It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Not for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team with the deepest pockets and the smartest front office around. They weren’t supposed to be fighting to keep their heads above water in late May, or be faced with questions on the makeup of their roster.
But that’s the reality for the Dodgers so far, a talented team that has yet to put things together. A recent three-game sweep of the lowly Reds put them back over .500 for the season, but they still trail the surging Giants by 4.5 games in the division and are on the outside looking in of the Wild Card race.
It’s much too early to count them out of the playoff picture, of course. There are months and months of baseball left to be played, and the standings could turn on a dime. But it’s not too early to question whether or not the Dodgers’ roster as it stands now can fuel that kind of turnaround. Can they go toe-to-toe with the Giants, or continue to muddle through and hover around .500?
Pitching has been the biggest culprit for the Dodgers this year, and aside from Clayton Kershaw’s usual brilliance the rotation has been a mess. Kenta Maeda, their biggest pitching acquisition over the winter, started strong but has sputtered recently. Scott Kazmir hasn’t been anything special, nor have any of the other starters. It’s looking like the Dodgers have a rotation that consists of an all-world ace and a bunch of back-of-the-rotation types. That has to be especially frustrating for Dodgers fans who see Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, two pitchers that their team was actually outbid for, fueling the Giants recent tear.
The arrival of vaunted prospect Julio Urias may help give the rotation a shot in the arm, but he’s 19 years old and pinning your hopes on a teenager probably isn’t the best strategy. And Urias won’t be able to help a bullpen that has looked shaky beyond Kenley Jansen and Joe Blanton (of all people). The Dodgers’ pitching woes stretch beyond the rotation.
The offense hasn’t been much help, either. A number of lineup regulars are under-performing: Yasmani Grandal, Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, and Howie Kendrick have all slumped badly this year. Corey Seager has been solid but hasn’t set the league on fire like so many predicted he would. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t slumped, but he’s not having his typical kind of year; in fairness, that could have something to do with the batters around him, too.
The offense has shown a few signs of life, though. Trayce Thompson has started seeing regular at bats and looks like a lineup mainstay. Seager has been picking things up lately as well, and Joc Pederson looks like a more dangerous hitter than he did last year. And manager Dave Roberts has shown a willingness to move away from struggling veterans, evidenced by his recent benching of Puig.
So can the Dodgers overcome all of their issues and start putting things together? It’s hard to see it happening with their current roster, especially the pitching staff, but it’s possible. Kershaw and then hope for the best isn’t a sound strategy. If Urias can somehow pick up the slack that Zack Greinke left, that would go a long way in making the Dodgers a dangerous team. And if their younger hitters continue to improve and anchor the lineup, that would buy the veterans more time to shake off their early struggles.
That’s a lot of “ifs” and not much certainty. It looks like it could be a tough road ahead for the Dodgers, but there’s still a long way to go before they reach the end of it.