Column: Mookie Betts injury exposes the harsh realities of the Dodgers’ top-heavy lineup

Mookie Betts looks on during batting practice against the Washington Nationals.
Mookie Betts’ absence already cost the Dodgers one game, and manager Dave Roberts can’t be comfortable with where the team stands without its star.
(Nick Wass / Associated Press)

Their season could now depend on a medical prognosis made by a Doc who isn’t an actual doctor.

The Dodgers were built to deal with the kinds of injuries that have struck them earlier this season, from Clayton Kershaw’s and Andrew Heaney’s in the opening weeks to Walker Buehler’s and Blake Treinen’s that could stretch into the final months.

What baseball’s most expensive team isn’t prepared to do is play without its best player for an extended period, which is why manager Dave Roberts better be right that Mookie Betts can return from a broken rib in a couple of weeks.


Even for a team known for its depth, the injury to Betts could be one injury too many.

The former Gold Glove right fielder’s absence has already cost the Dodgers a game, as the misadventures of defensive replacement Eddy Alvarez contributed to three runs in a 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday at Dodger Stadium.

Eddy Alvarez, filling in for the injured Mookie Betts in right field, struggles in his unfamiliar outfield setting as the Guardians rally past Dodgers.

June 19, 2022

Here’s the alarming part: Defense wasn’t the problem Roberts envisioned when Betts was officially put on the injured list before the game.

Roberts claimed to not be overly concerned by the state of his team at the time, but the lineup card he submitted said otherwise.

Justin Turner was extracted from the middle of the lineup and relocated to the seventh spot between Cody Bellinger and Alvarez.

“Losing Mookie kind of made me think twice about how I construct the lineup,” Roberts acknowledged.

The roster move laid bare the lineup for what it is, a top-heavy order now down to two dependable offensive players in Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman.


The Dodgers’ offense is nowhere near as explosive as expected and the team’s depth isn’t as imposing as it was in some previous seasons. Max Muncy is batting .153, Bellinger .212 and the 37-year-old Justin Turner .200. Roberts said the Dodgers are exploring “external” options to add a right-handed-hitting reinforcement.

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts falls after colliding with center fielder Cody Bellinger.
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, right, falls after colliding with center fielder Cody Bellinger while trying to make a catch against the Angels on Wednesday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The weaknesses became especially pronounced when Betts and Freeman slowed down in recent weeks.

The Dodgers averaged 5.5 runs per game through May. That number dropped to 3.5 in June. They are 7-9 this month.

The way they’re playing now, they don’t look like a World Series team. They have too many other crucial elements working against them, from their lack of a traditional frontline starter to the unraveling of closer Craig Kimbrel.

Roberts has declined opportunities to walk back the championship guarantee he made before the season but is starting to sound like an insurance adjuster who points to the fine print when reviewing a claim.


“I did make the footnote that we got to keep our starting pitching healthy,” Roberts said earlier in the week.

The Dodgers remain in first place in the National League West, but the San Diego Padres are only half a game back and the defending division champion San Francisco Giants are three games behind. (The Padres now have their own problems, as Manny Machado sprained an ankle Sunday.)

Regardless of what he says, Roberts can’t be comfortable.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts walks off the field after making a pitching change.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts walks off the field after making a pitching change against the New York Mets on June 4.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The strain in his voice was clear when he recalled the play on which Betts was injured, a collision with Bellinger on the first play of Tyler Anderson’s no-hit bid against the Angels on Wednesday.

“It’s something that shouldn’t happen,” Roberts said. “It was early in the game, so it’s not like a crowd-noise situation.”

Betts played the rest of the game and attempted to save Anderson’s no-hitter by diving for Shohei Ohtani’s triple in the ninth inning. Betts said he didn’t know if he worsened the injury on the play.


“It was hurting, but the time and situation there, you have to dive, even if you have a chance, don’t have a chance,” he said. “It’s for my teammate at that point, so you’ve got to do what it takes to help him get a no-hitter. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch it.”

Betts and Roberts were encouraged by how Bellinger sustained a similar injury last September and was able to return in less than two weeks.

Legendary Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax thanks 46 people during a 10-minute speech at the unveiling of his statue at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

June 18, 2022

“It’s not disappointing at all,” said Betts, who leads the Dodgers with 17 home runs. “It’s kind of part of it. It’s kind of like a freak accident. I’m out for a couple weeks and I’ll be back and still help the team win.”

Betts said he didn’t know if he would accompany the Dodgers on their upcoming three-city trip.

Informed temperatures at the first stop in Cincinnati could be around 100 degrees, Betts deadpanned, “Then I probably won’t go.”

The moment of levity was appropriate — for now.

In another month, if Betts is still answering questions about when he could return, the Dodgers won’t be in a joking mood.