Advertisement

Column: Dodgers are winning again, but who’s convinced this team will win in October?

Dodgers outfielder Jason Heyward puts his hand on the helmet of Freddie Freeman.
Jason Heyward, right, congratulates Freddie Freeman after driving him in on a sacrifice fly during the Dodgers’ 4-0 win over the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Share
1

The Dodgers are winning again.

They followed their sweep of the New York Mets by taking the last two games of their three-game series against the Colorado Rockies during the weekend.

Mookie Betts homered in their series finale against the Rockies, a 4-0 victory on Sunday at Dodger Stadium. Freddie Freeman also homered. Second-year right-hander Gavin Stone further cemented his place in the rotation by pitching five scoreless innings.

Advertisement

The Dodgers are 38-23, the second-best record in the National League. They have a 6½-game division lead over the second-place San Diego Padres.

Yet, none of this was convincing.

None of this answered the longstanding questions about them.

Gavin Stone continues to shine in his sophomore season, holding the Colorado Rockies to four hits over five scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over Colorado.

June 2, 2024

None of this felt like persuasive evidence for why they wouldn’t crash and burn in the postseason as they have in each of the previous three years.

They have identified a postseason Game 1 starter in Tyler Glasnow, but who comes after that?

One of the three pitchers who faced the Rockies this weekend — Stone, Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Walker Buehler — will likely have to establish himself as the No. 2 starter before October.

Stone, 25, is the most consistent but the least experienced.

Yamamoto is 5-1 with a 2.72 earned-run average over his last seven starts but pitched only once a week in Japan and manager Dave Roberts sounded as if the Dodgers were determined to keep him on a similar schedule this season. Yamamoto has yet to make a start on less than five days’ rest.

Advertisement

“Sitting here, I think our priority is to make sure Yoshi stays on his sort of extra rest, so I don’t see that changing, even through October,” Roberts said.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts talks with pitcher Walker Buehler during a loss to the Colorado Rockies.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts talks with pitcher Walker Buehler during a loss to the Colorado Rockies on Friday night.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Buehler has made five starts since returning from his second reconstructive elbow operation and the Dodgers remain uncertain on what they have in him. In his most recent start, Buehler struck out seven in six innings — but he also gave up four runs — three earned — during a loss to the Rockies.

With James Paxton pitching reasonably well, and Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller expected to return from injuries, the Dodgers have pitching depth that should help them pile up regular-season wins. But just because a pitcher can beat a talent-depleted team such as the Mets or Rockies in a midweek game doesn’t mean he can win a game in October. Remember, Lance Lynn was a perfectly serviceable pitcher during the regular season last year. Lynn was crushed in the postseason.

The questions about pitching extend even to Glasnow. How will the Dodgers prepare him to pitch on four days’ rest in the playoffs?

Glasnow has kept a schedule similar to Yamamoto’s, as the Dodgers are mindful of how the injury-prone right-hander has never pitched more than 120 innings during a season. Roberts said he envisioned Glasnow making starts on a traditional five-day cycle in August.

“It’s not an exact science,” Roberts said. “Tyler’s still gonna throw more than he’s ever thrown in quite some time.”

Equally, if not more, troublesome is the bottom of the lineup, which has made the Dodgers overly reliant on the Big Four of Betts, Freeman, Shohei Ohtani and Will Smith.

The combined batting averages of the Dodgers’ No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 hitters was a combined .204 entering the series finale against the Rockies, which ranked fourth-worst in baseball.

Chris Taylor is batting .108, Kike Hernandez .198 and Gavin Lux .209.

Chris Taylor hits during an exhibition game against Team Korea in March.
(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

Advertisement

Max Muncy’s oblique injury has magnified this problem because his move from the middle of the order to the injured list has shortened the lineup. It’s no coincidence that shortly after Muncy’s injury, the team went on a five-game losing streak.

The Dodgers will have to address this problem between now and the trade deadline.

If all of this comes across as overly critical of a first-place team, well, that’s because of the prism through which this team is viewed.

In what is a testament to their ownership group, the Dodgers have made the regular season unimportant. They have reached the playoffs in 11 consecutive seasons and won their division 10 times in that stretch, making October baseball feel as if it’s a given.

The Dodgers’ recent offensive slump, a two-week malaise in which the team averaged just 3.5 runs per game while losing nine of 16, revealed troubling yet familiar signs.

May 31, 2024

Maybe this isn’t fair to them.

Maybe observers shouldn’t let the specter of the playoffs diminish their appreciation of regular-season developments, such as Stone’s emergence or catcher Smith’s improvement throwing out potential base stealers.

But this is the Dodgers’ reality.

The Dodgers are held to a different standard than every other team in baseball, with the New York Yankees being the one possible exception. For the Dodgers, success is measured in championships, and everything they do — or don’t do — is judged by how it could affect them in the postseason.

Advertisement

And at this stage, questions remain.

Advertisement