The Dodgers long national nightmare is nowhere near over, having just completed a third straight losing week. They’ve lost five straight series, dropped 15 of their last 20 games, and just completed a 2-8 road trip that last week saw them lose five out of six games to the Cubs and Angels.
“I’m pissed, personally. I hate losing. I want to win. That’s why I came here,” said Trevor Bauer, who allowed three total runs in his two starts last week, both Dodgers losses. “We are not playing up to our capabilities right now, so I’m mad.”
After a 13-2 start that was the best ever through 15 games for a defending World Series champion, the Dodgers are now 18-17, matching their 2020 loss total in 25 fewer games.
“It’s not fun, but guys are keeping their heads up. We’re sticking to our process, and wins will come,” catcher Will Smith said. “It’s too good a team to keep losing, we all know that.”
“I think we’ve got to keep working through it,” said Chris Taylor, who drove in the Dodgers’ only run on Sunday. “We’re too talented for it not to turn around.”
One saving grace is there aren’t only 25 games left in the 2021 season, but rather 127. But that doesn’t mean damage hasn’t already been done. Let’s say the Dodgers’ true talent is somewhere around a 100-win team (I’m aware this is a big if, but this was the general area most of preseason projections, with some even higher). If the Dodgers play at a 100-win pace over their final 127 games, that’s 78-49, roughly. Add that to the 18 wins they already have, and you’re looking at a 96-win team instead of a 100-win team, because of the poor start.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good to think about the long season. It doesn’t to anybody any good to be like, ‘We’ll figure it out eventually, it’s 162. Well, we’re too good not to,’” Clayton Kershaw said. “In my opinion, no, you figure it out right now. Don’t wait, don’t get complacent with it.
“Every game matters, whether it’s May or September.”
After 35 games that matter, the Dodgers find themselves in third place in the National League West, 2½ games back of the Giants.
“We’re going to be at the top of this division. I have no doubt in my mind. What we do is focus on ourselves and how we play, how we prepare,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I actually haven’t looked at the standings, and right now I don’t care.”
The Dodgers despite their mediocre record have the best run differential in the National League (+32) and the fourth-best in the majors, thanks in large part to consolidating the bulk of their runs in a few wins that have come few and far between. In their last 14 games, the Dodgers’ three wins were by eight runs, 12 runs, and three runs.
The 11 losses in that span have included seven by one run. The Dodgers’ record in one-run games is abysmal (4-10), two more one-run losses than any team in baseball.
An inconsistent offense has contributed to the slide. The Dodgers’ 10-game road trip featured wins scoring 16 and 14 runs, but in the eight losses they scored a total of 19 runs.
In the Dodgers’ Saturday night win over the Angels, a 14-run outburst, the club was 11-for-23 (.478) with runners in scoring position. In the other five games last week, the Dodgers scored 12 total runs and were 4-for-47 (.085) with runners in scoring position.
“I still know our players are very good. But it’s about going out there, making the productive out, to get hits when we need to get them,” Roberts said. “We just need to get better.”
Close games generally tend to even out over the long haul, but the Dodgers are exacerbating the problem by combining an inconsistent offense with an increasingly shaky bullpen.
The Dodgers pitching depth has been decimated with five relievers on the injured list, and even when one member of the bullpen returning (Joe Kelly), it came at the cost of another arm (Scott Alexander).
That injured list also includes Tony Gonsolin, who is being stretched out over the next few weeks to eventually fill the rotation vacancy left by Dustin May. But the interim is proving costly.
It’s a trial by fire for Garrett Cleavinger, Alex Vesia, and Mitch White, who before this season pitched a combined four games in the big leagues.
Baseball-Reference defines average leverage index (aLI) as the average pressure a pitcher faces when entering a game. One is average, and anything above is considered high leverage and anything below is lower leverage. White’s two games in 2020, entering down four runs and up nine, had a .04 aLI, for instance.
This year, with so many Dodgers relievers hurt, and an inconsistent offense making for so many close games, just about every night is a high-leverage night. Entering Sunday, three Dodgers relievers were in the top nine in MLB in average leverage index — Kenley Jansen (2.854, fourth), Vesia (2.843, fifth), and Cleavinger (2.445, ninth). Cleavinger took two losses in extra-inning games last week, and Vesia walked four in an extra-inning loss last weekend in Milwaukee.
“You learn as you log innings, major league innings. We’re all trying to get better,” Roberts said. “I’m going to keep running these guys out there when the situation calls for it, and it’s on them to attack the strike zone and get major league hitters out.”
Perhaps the biggest frustration point came in the lowest-leverage situation possible, on Friday night. With the Dodgers leading 13-0, they turned to Dennis Santana, White, and Cleavinger, a trio that combined to allow 11 runs in only two innings, forcing high-leverage pitchers to finish the suddenly close game.
There’s very little immediate help on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster. Edwin Uceta and Phil Bickford have little experience and are indistinguishable from what’s already here. Andre Jackson and Gerardo Carrillo are both in Double-A, neither considered particularly close.
So for now, it’s sink or swim for the young pitchers in the bullpen, waiting until some sort of cavalry arrives, whenever that may be. But if the last few weeks are any indication, the ride to get to that point will be a turbulent one.
“We’re not just going to roll the bats and balls out there and win baseball games. We’re not just going to sleep walk our way to winning another division title, going to the World Series again,” Bauer said. “That’s not how it works. You have to go out there and beat someone every day. We haven’t been good at it, and we need to be better.”
Batter of the week
Max Muncy takes the cake here, hitting two of the Dodgers’ four home runs last week, and added a double. He essentially was the Dodgers’ offense for most of the Cubs series, and for the week drove in five and scored four, both leading the team. Honorable mention goes to Mookie Betts, who got back on track especially in Anaheim, driving in four runs Saturday after getting tagged while not wearing a cup.
Pitcher of the week
Trevor Bauer struck out 16 in his two starts, allowing only three runs in 10⅓ innings, but had almost no run support to show for it. His best start came Sunday, striking out nine in six innings, allowing a pair of runs and throwing 113 pitches with a cold.
“There’s just another gear in there. There’s just so much compete. When he needs to make a pitch, he does,” Roberts said. “He did everything he could on his end to give us a chance to win.”
Honorable mention goes to the top four on the bullpen depth chart — Jansen, Blake Treinen, Victor Gonzalez, and Jimmy Nelson — who combined to allow only two unearned runs in 10⅔ innings, with 14 strikeouts.
Week 6 results
26 runs scored (4.33 per game)
39 runs allowed (6.50 per game)
.323 pythagorean win percentage
Year to date
174 runs scored (4.97 per game)
142 runs allowed (4.06 per game)
.592 pythagorean win percentage (21-14)
Did I disappoint you? Leave a bad taste in your mouth?: Clayton Kershaw pitched the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader in Chicago, a day that started with a pregame press conference that included a question on whether Kershaw and Bauer could potentially both pitch complete games since both games were slated for seven innings. Neither went the distance, but Kershaw was done the soonest, walking Javier Báez of all people while needing 39 pitches to record only three outs. The one-inning outing was the shortest of Kershaw’s career, 11 years to the day after his previous shortest starting, a 1⅓-inning drubbing in Milwaukee in 2010.
In both firsts start after his two shortest outings, Kershaw did not allow a run.
I just call and he comes around: Keibert Ruiz got his first 2021 call to the majors, and played in five of six games for the week. The first of those games was the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, when Ruiz pinch hit in the seventh inning. Just like in 2020, when Ruiz homered in his first major league at-bat, he homered on his first swing of the season for the second time in as many years.
It’s no secret that the stars are falling from the sky: DJ Peters got another call-up over the weekend in Anaheim, and on Saturday against Mike Mayers he lofted a pop fly down the left field line that eluded Jon Jay, landing just fair for his first major league hit, a double. Peters is the 1,483rd Dodger to record a hit.
With several family and friends on hand for the Glendora native, Peters ultimately got the ball from his first single, but not before his teammates first presented him in the dugout with a different ball, one torn and slathered in pine tar.
“The guys like DJ, and they were trolling him a little bit, having fun with him, and I’m sure he received it well,” Roberts said. “It was a great moment for DJ and his entire family.”
Don’t let the batter grind you down: Edwin Uceta stood out this week, and not just for his 2⅓ scoreless innings in relief on Friday. But given the short bench, when AJ Pollock left with a hamstring strain, infielder Sheldon Neuse, who already pinch hit for designated hitter Matt Beaty, was put into left field. The Dodgers lost the DH as a result, and when Uceta grounded out in the eighth inning, Uceta became the first Dodgers pitcher to ever bat in a game at Angel Stadium. Through Sunday the Dodgers have played 68 regular season games in Anaheim, dating back to 1997, the inaugural season of interleague play. Of the four Dodgers pitchers to bat last week, Uceta was the only one without a strikeout.
UPDATE: Uceta is the only Dodgers batter ever to bat in any American League park during the regular season.
If I could, I would, let it go: If you are wondering why the sum of the Dodgers pitchers earned runs don’t equal the team total, that’s because we have our second instance of the season of MLB Rule 9.16(i). In the seventh inning Saturday, an Austin Barnes error at second base would have been the third out of the inning, so all seven Angels runs were unearned for the team, as were all six runs allowed by White. But Cleavinger, who entered with two on and two outs, allowed a home run to his first batter faced. In the eyes of the official scorer, Cleavinger gets charged with an earned run, throwing a wrench into any plans for nice, tidy accounting. From the rulebook:
When pitchers are changed during an inning, the relief pitcher shall not have the benefit of previous chances for outs not accepted in determining earned runs.
It is the intent of Rule 9.16(i) to charge a relief pitcher with earned runs for which such relief pitcher is solely responsible. In some instances, runs charged as earned against the relief pitcher can be charged as unearned against the team.
This also happened on April 18, with Santana on the mound.
Monday: Pitcher Phil Bickford was claimed off waivers from Milwaukee, and optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Mike Kickham was designated for assignment.
Tuesday: Catcher Keibert Ruiz was recalled.
Tuesday: Outfielder Luke Raley was added as the 27th player on the active roster for the second game of the doubleheader against the Cubs.
Wednesday: In the midst of an 0-for-32 skid, Edwin Ríos was placed on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation, and pitcher Edwin Uceta was recalled.
Wednesday: Kickham cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple-A. The left-hander started Saturday for Oklahoma City.
Thursday: Joe Kelly was activated from the injured list after missing the first 32 games of the season recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Scott Alexander was placed on the 10-day injured list with left shoulder inflammation, retroactive to May 3.
Saturday: DJ Peters was recalled from Triple-A and Uceta was optioned, giving the Dodgers 13 position players and 13 pitchers.
- Monday: Dodgers at Cubs, ppd. (rain)
- Tuesday: Game 1 — Cubs 7, Dodgers 1
- Tuesday: Game 2 — Cubs 4, Dodgers 3 (9 innings)
- Wednesday: Cubs 6, Dodgers 5 (11 innings)
- Friday: Angels 9, Dodgers 2
- Saturday: Dodgers 14, Angels 11
- Sunday: Angels 2, Dodgers 1
Week 6 batting
Week 6 pitching
The Dodgers start a nine-game homestand, but also mix in two off days this week thanks to a two-game interleague series. They run the Greg Briley gauntlet, facing the Mariners and Marlins.
Week 7 schedule
|Mon, May 10||Tue, May 11||Wed, May 12||Thu, May 13||Fri, May 14||Sat, May 15||Sun, May 16|
|Mon, May 10||Tue, May 11||Wed, May 12||Thu, May 13||Fri, May 14||Sat, May 15||Sun, May 16|
|Off||vs. Mariners||vs. Mariners||Off||vs. Marlins||vs. Marlins||vs. Marlins|
|7:10 p.m.||7:10 p.m.||7:10 p.m.||6:10 p.m.||1:10 p.m.|
|Buehler v.||Urías v.||Kershaw v.||Bauer v.||Buehler v.|