Dodgers mailbag: It is time to panic

The Dodgers are 92-52. That translates to a 103-win pace.

The team has a nine-game lead in the National League West. They lead Washington in the race for homefield advantage by 3 1/2 games. Hey, that’s not bad!

These are ugly times to be a Dodger or to be a fan of the Dodgers. The team has lost 11 games in a row, the longest losing streak since the team moved to Los Angeles, and 16 of their last 17. They have failed in all phases of the game. As president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman outlined in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Monday, when the pitching is there, the hitting isn’t. When the hitters are productive, the pitchers aren’t. Or, like Monday’s loss to San Francisco, the bullpen can’t be trusted.

It is an abysmal skid, a horrific skid, an embarrassing skid, a confounding skid. I am running out of adjectives to describe it. This is my eighth season covering Major League Baseball. I’ve never seen anything like this — and I used to cover the Mets.

Let’s answer some questions. My answers will not please fans. I am going to stare at the mirror and repeat “It’s not your fault,” like Robin Williams told Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” before I do this.

As always, you can reach me on Twitter @McCulloughTimes. Let’s get this over with.

I’m doing OK. Thank you for asking.

I wrote an article trying to answer most of these questions for Tuesday’s paper. It was on Page 1, the same page of the newspaper that brought you this article a couple of months ago. Ah, those were heady times.

The explanation will not make you happy, because it sounds very simple: The hitters are not hitting. The back half of the lineup has been almost useless. The top four of the lineup — Chris Taylor, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger — have been productive, but slightly regressed from their peaks earlier in the season, with Seager sitting out most of this skid to rest his elbow.

Meanwhile, the starting pitchers have been atrocious. Yu Darvish is a mess. Alex Wood is struggling to generate fastball velocity and giving up homers at an accelerated rate. Clayton Kershaw had an ugly start against the Rockies. Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu have been OK, but not outstanding. Kenta Maeda has proven himself to be mediocre.

Since the starters don’t go deep into games, the bullpen has been shredded. Manager Dave Roberts continues to rely upon Pedro Baez, who has been a can of gas in the second half, and should probably not be on the playoff roster.

Basically: The Dodgers are playing bad baseball. They are doing it across the board. Pretty much every player has contributed to a loss during this stretch.

The job is the same, for the most part. You watch the games, you talk to players, coaches, the manager and executives, you try to explain what is going on. It becomes a little awkward after so many losses, because you run out of questions. How many times can you ask Justin Turner, one of the team’s spokesmen, some version of: “Why are you guys so bad right now?”

Pretty much. Don’t worry about me.

Trust me, this is not boring. This is the furthest thing from boring.

One of my best friends is having a bachelor party in New Orleans on the weekend of Oct. 13. We shall see if I can make it.

It is always great to hear feedback from readers.

That’s a good question. Younger players do tend to fade in late August and September. Corey Seager, as polished a rookie as you’ll ever see, did so last year. It would seem like Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor are the two Dodgers most likely to be affected by this phenomenon.

Bellinger is hitting .233/.283/.488 with two homers in September. The power is still there, but the quality of at-bat has decreased.

Taylor is hitting .233/.233/.349 in September. He has walked once since Aug. 25. That is somewhat disconcerting.

It also helps explains some of the team’s skid. Two of their best hitters are performing under the level they established for the year. I am sure the Dodgers expected some of this. It’s part of why they acquired Curtis Granderson: To add a battle-tested, proven slugger to the mix. Granderson, of course, has flopped.

For the record, Dave Roberts does not “insist” on batting Granderson in the leadoff spot. Chris Taylor is the leadoff hitter. But, yes, the Dodgers continue to give Granderson at-bats, despite his .111 batting average with 24 strikeouts in 22 games as a Dodger. I don’t know about you, but a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-hit ratio seems excessive.

So why do the Dodgers keep playing Granderson?

  1. They don’t trust Andre Ethier’s body to hold up under the strain of everyday play. Roberts mentioned this on Monday. Ethier hasn’t played baseball on a daily basis in two years, because of his injuries. The Dodgers don’t know if he can handle it. They also view Granderson as a more reliable performer than rookie Alex Verdugo and once-demoted outfielder Joc Pederson. Otherwise, those guys would be in the lineup more.
  2. They believe in Granderson’s track record. Granderson went through a ridiculous slump in April. He had a .395 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Mets. From May until joining the Dodgers in August, his OPS jumped to .953. The Dodgers believe he can get out of this funk. I am not so sure. I suppose we’ll see.

Yes, I think the Dodgers should pare down the roster. I do not believe this is the source of the losing, but I do not think it helps. Some Dodgers folks have pointed out that the team used a ton of September callups in 2015 and 2016, and no one seemed to mind then.

I agree that it is a red herring, for the most part, but I’m just not sure what the point is of carrying all these bodies when the team is in a crisis. You have hitting coaches throwing batting practice before the game to guys who won’t play unless an emergency happens. Those hours would probably be better served fixing Granderson, in my opinion.

Again: I don’t think this is a big deal. It is a minor symptom, not the source of the disease.

The worst theory I’ve heard is that the Dodgers don’t bunt enough.

Speaking of bunting...

Ned Yost would bat his least-productive hitter in the leadoff spot, allow his No. 3 hitter to bunt on his own and ride the wave all the way to Cooperstown.

I expect Torey Lovullo to win National League Manager of the Year.

Joe Davis missed the Dodgers games this weekend because he was calling a college football game. He also does football during the fall.

Come on, man. This question is insulting. “Music for the Masses” is a good record, but “Violator” is immaculate.

Man, this is so tough. Brand New is my favorite band. After seeing them live last weekend in San Bernardino, I am firmly convinced they are the best American rock band of this century. Their legacy is unquestioned, and their new record, “Science Fiction,” fulfilled an eight-year gap in stirring fashion.

So, how do you rank the records? For years, if someone asked me my favorite album, in general, I would say “Deja Entendu.” It came out in 2003, a formative time in my life, and carried me through so much. From an objective standpoint, it should probably be No. 2 or No. 3 on the list, but I can’t do that. Here are my rankings:

  1. “Deja Entendu”
  2. “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me”
  3. “Science Fiction”
  4. “Your Favorite Weapon”
  5. “Daisy”

There is a decent chance that “Science Fiction” will jump “Devil and God” as the years pass. I don’t know. I know I love this band, and I thank them for the music they’ve made. As Ben Folds once sang about Elliott Smith, the songs you wrote got me through a lot.

andy.mccullough@latimes.com

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes

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