Manny Machado, Manny Machado, Manny Machado.
That’s all you hear around Dodger Stadium these days, the name whispered by players, barked by ushers, and planted firmly in the form of questions by sweaty fans searching for a breeze
When are the Dodgers going to trade for Manny Machado? How can the Dodgers survive if they don’t make a deal for Manny Machado?
As the July 31 trading deadline approaches, those questions are increasingly followed by answers, the request for the available Baltimore Orioles shortstop approaching a full-throttle demand.
Get him now! Whatever it takes! The Dodgers need to go for it! He’s the only answer!
Actually, no, he’s not.
For what might be the first time in this column’s renowned history of shamelessly playing general manager for every team in Los Angeles, I’m here not to stir the hysteria, but quell it.
For once, I’m pushing for the Dodgers to pursue baseball’s most glamorous prize only if they first focus on several gritty ones.
You want to chatter some names? Try these names.
Zach Britton. Jeurys Familia. Raisel Iglesias. Kyle Barraclough. Brad Ziegler.
You’ve heard of some of them, right? You can find them at the end of games, at the bottom of the box scores, and squarely in the middle of the Dodgers’ potential championship hopes
The Dodgers need a seventh-inning guy. They need an eighth-inning guy. And they need both of them more than they need Manny Machado.
Machado would be great. Machado would solidify the lineup. Machado would be a star. But Machado will cost them their best prospects for a two-month rental who might not ever have a chance to play on a championship stage.
He could cause them to part with the next Corey Seager, the next Cody Bellinger, the next Walker Buehler, a high cost for someone who cannot deliver alone.
Because, even with Machado, the Dodgers cannot survive the postseason without beefing up their middle relief.
They saw it last October. They felt it this season. And they witnessed it Saturday in a 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Angels.
Alex Wood, the Dodgers starter, settled down after early struggles to allow only two baserunners in his final 15 batters, leaving in a 3-3 tie after six innings.
Three batters later, the Angels led 4-3 after recently acquired journeyman Dylan Floro gave up a shot into the left-field pavilion by Justin Upton.
The thick Dodger Stadium air was quickly filled with boos, because fans have seen this before. In the seventh inning, the Dodgers have been outscored 52-36, the start of a disturbing, late-inning trend.
In the first six innings, they’ve outscored opponents by 71 runs, or about 12 total runs in each inning.
In the last three innings, they’ve outscored opponents by only 10 runs, barely three runs in each inning.
The game essentially ended Saturday when closer Kenley Jansen, pitching for the third time in four games with decreased velocity, gave up a 10th-inning home run to Kole Calhoun.
Jansen needs more help. The Dodgers have tried everyone from Daniel Hudson to Scott Alexander to Erik Goeddel, and the bullpen has had some recent success with a sub-3.00 earned-run average in July, but nobody has consistently stepped up to a level leading to October trust. While their starters have been the best in the league, their bullpen ranks seventh in ERA and third in innings pitched.
Maybe things will be different when relievers Josh Fields, Tony Cingrani and Pedro Baez return from the disabled list. Wait a minute, we’re all waiting to be saved by Baez?
If Machado showed up, he would immediately be the Dodgers leader with 23 home runs and 64 runs batted in. He would be hailed as a tremendous temporary fix for the loss of Seager, and it would be yet another deadline triumph for Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi.
But the Dodgers are already first in the league in home runs, third in on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and fifth in runs.
Could you folks please get a couple of relievers first?
“There’s a lot of things that win in October, but the way teams have been winning, the bullpen has been a big part of it, no doubt about it,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Saturday afternoon.
Roberts knows big. He has lived through big. In the Dodgers’ two most devastating losses to the Houston Astros in last year’s World Series — Game 2 and Game 5 — their bullpen gave up 13 runs in 12 innings.
Ross Stripling was spooked. Brandon Morrow was exhausted. Kenta Maeda was out of sorts. Cingrani was lost. Jansen finally collapsed under the weight. The Dodgers must do everything possible to prevent this from happening again.
“You can always get better,’’ Roberts said of his roster. “Our guys [front office] have been very good and they’ve shown they can do whatever makes our team better.’’
The folks in the Dodgers front office have been brilliant this season by being calm. They could have thrown prospects into the pot for a big trade when Seager was injured, but did not. They could have chased a starting pitcher when Clayton Kershaw went down, but did not.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is, there was no panic, there was just kind of staying the course,’’ Roberts said. “Where we’re at, it’s a good thing.’’
Buoyed by a mixture of castoffs and veteran consistency, they will indeed enter the All-Star break as the team to beat in the National League. But this year’s stakes are higher. This is about late October.
It is a month that will be fun with a strong Machado. But it is a month that won’t last long without a stronger bullpen.