Dodgers’ offensive struggles start with Mookie Betts and Corey Seager
The Dodgers’ woes seem countless at the moment.
The defense is sloppy too often. Injuries have decimated the bullpen and dented the depth. Opponents run freely on the basepaths. Then there’s the biggest, and most surprising, issue: the offense.
The struggles have magnified the other problems, forcing the Dodgers into close games nearly every night. The Dodgers aren’t padding leads when they have them. As a result, since starting the season 13-2, they’re 4-13. Only the Detroit Tigers have been worse during the stretch.
“Intellectually, I know that we’re a really good team and have really good players,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said in a phone interview Thursday. “But, obviously, this has been a really difficult stretch and kind of the imperfect storm on a lot of fronts. So I think it’s just doing our best to weather this storm.
“If we were in the midst of a 60-game season, I would obviously be more worried. But it’s kind of an imperfect storm. When we’re hitting, we’re not pitching. When we’re pitching, we’re not hitting. And defensive miscues late. Leadoff walks. Just a combination of things that you don’t usually see associated with Dodgers baseball, especially of late.”
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is just as frustrated as the fans with a team that has lost 13 of its last 17 games.
Dodgers baseball peaked under Friedman in 2020 for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list was the spark Mookie Betts and Corey Seager supplied atop the lineup. This season, bats are slumping across the board, but the offensive misery trickles down from those two.
Betts and Seager starred in the one and two holes in 2020, fueling the club to an elusive championship. Betts finished second in National League most valuable player voting and wowed with his five-tool skill set in October after signing a $365-million contract in July. Seager was named NL Championship Series and World Series MVP ahead of his contract year. They were an unmatched one-two punch.
This year, they’re performing well below expectations. Betts is 14 for 64 (.219) with one home run during the Dodgers’ abysmal stretch. Seager is 13 for 65 (.200) with two home runs. Combined, they’re batting .209 with a .614 on-base-plus slugging percentage in the 17 games.
“I think any team can say that if you take your top two hitters and if they’re swinging the bats, there’s going to be more offensive production,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They’re taking the most at-bats in a game and so typically they’re your better hitters. ... No one’s trying to make outs or roll over on a first-pitch sinker or changeup, so I’m going to keep running them out and they’re working really hard with the hitting guys. They’re just so talented, they’ll get going again.”
Seager’s problems aren’t limited to the batter’s box. They’ve extended to shortstop, where he hasn’t stopped several reachable groundballs to his backhand side. He managed to glove a ball with his backhand in the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, but he threw the ball away. The error led to the Cubs scoring the tying run in an 11-inning 6-5 Chicago victory.
Seager, 27, has committed four errors and is tied for 20th in defensive runs saved (minus-3) among shortstops this season. His performance has observers wondering if he will emerge from free agency this winter at a different position.
“I know that the numbers, as far as runs saved and whatever, are down; I do think that it’s a small sample,” Roberts said. “I know that Corey expects to be better. He will be. I don’t think it’s positioning. I don’t think it’s focus on getting jumps on the baseball. Right now, it’s just kind of one of those things.
“I think he’s a plus defender at shortstop. He’s shown it and I think there’s some things that have happened, dropping of a ball, these are just kind of outliers that have happened in this perfect storm of the last couple of weeks. But I still do believe that the numbers will correct themselves as the season plays.”
Betts, 28, is batting .248 with a .767 OPS in 25 games this season. He endured his worst performance in Wednesday’s loss, going hitless in six at-bats with three strikeouts. In his final at-bat, he grounded out to leave the bases loaded in the 11th inning. The inability to add insurance runs cost the Dodgers.
Betts had one three-strikeout game and six multi-strikeout games in 55 games in 2020. He has five multi-strikeout games this season. He’s barreled just four of the 85 balls he’s put in play this season, according to BaseballSavant.com. He’s generated his lowest hard-hit rate and average exit velocity since 2017. Betts posted his worst offensive season that year.
The right fielder’s problems may stem from a lower back injury that kept him out of four consecutive games last month. He was eight for 23 before that. He’s batting .220 with a .692 OPS in 20 games since returning.
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Last Friday, he took extra early batting practice at American Family Field even though he wasn’t in the lineup against the Milwaukee Brewers. The next day, he homered on the game’s first pitch and finished two for four with two walks.
“Today was probably my best day so far and so … we just got to string some games together and get some wins,” Betts said after the game which the Dodgers lost 6-5 in 11 innings. “We’ll see how things go.”
Betts went three for 17 over the next four games.
“I just think that right now, Mookie is in between,” Roberts said. “He’s taking more balls in the strike zone than he normally does and he’s chasing more than he does. Any time a guy does that, you can tell that they might be thinking a little bit too much in between.”
History says Betts and Seager, if they stay healthy, will figure it out. They’ll start producing and the Dodgers should start winning once that happens. It’s a matter of time and the Dodgers have time. As bleak as things may seem, the Dodgers, at 17-15, enter Friday 1½ games from the best record in the National League.
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