Column: The Dodgers are stuck in the blah of average
How confusing are the Dodgers?
On the giant video board before Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets, the most important voice in their history openly wondered about them.
“The Dodgers are a puzzle,” Vin Scully proclaimed in his pregame preview.
How mediocre are the Dodgers?
When the Mets’ lineup was announced Tuesday, the new Dodgers organist Dieter Ruehle actually played their fight song — “Meet the Mets” — to the assured delight of the many Mets fans in the house.
Rookie mistake? No, he was doing it for a second straight night.
Barely a month into the 2016 season, and the local nine are breaking Hollywood’s golden rule.
They are Dodger blah.
The complaints from 60% of the city unable to watch them on television are no longer filling this columnist’s inbox, maybe because so few people care about seeing them. The stands at Chavez Ravine this week have been filled with wide swatches of empty yellow, empty blue, and Mets caps.
The Lakers are more interesting, and they just had the worst record in franchise history. The Rams have been getting more attention, and they haven’t played a game here in 20 years.
And this is column is being written on a Tuesday night when Trayce Thompson beat the Mets with a two-out, ninth-inning, pinch-hit, walk-off homer into the Dodger Stadium left-field pavilion to give the Dodgers a 3-2 victory.
There was standing and screaming. There were blinking outfield lights. There was a water cooler shower for the hero. It was a cool finish.
All of which gave the Dodgers a record of 17-16.
“Hopefully we just keep playing well, keep it rolling tomorrow,” Thompson afterward. “This is crazy.”
What’s crazy is that some in the organization care that this record is good enough to lead a lousy West Division in which everyone else is under .500. They’ve won that division for three consecutive seasons and what did it get them?
What’s crazy is that Adrian Gonzalez’ white board message a couple of weeks ago in which he proclaimed the division lead as being “priceless.” What would be priceless after a 28-year drought is a championship, and teams that look like the current Dodgers don’t win championships.
The Dodgers are barely above average, and, even in the wake of their first pinch-hit walk-off home in nearly three years, they are barely looking like they can turn that into something truly valuable.
The Dodgers are a glorious centerpiece named Clayton Kershaw and a bunch of surrounding knick-knacks that are occasionally colorful but mostly baffling. Are they truly competing for a title or slowly beginning the process of rebuilding? Management has seemingly built this team to do both, which, no surprise, has resulted in them doing neither.
The kids, Corey Seager and Joc Pederson, have been decent, but have been unable to carry a veteran offense that sags in every direction. When Tuesday’s game began, a lineup that needed to rely on smart professional hitting was 10th in the league in on-base percentage and 11th in runs scored.
The breakout season of Yasiel Puig? Since the first three games, Puig is batting .200 with eight RBIs in 105 at-bats. Offensive cornerstone Gonzalez? When he singled in the third inning Tuesday, it was his first hit in his last 11 home games, and he remains on a pace for 15 homers, which would be his full-season career low.
The rotation is anchored by Kershaw and Kenta Maeda, who are a combined 7-2 with a 1.88 earned-run average.
But before Alex Wood’s strong 61/3 innings Tuesday, the remaining three guys in the rotation were 3-8 with a 4.88 ERA.
The bullpen is fine at the back end, with Kenley Jansen almost unhittable as the closer with an 0.68 ERA. But his three setup guys combined for a 6.17 ERA.
Some of the buzz in town is about how the Dodgers are hurt by the analytical lineup decisions have resulted in an amazing 27 different batting orders in 33 games and 23 different fielding lineups during that time.
That criticism is directed at the right place — Andrew Friedman’s front office — but for the wrong reason. The Dodgers have to mix and match lineups because they just aren’t built with many players who can play every day.
Seriously, who would you put in there, and leave in there? Seager at shortstop batting second. Gonzalez at first base batting fourth. And who else?
In threading the needle between winning and rebuilding, Dodgers management has constructed an awkward creation that just doesn’t fit.
All of this has been dropped in the lap of Manager Dave Roberts, who is doing an admirable job keeping the players inspired to do jobs for which some of them just aren’t suited. Howie Kendrick playing three different positions in three different innings recently comes to mind.
“Guys are busting their butts, every day they come in fresh, you can’t try any harder to get hits or throw up zeros, and every day we feel like it’s going to turn and sustain some traction,” Roberts said.
For one of the first times this season, Roberts bristled during the pregame media session when asked about the wisdom of using so many different lineups. Although he passionately defends his players, he is clearly playing the hand he was dealt.
“My job is to manage the roster that I have, how do we get the most out of that roster,” he said after the session ended. “There’s something to the psyche of the players and how you use your whole roster.”
Trayce Thompson arose from that slumbering roster to win a game for them Tuesday night in a thrilling unique moment that did little to change the reality thus far that this Dodgers’ season has been a cliché.
At 17-16, they are what they are.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke
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