When the Dodgers are back home this weekend, they will face two left-handed starters, with Justin Steele pitching for the Cubs Friday and Drew Smyly on Sunday. It will give Los Angeles chances to improve a relative weak point for the offense, and perhaps a chance for some slumping hitters to get back on track.
Only three of the Dodgers’ 13 games to date have been against left-handed starting pitchers — two Madison Bumgarner starts and one by Alex Wood. That’s only 23 percent of their games so far, compared to southpaws starting 31 percent of all major league games to date.
Depending on how the schedule shakes out, the Dodgers on the homestand might also face David Peterson, the lone left-hander in the Mets rotation.
The Dodgers are hitting .195/.382/.415 against left-handed pitchers this season. The low batting average stands out — 29th in MLB through Wednesday — but that overall line is a 122 wRC+ against lefties, buoyed by a ridiculous 22-percent walk rate (just ask Taylor Rogers). That wRC+ is still well above average, but trails the Dodgers’ 130 wRC+ against right-handers.
But that’s been the story for a few years. In the previous five seasons, the Dodgers have finished in the top three in the majors in wRC+ against right-handed pitchers four times. But they haven’t finished in the top six in wRC+ against lefties since 2017, though they’ve been above average against southpaws in each of those years. This year, that 122 wRC+ ranks eighth in the majors, compared to fourth against righties.
The Dodgers have again been above average against left-handed pitchers this season, even though it doesn’t seem like it with the low batting average. They lost two of the three games started by a southpaw, even though neither Bumgarner (twice) nor Wood were able to complete five innings against LA, and they walked more in those three starts (13) than they struck out (12).
Where the Dodgers have been carved up by left-handed pitchers is later in games, out of the bullpen. Against southpaw relievers, the Dodgers have just six hits in 35 at-bats, hitting .171/.356/.371 with a 26.7-percent strikeout rate.
Two of those hits against lefty relievers came Wednesday night against old friend Scott Alexander, including a home run by Max Muncy, his first hit in eight at-bats against southpaws this season.
This is all a small sample size of course, as the Dodgers have batted only 110 times against left-handed pitching this season. But the main difference in the lineup against southpaws is that Trayce Thompson and Chris Taylor have started, and both have struggled to varying degrees.
Thompson started off with a bang, hitting three home runs with eight RBI in his first game of the season. But two of those three home runs were against right-handers, and after the first-inning grand slam against Bumgarner, Thompson is hitless in eight at-bats with five strikeouts. Thompson does have five hits in 10 at-bats against right-handers though. Again, small sample sizes here.
Taylor has been a mess at the plate so far against pretty much everyone, just 3-for-33 (.091/.139/.273) with a 41.7-percent strikeout rate that’s tops in the majors among hitters with at least 30 plate appearances.
Manager Dave Roberts said during the Freeway Series that given Taylor’s struggles this spring and after a rough injury-plagued 2022, his best chance for playing time would be against left-handers this season. Taylor has played a bit more than that, filling in at shortstop when Miguel Rojas missed five games with a left groin strain. Taylor has started nine of 13 games, and Rojas suffered a left hamstring cramp on Wednesday.
So far against lefties this year, Taylor has one hit in seven at-bats, a home run against Bumgarner. Taylor is 0-for-13 with eight strikeouts against all pitchers since that home run.
Thompson was a revelation last season in his three-plus months with the Dodgers, but most of his damage against right-handed pitching. He stated multiple times during spring training that his goal was to hit left-handers this season.
“It left a bad taste in my mouth on the year,” Thompson told Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times in February. “It’s something that — I want to be the guy versus lefties … So there’s a lot of work to do.”
Thompson and Taylor will get a few chances to do that work on this homestand.