrade, it takes two sides to reach a deal. Sometimes it’s impossible to agree on a mutual barter, especially since the Dodgers have a plentiful crop of young, lower-level prospects that many other organizations envy.
Regardless, even if the Dodgers don’t make any significant moves by next weekend, here are four reasons how improved player health might propel them back to the top of the division before season’s end.
From July 8-19, Mookie Betts went a ridiculous 14-for-26 with three homers, four doubles, eight runs scored and 13 RBI. However, he hasn’t appeared in a game since then because of a hip issue that’s been bothering him all year. The current plan is to have the superstar back in the lineup against the Giants next week.
“The goal, the hope is still to have him play on Tuesday in San Francisco, but it’s still day to day,” manager Dave Roberts said this weekend. “I know he wants to get in there, but the pain is just not allowing for him to be in there.”
(Update 4:00 pm, Sunday: Betts officially placed on 10-day injured list, meaning he won’t be available for the beginning of the San Francisco series)
The Dodgers might be able to survive without Betts against some of the worst teams in the league, but his absence against the better ones is obvious.
Still recovering from a broken hand, at one point there was still a plan in place for Corey Seager to return to the majors in the home series against San Francisco last week, but there wasn’t quite enough improvement to convince the training staff he was back to 100%. As of now, no timetable for a return is definite, but manager Dave Roberts indicated this weekend that Seager will be seeing some action at Camelback Ranch while his teammates face the Giants on the road.
Having last year’s NLCS and World Series MVP back on the field would undoubtedly be huge for the Dodgers, specifically from an offensive perspective. With all the main contributors healthy, a lineup could look something like this:
- Betts RF
- Seager SS
- Turner 3B
- Muncy 1B
- Smith C
- Taylor 2B
- Pollock LF
- Bellinger CF
The starting rotation might be the area where the team needs the most help. When Clayton Kershaw was placed on the injury list with forearm inflammation before the All-Star break, the rotation was decimated, as it was pared down to just two reliable starters at the time. Kershaw’s return could provide a huge boost to the unit.
While his 3.39 ERA this season is his highest since his rookie campaign back in 2008, his respectable 2.98 FIP, 0.978 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 indicate he’s still among the most effective starters in the majors. Likewise, his eight-inning, 13-strikeout gem against the Cubs in late June suggests he has plenty of firepower in the tank.
Kersh threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Saturday. His next step is to pitch an abbreviated sim game on Tuesday. After that test, it will be determined if he needs a rehab stint or if he can be immediately slotted back into the rotation.
Jimmy Nelson/Corey Knebel
Two key returns by Los Angeles relievers could theoretically be as good as any marginal trade the team might make before the deadline.
After throwing a successful bullpen on Thursday, swingman Jimmy Nelson appears to be ready to rejoin the team. According to reports, the best-case scenario has the righty returning for the finale against the Rockies on Sunday.
Should Nelson need a few more days, the opener against the Giants on Tuesday might be more realistic.
Before being placed on the injured list with a lumbar strain, Nelson had tallied an even 2.00 ERA, 1.79 FIP and a 0.926 WHIP with 41 punchouts over 25 appearances and 27 innings of work.
Corey Knebel also threw a session on Thursday, his second of the week. The 29-year-old righty plans on starting a comprehensive rehab assignment as early as this week.
“I want to make sure I’m ready to go and it’s not going to be get up here and throw, then have to take two days off,” Knebel said last Thursday. “I want to make sure that I’m going to get here and throw every day if I have to.”