Dodgers Dugout: The fall and decline of the Dodger empire

Dodgers left-hander Alex Vesia delivers a pitch.
Alex Vesia
(Erin Hooley / Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell. You never know what you really have until it’s gone.

On May 19, the Dodgers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-0. Tony Gonsolin pitched five innings of one-hit ball. Four relievers combined to hold the Cardinals to one hit over the final four innings. It appeared the Dodgers were on their way to another 100-victory season. They were 29-17 and increased their NL West lead to a season-high 3 1/2 games.

Here are the NL West standings since that game:

Arizona, 19-9
San Francisco, 19-9
San Diego, 15-12
Dodgers, 10-16
Colorado, 10-20

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Overall, the Dodgers are now in third place in the NL West, 4 1/2 games behind Arizona and a game behind the Giants. They are on pace to win 88 games. If the season had ended Monday, they would have made the playoffs as the final wild-card team, but are only one game ahead of Philadelphia for that “honor.”

On Friday, they pulled Emmet Sheehan, making his first major league start, after six no-hit innings while leading 4-0. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the bullpen blew it, and the Dodgers lost 7-5 in 11 innings.

On Saturday, Bobby Miller returned to earth as they lost to the Giants, 15-0, at home, the Dodgers’ worst home shutout loss in, let me check my notes ... history.


On Sunday, Gonsolin just didn’t have it, giving up all seven runs in a 7-3 loss, meaning the Dodgers were outscored 29-8 in the three games. To the Giants of all teams.

How did we get here?

Until this weekend, the offense has been chugging along, third in the majors at 5.44 runs per game. Despite a relatively low overall batting average, the Dodgers lead the majors in walks and are third in home runs. But with the pitching as bad as it has been, they can’t afford to go into any extended slumps. They have four guys on offense that you could argue deserve to start the All-Star game — Will Smith, Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. So, though there are games where the offense has failed to come through, you can’t pin this skid on the hitters.

The problem has been pitching. The Dodgers have one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors. Among the 30 teams (we’ll list the leader, where all the NL West teams rank, and the worst team. all numbers through Sunday):

Overall ERA
1. Houston, 3.33
4. San Diego, 3.75
8. San Francisco, 3.85
21. Arizona, 4.46
25. Dodgers, 4.66
29. Colorado, 5.45
30. Oakland, 6.05

Rotation ERA
1. Tampa Bay, 3.11
6. San Francisco, 3.92
11. San Diego, 4.11
16. Dodgers, 4.38
22. Arizona, 4.72
29. Colorado, 6.29
30. Oakland, 6.47

Bullpen ERA
1. New York Yankees, 2.96
3. San Diego, 3.21
11. San Francisco, 3.77
17. Arizona 4.10
25. Colorado, 4.54
29. Dodgers, 5.04
30. Oakland, 5.58

So, though the Dodgers rotation hasn’t been as good as usual, it doesn’t have the lion’s share of the responsibility for the slump. That belongs to the bullpen, which has been horrible. It has gotten to the point where the only two relievers I don’t get nervous about are Evan Phillips and Brusdar Graterol (unless they hit the ball back to him).

And this is how the Dodgers’ empire has crumbled. Every season Andrew Friedman would bring in arms coming off injury or subpar years, and every season those pitchers would perform miracles. And then the Dodgers usually would discard those guys after the season, and they would soon be out of baseball. Remember Joe Blanton? Brandon Morrow? Jake McGee? Blake Treinen (currently on the IL with the Dodgers)? Corey Knebel? Chris Martin? Craig Kimbrel? OK, just kidding on that last one. There are more who could be named, but we’ll stop there.

Every year in this newsletter I would start the season by saying this strategy was going to backfire. And in 2021 I stopped, because after five to six years of success, I figured the Dodgers had a magic formula. The magic has run out this season.

Before this season they brought in Tayler Scott, who was just designated for assignment. Shelby Miller, who has done well but not dominant (18 walks in 30 innings). Wander Suero, who had an 8.10 ERA in four games. Jordan Yamamoto, who retired during spring training. Matt Andriese, who is still in the minors as a starter. Dylan Covey, released after one game and now with Philadelphia. Tyler Cyr, on the 60-day IL. Rubby de la Rosa, who was released in April. Alex Reyes, who they hoped would be healthy for the second half of the season after having shoulder surgery. Unfortunately he has to have another surgery on the same shoulder and won’t pitch this season. Maybe he can compare notes with Danny Duffy. William Cuevas, who has a 6.14 ERA in the minors. J.P. Feyereisen, another guy coming off surgery they hope can contribute in the second half of the season.


None of these guys has turned into the dominant reliever the Dodgers usually get in these situations. Only Miller has been useful.

So, the Dodgers have had to rely on the same cast of characters as last season. And for whatever reason, they have been horrible. Let’s look at last season’s numbers vs. this season:

Evan Phillips
2023: 2.28 ERA, .158 opp. batting average
2022: 1.14 ERA, .155

Brusdar Graterol
2023: 2.40 ERA, .288
2022: 3.26 ERA, .215

Yency Almonte
2023: 6.30 ERA, .259
2022: 1.02 ERA, .150

Phil Bickford
2023: 7.33 ERA, .278
2022: 4.72 ERA, .233

Alex Vesia
2023: 8.00 ERA, .395
2022: 2.15 ERA, .187

Andre Jackson
2023: 6.62 ERA, .289
2022: 1.86 ERA, .243

Justin Bruihl
2023: 4.41 ERA, .286
2022: 3.80 ERA, .253

Caleb Ferguson
2023: 3.46 ERA, .240
2022: 1.82 ERA, .187

What are the odds that every pitcher would get worse in both categories? The lone exception is Graterol, who is better in ERA but much worse in opponent batting average, so his better ERA is a bit of a mirage.

So the Dodger empire was built on a foundation of sand, and all the rain during the winter has washed it all away.

There’s no easy fix. It’s easy to say “get a closer and assign roles to everyone.” But that’s not why every reliever is worse this season. And this poor play has increased the burden on Dave Roberts to make the right call out of the bullpen each game, which has never been his strong suit. It’s easy to say in retrospect that he should have let Sheehan pitch one more inning Saturday, but that still would have left two innings for this woeful bullpen to cover. Yes, I would have left him in. Roberts can’t bring in Phillips and Graterol every game. He has to trot out one of the other guys occasionally, then sit back in the dugout and hope for the best. This is basically the same bullpen that was the best in the majors last season.

Those calling for the firing of Roberts and Friedman are living in Fantasyland. It’s not happening. Roberts isn’t a good postseason manager, but he has the best regular-season winning percentage of any manager in history. Friedman builds a roster that makes the playoffs every year. They aren’t going anywhere right now.


The Dodgers could trade for a reliever, but would that really help? That might give them three reliable relievers, when they need five or six. Do you really want to raid the depth in the minors for a reliever? With the expanded playoffs, more teams have a chance to make the postseason, meaning fewer teams that want to trade a reliable reliever. And if they do want to trade one, they are going to demand a high price from L.A. Joe Kelly‘s name has been banded about. He has a 4.57 ERA with the White Sox. I’m pretty sure he won’t solve the problems. Kenley Jansen? He has a 5.25 ERA since May 12, giving up 11 hits and nine walks in 12 innings.

Colleague Jack Harris, our Dodgers beat writer, covered similar territory in a fine story Monday. He asked Friedman and pitching coach Mark Prior what can be done. Their answers”

“We still have faith in a lot of these guys, their ability to get outs,” Prior said.

Added Friedman: “I’m confident that as we go guy by guy, that there’s very compelling upside stories, that when we look back a month from now it will be very different.”

The one thing that would be nice to see? Some emotion. There isn’t any on this team. There hasn’t been for years. Doing “make way for the train” arm pump after every hit is not showing emotion. How about getting mad occasionally when a call doesn’t go your way? How about showing the fans that you care about winning just as much as they do?

The reason people loved Yasiel Puig, even with all the baggage, was because he wore his emotions on his sleeve. You don’t need, or really want, 26 guys like that, but one or two would be nice. Right now it seems the Dodgers are a bunch of librarians. Let’s keep the noise down everyone, people are trying to read. It’s like watching a simulation of a team play. You feel good when they win, but your heart really isn’t in it. Most Dodger fans grew up with Tommy Lasorda getting thrown out of games a couple of times a year. Reggie Smith challenging an opposing player to a fight under the stands. The bullpen charging into the stands when a fan stole the cap off of a player’s head. Not that those are all wonderful things, but at least you knew they cared. I’m sure this team does care. Show it. Right now it’s “Excuse me, Mr. Umpire, sorry to bother, but I believe that last pitch may have been a strike. Of course, you have the better view, so I may be wrong.”

Now, some of you out there have already cashed in your chips for this season. It’s certainly not unsalvageable yet. It seems unlikely every reliever will turn things around, but you have to figure one or two will. The offense is good enough to carry the team if it can get just average help from the pitching. The Dodgers are still in postseason position. So, no, not throwing in the towel.

But if things don’t get fixed soon, we’ll know that light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the postseason, but a train headed this way.


One more thing to check before we go. What was the Dodgers’ record after 72 games since their postseason streak began in 2013?

2013: 30-42 (90-72 final record)
2014: 38-34 (94-68)
2015: 39-33 (92-70)
2016: 39-33 (91-71)
2017: 46-26 (104-58)
2018: 38-34 (92-71)
2019: 48-24 (106-56)
2020: COVID shortened season
2021: 44-28 (106-56)
2022: 45-27 (111-51)
2023: 39-33 (?)

Low blow

This doesn’t really involve the Dodgers, but does involve a former Dodger. Charlie Culberson played for L.A. from 2016-17, most famous for hitting the walk-off home run in Vin Scully’s final game at Dodger Stadium. He has bounced around the majors since then, building a respectable journeyman career. He was with Atlanta this season. On Father’s Day, his father was going to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Charlie to celebrate the day. A couple of hours before the game, the Braves in effect released Culberson. “Dad, about that ceremonial first pitch. We’ll have to do it in the parking lot.”

Really? They couldn’t wait one day to do that?

These names look familiar

How members of the 2022 Dodgers who are now with other teams are doing this season (through Sunday). Tap on the name of the player to be taken to their full stats.


Hanser Alberto: free agent

Eddy Alvarez, Brewers: in the minors


Cody Bellinger, Cubs: .260/.328/.474, 10 doubles, 1 triple, 7 homers, 115 OPS+,

Joey Gallo, Twins: .191/.320/.467, 7 doubles, 1 triple, 11 homers, 117 OPS+

Jake Lamb, Angels: .216/.259/.353, 1 double, 2 homers, 67 OPS+, in the minors

Zach McKinstry, Tigers: .246/.336/.372, 7 doubles, 1 triple, 5 homers, 98 OPS+

Kevin Pillar, Braves: .271/.297/.521, 6 doubles, 6 homers, 114 OPS+

Edwin Ríos, Cubs: .071/.235/.214, 1 double, 1 homer, 24 OPS+, in the minors


Justin Turner, Red Sox: .277/.352/.447, 15 doubles, 10 homers, 115 OPS+

Trea Turner, Phillies: .247/.297/.385, 16 doubles, 2 triples, 7 homers, 87 OPS+

Tony Wolters, Twins: in the minors


Tyler Anderson, Angels: 4-1, 5.64 ERA, 68.2 IP, 78 hits, 31 walks, 51 K’s

Garrett Cleavinger, Rays: on the 60-day IL


Andrew Heaney, Rangers: 4-4, 4.05 ERA, 66.2 IP, 57 hits, 31 walks, 70 K’s

Heath Hembree, Tigers: in the minors

Tommy Kahnle, Yankees: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 IP, 2 hits, 1 walk, 8 K’s

Craig Kimbrel, Phillies: 5-1, 4.50 ERA, 28 IP, 19 hits, 13 walks, 44 K’s, 10 saves

Chris Martin, Red Sox: 1-1, 2.08 ERA, 21.2 IP, 18 hits, 2 walks, 18 K’s, 1 save

Reyes Moronta, Angels: in the minors


David Price, retired

Mitch White, Blue Jays: 0-0, 5.06 ERA, 5.1 IP, 6 hits, 2 walks, 8 K’s

What Vin Scully meant to me

Last season, after Vin Scully died, I asked readers to send in what he meant to them. I ran them the rest of the season and wanted to circle back and run the rest, which will take a few weeks at least. If you wish to contribute (if you sent it to me last season, I still have it, so no need to send again), please email it to and put Vin Scully in the subject line.

From Hank Rosenfeld of Riverside: My father was a Polish Holocaust survivor. A Nazi concentration camp survivor. He and my mother (a Belgian Holocaust survivor) came to America as “Displaced Persons” in 1951 and settled in L.A. My dad worked long hours, always six and sometimes seven days a week, in order to build a life for our family.

I was born in 1954, and I was the first-born child and son. As I grew up, from a very young age, a tension arose and grew between my father and me that is not uncommon between immigrant parents and their first-generation American children. Paraphrasing a Dave Barry quote, to say that there was a bit of conflict between us is like saying that there is a bit of water in the Pacific Ocean.

Before the war, my dad played soccer. Lots of soccer. There was no baseball in Poland. And yet, somehow, and I have no idea how it came to pass, he became a rabid Dodger fan when the team moved to L.A., so Vin Scully’s voice was omnipresent in our home and our cars during baseball season.


Which leads to my happiest childhood memories of time spent with my dad. We lived in a house in Monterey Park that had one air conditioner. A window unit. It was in my parents’ bedroom. On the hottest summer nights my brother, my dad, and I would lay on my parents’ bed (Dad in his swimming trunks and undershirt.) listening to Vin while we escaped the heat under that air conditioner. Dad would practically live and die with each pitch. Even more so when Sandy Koufax, a fellow Jew, was pitching. There was no tension between us at those times, just a shared excitement when games went well and a common disappointment when they didn’t.

Naturally, I became a just as rabid Dodger fan and have remained so my entire life.

I have missed Vinny’s voice since he retired, and his passing signifies the end of an era. But I will always have my summertime memories of Vin providing the soundtrack of my happiest childhood times with my dad, and I will indulge my imagination and allow myself to believe that the catalyst for my father’s embrace of baseball and the Dodgers was when someone he knew introduced him to the voice of Vin Scully on the radio.

Up next

Tuesday: Dodgers (*Clayton Kershaw, 8-4, 2.95 ERA) at Angels (*Reid Detmers, 1-5, 4.48 ERA), 7:07 p.m., Sportsnet LA, TBS, Bally Sports West, AM 570, KLAA 830, KTNQ 1020, KWKW 1330

Wednesday: Dodgers (TBD) at Angels (Shohei Ohtani, 6-2, 3.29 ERA), 6:38 p.m., Sportsnet LA, Bally Sports West, AM 570, KLAA 830, KTNQ 1020, KWKW 1330


In case you missed it

What happened to the Dodgers’ pitching? Inside the team’s historic struggles

Dodgers-Angels among MLB’s best rivalries? ‘Not even in the same stratosphere’


Mookie Betts plans to compete in Home Run Derby ‘as long as I’m an All-Star’

Plaschke: Dodgers’ Pride Night feels like a rainbow of love

Religious groups protest Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence before Dodgers’ Pride Night

‘Attached at the hip.’ Dodgers reunion has Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez back at star heights

The Dodgers have a flawed roster. Making the right trades could be harder than you think

And finally

Don Drysdale appears on “The Brady Bunch.” Watch and listen here.


Until next time...

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