The Dodgers are done.
Sure, it’s still May and there’s four months of baseball remaining, but there isn’t much to look forward to with this team. The 2018 iteration of the Los Angeles Dodgers is, for all intents and purposes, is over.
It’s infinitely frustrating and disappointing that the team is in this position just about six months removed from playing Game 7 of the World Series. And no, the team isn’t in this position because of anything the front office did or didn’t do during the offseason. It has been a combination of bad luck and injuries.
Early on, the Dodgers were getting unlucky with balls in play – specifically, a guy like Yasiel Puig (.250 BABIP, .289 the previous three years). But of late, they have just been so inconsistent at the plate that they’ve become boring. Yes, they scored seven runs on Thursday against the Marlins (four off their best starter, Caleb Smith), but they’re looking at Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg this weekend, meaning they’ll be lucky to score seven runs total against both starters.
What’s weird is the numbers can’t really explain what has happened with the offense. Last year, the Dodgers had an average exit velocity of 87.6 MPH – fourth-best in baseball. This year, they’re sitting at 88.5 MPH – 12th-best in the league. Launch angle hasn’t been an issue, either. Last year, they averaged 11.6 degrees. This year, it’s 12.7 degrees. Despite that, the Dodgers’ isolated power is just .149 – seventh-worst in baseball. Last year, it was .188, good for fourth-best in MLB.
They’re hitting the ball harder and higher, but the balls aren’t going over the fence. Through 43 games last season, the Dodgers had a .168 ISO and 49 home runs, compared to 39 this season. Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor haven’t been the same hitters they were in 2017, and Corey Seager wasn’t exactly lighting the world ablaze before his season-ending elbow injury. The aforementioned Puig has also struggled, but he has started to heat up of late. Oh, and that Justin Turner guy is back. Perhaps the offense gets on track, but it has to play a lot of catch up.
Dodgers bullpen ranks
What’s more concerning is the pitching. The bullpen has been an outright disaster. Even Kenley Jansen wasn’t immune to struggles. Tony Cingrani’s shoulder started barking after he got off to a quick start, and Ross Stripling had to be thrown into the rotation.
Speaking of the rotation, Clayton Kershaw is hurt (again), and despite optimism surrounding his recovery, we’ve probably seen the best of him. That’s fine, but I also don’t think the Dodgers can rely much on him for the remainder of the season. Now, if he comes back throwing 92-94, then I’ll gladly eat some crow. Hyun-jin Ryu was pitching great before he got hurt. Kenta Maeda has been inconsistent, while Rich Hill has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in his five starts. Walker Buehler has been a pleasant surprise but having him shoulder so much of the load in his second full professional season is, a) a lot to ask of him and b) tempting fate.
The Dodgers have been in worse spots in the division in recent years. In 2013, they were behind the Giants by as many as 9½ games in June. They went on an historic 42-8 stretch to overtake ‘Frisco and win the division going away. They bested the 42-8 stretch last season en route to a 104-win season — again, after a slow start.
But those two seasons had something this one probably won’t — reinforcements. In 2013, the Dodgers had Puig’s debut and getting Hanley Ramirez back from injury, both of whom electrified the Dodgers’ offense. Seriously, the hitting display Ramirez put on that season was incredible. Last season, the Dodgers promoted Bellinger at the end of April, and his play helped the Dodgers get on track.
The 2018 Dodgers don’t have any players like that coming. Buehler is already here, and Alex Verdugo is on the farm, but he isn’t the impact player Bellinger was last season. And the Dodgers have the added difficulty of replacing Seager’s production.
Manny Machado would be nice, but he doesn’t make any sense for the Dodgers at this moment. For them to go after Machado, they’d have to be within striking distance of the division. They’re only eight games behind the Diamondbacks, who have suddenly come back to earth a bit (probably because they weren’t playing the Dodgers), but that’s a quality team in Arizona, and for the Dodgers to get to 90 wins, they’d need to play .613 ball. Not an impossible task, but it might be for this squad.
The Dodgers haven’t shown many signs of life. They’ve played mostly NL West opponents in the season’s first six weeks, and they’ve struggled (12-16).
The depth that once was a calling card for the Dodgers has been eroded a bit, especially in the pitching department. Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Trevor Oaks were all traded, leaving the starting pitching depth with guys like Stripling, Brock Stewart and the since-traded Wilmer Font. McCarthy isn’t having a great 2018, Kazmir isn’t even rostered and Oaks has thrown just five innings in the majors this season. They didn’t trade these guys for nothing, so it’s hard to be too upset at the Dodgers trading that depth away. The problem is, they didn’t do a great job replacing it. Zach Neal might have been one of the replacements, but he was traded to the Reds (and he wasn’t great depth anyway). Manny Banuelos, former acclaimed Yankee prospect, is one or two injuries from getting on the 40-man roster. The luxury tax restrictions prevented the Dodgers from adding the depth that they traded away. It’s their own fault, and no one is going to shed a tear for one of baseball’s richest teams.
Without any significant reinforcements coming from the farm or from outside the organization, the Dodgers are going to have to rely on the talent they have on the roster. There are still some quality players, but with the way some of them have performed this season, well, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Guys like Alex Wood and Yasmani Grandal have been good, but there is regression coming for them. I don’t say this to be negative, I say it because it’s a fact. Wood faltered a bit in the second half last season (1.76 ERA in the first half, 3.89 in the second), while Grandal had a .737 OPS after the break and only started two of the 15 Dodger postseason games.
The fact is, the Dodgers are closer to being sellers than playoff contenders. I’m not confident this bunch can turn things around. Missing your best all-around player and having suspect pitching depth doesn’t usually translate to success. The Dodgers have only so many assets they can use to acquire upgrades but doing that doesn’t even make sense unless they start playing better.
It’s hard to believe this is nearly the same team that had everyone on the brink of euphoria. Instead, we’re on the brink of madness, and while things may slightly get better, they may not improve enough for it to matter.