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Clayton Kershaw: Flailing Dodgers need to ‘figure it out right now’

Clayton Kershaw pitches
Veteran Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw said the team needs to recapture the sense of urgency it had last season.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

If the 162-game baseball season is a marathon, the Dodgers are nowhere near Heartbreak Hill. The defending World Series champions are 35 games into the six-month grind, six shy of the season’s quarter-point, so there’s plenty of time to recover from a brutal three-week stretch in which they’ve lost 15 of 20.

But in the eyes of veteran pitcher Clayton Kershaw, this is no time to keep calm and carry on.

“It doesn’t do anyone any good to think, ‘Oh, it’s a long season, it’s 162 games, and we’ll figure it out — we’re too good not to,’ ” Kershaw said over the weekend. “In my opinion, you figure it out right now.

“Don’t wait. Don’t get complacent with it. Last season taught us that a little bit. For me, personally, every game matters, whether it’s May or September. All the wins count the same.”

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There was a built-in sense of urgency during the pandemic-shortened 60-game 2020 season. Teams couldn’t afford a slow start because there was no time to catch up. A seven-game losing streak, easily absorbed in a 162-game season, could torpedo playoff chances.

The compact schedule and a hunger to win the franchise’s first World Series title since 1988 fueled the Dodgers. They kept the pedal to the metal for two-plus months, going a major league-best 43-17 and vanquishing Milwaukee, San Diego, Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the playoffs for the championship.

From a certain perspective, the Angels have bright spots when it comes to starting pitching and their bullpen, but there’s room for improvement.

It has been a different story in 2021. The Dodgers nosedived after a 13-2 start and are one game over .500 (18-17) and in third place entering Tuesday night’s game against the Seattle Mariners. They’ve already lost as many games as they did all last season.

The offense has been sporadic. There have been physical errors and mental lapses on defense and the base paths. An injury-ravaged bullpen has had a series of late-inning collapses and nearly blew a 13-0 lead in Saturday night’s 14-11 win over the Angels.

The lack of energy seemed noticeable in Friday night’s 9-2 loss to the Angels. Then, after their 17-hit outburst Saturday, the Dodgers mustered one run on four hits in Sunday’s 2-1 loss, failing to capitalize on nine Angels walks.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts acknowledged that it has been more difficult to re-create that 2020 sense of urgency with baseball going back to a 162-game schedule.

“I think that’s fair,” he said over the weekend. “I think you can try to play every game, in theory, like it’s Game 7, but in reality, it’s not. When you look out at a 162-game season, there are going to be times when you’re not getting hits and teams look lethargic. That’s every ballclub that’s not swinging the bats.

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“I know we still have a lot of good players, and we’re gonna win baseball games. But to have our hair on fire for 162, I think that is hard. Our guys understand it is a marathon. I don’t like how we got to .500 the last couple of weeks, but we are where we’re at, and we have to get better.”

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.

Starting pitching hasn’t been a problem. The rotation has a 2.97 ERA, tied for second best in baseball, and leads the major leagues in innings (200), strikeouts (235) and fewest walks (37). Offensively, the Dodgers rank second in runs (174) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.748), and fourth in run-differential (plus-32).

But the Dodgers have a minus-13 run differential from the seventh inning on, a factor in their major league-high 10 one-run losses. They have a major league-high 94 plate appearances with a runner on third and less than two outs and have struck out 23 times in those situations. In their previous four losses, they are four for 47 with runners in scoring position.

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“We’re working counts and getting guys on base,” utility man Chris Taylor said. “It just seems like we can’t do what it takes to drive them in.”

Injuries to Corey Knebel, Brusdar Graterol, David Price and Scott Alexander have taken a toll on the bullpen. The Dodgers have 24 holds, tied for second most in the majors, thanks to high-leverage relievers such as Blake Treinen, Kenley Jansen and Victor Gonzalez.

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But overall, they are 10 for 22 in save opportunities, with a major league-high 12 blown saves, many charged to the untested arms they’ve leaned on too often.

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The defense has been spotty, yielding a major league-high 27 unearned runs and 38 stolen bases.

“I think every game has been different,” Roberts said, “whether it’s a pitch here or there, a defensive play that’s not made or a hit that we don’t get.”

The frustrations of the skid surfaced Sunday, pitcher Trevor Bauer saying he was “pissed, personally … I’m mad.” The Dodgers have won eight straight NL West titles, and Roberts insisted that “we’re gonna be at the top of this division — I have no doubt in my mind,” but they can’t wait too long to turn things around.

“We have to find ways to win baseball games instead of finding ways to lose them,” Bauer said. “It’s about going out there and beating someone every day. We need to get better.”


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