The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ recent struggles are a surprise to a lot of people. Most people around baseball expect the deepest team in baseball, and until a couple of days ago, the top-ranked team in the Sports Illustrated Power Rankings, to win almost all of their games. However, this has not been the case as of late. The Dodgers have lost 11 of their last 14 games after starting the season 13-2. The Dodgers’ recent struggles have been kind of a “perfect storm,” with several factors coming together at once. Is it time to panic for Dodgers fans, or is it just a matter of time before they are back where they are expected to be? Let’s take a deeper look.
The Dodgers arguably have the deepest team in MLB this year. Their potential starting pitching staff includes three Cy Young winners in Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, and David Price. To compliment those three, they have Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin–all of whom have huge potential. When we look at the bullpen, it is more of the same. There are three closers in Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, and Corey Knebel, who have 448 MLB saves between them. To complement those three are potential future closer Brusdar Graterol together with Victor Gonzalez, Scott Alexander, Jimmy Nelson, Dennis Santana, and Garrett Cleavinger. They also have Joe Kelly, Tommy Kahnle, and Caleb Ferguson, who have yet to pitch this year as they recover from injuries. This group of pitchers is among the best in MLB.
In the Field
The outfield has three Gold Glovers, three All-Stars, two MVP winners, and two Silver Sluggers. The trio of Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and A.J. Pollock are hard to compare with. Backing them up are some very good options in their own rights. Chris Taylor, Zach McKinstry, and Edwin Rios can all play infield and outfield positions.
The Dodgers have two catchers who could start on many teams in Will Smith and Austin Barnes, with highly-touted prospect Keibert Ruiz looking like he will live up to the hype. The rest of the infield is full of All-Stars in Justin Turner, Corey Seager, and Max Muncy, with rookie phenom Gavin Lux manning the keystone. With the Dodgers’ recent struggles, come comments and concerns that this Dodgers team is not as good as everyone thought they were. Sports Illustrated downgraded their power ranking to number two and replaced them at number one with the San Diego Padres.
Cause of the Dodgers’ Recent Struggles
Regardless of where SI places the Padres and the Dodgers in their power rankings, neither are in first-place and only one game separates them in the standings. The Padres are second in the NL West at 18-14, and the Dodgers sit in third with a record of 17-15–1.5 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants. You can be the judge of which team is stronger, the one who is a game up after losing five of their last eight, or the team that is in third after losing six of their last eight games. Better yet, the team that is only 1.5 games out of first after losing 11 of their last 14 games. The answer depends, of course, on why they went 3-11 in their last 14 games.
This basically comes down to a tale of two Aprils–the first and second halves. The skid started on April 18th when the Padres narrowly escaped being swept in a three-game series. Prior to that game, the Dodgers had won eight straight including sweeps of the Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies. Their record stood at 13-3–the best record in baseball.
April was the best of times, and it was the worst of times for the Dodgers. In addition to the players who started on the IL such as Kelly, Fergeson, Kahnle, and Graterol (who came off the IL on the 18th, and went back on it on the 27th), the then red-hot Dodgers saw Lux, Bellinger, McKinstry, Rios, Santana, Gonzalez, Mitch White, Gonsolin, Price, and Dustin May (lost for over a year to Tommy John surgery) all head to the Injured List just in April and the first week in May. Also, Mookie Betts missed a few games with back tightness, and a couple more after being hit in the forearm by a fastball. Even for the deepest team in baseball, that is a bit ridiculous. This is a list of players who are or were injured, and who play regularly. This would be catastrophic to any other team in baseball, yet the Dodgers find themselves a game and a half out of first place in the NL West.
The “perfect storm” includes the combination of injuries to begin the year, injuries occurring in April and May, as well as the mental aspect. With so many regular players down, the Dodgers players have much more pressure to perform than they normally would. Starting pitchers being out affects the bullpen effectiveness, and bullpen arms going down obviously does as well. When the bullpen is taxed, more runs are given up. This causes batters to press more at the plate in an attempt to make things happen. Also, overall team morale takes a hit too as players feel that dark cloud hanging over them. Fielders going down affects defensive as well as offensive production. More mistake pitches, more errors in the field, and more pressing at the plate, is a recipe for disaster. And during these last three weeks, the Dodgers have been living that recipe. They have been close in almost all of those games, even losing multiple games in extra-innings. However, a taxed bullpen, mental mistakes, and trying to do too much at the plate have really cost them.
The good news is that some players are back already, and others will be coming back shortly. As players get healthy and get back into their grooves, the Dodgers’ recent struggles will fade further and further into the past. It will be a little rough for the short-term with both Price and Gonsolin still out, and May out for good. This will cause the Dodgers to use a four-man rotation for a couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see how that works out. With the off-day on Thursday, the Dodgers will look to rebound in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels this weekend. Look for the Dodgers to become stronger and stronger each week as players come back healthy, and the rookies see more Major League at-bats. Still, getting swept by the Chicago Cubs cannot happen. The Dodgers are way better than this.
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Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, David Price, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel, Brusdar Graterol, Victor Gonzalez, Scott Alexander, Jimmy Nelson, Dennis Santana, Garrett Cleavinger, Joe Kelly, Tommy Kahnle, Caleb Ferguson, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor, Zach McKinstry, Edwin Rios, Will Smith, Austin Barnes, Keibert Ruiz, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux, Mitch White,