Dodgers Dugout: The season is over. Also, the sky is falling
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and I apologize for jinxing Dodgers pitching by praising them so much last week.
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When the Dodgers finished a sweep of the Cubs on Sunday, May 8, they were 19-7, up by 1 1/2 games in the NL West and on pace for 118 wins this season.
Since then, they have gone 2-5 and are 21-12, still in first place in the NL West, in a virtual tie with the San Diego Padres and on pace to win 103 games. There’s no doubt that over the last week, the pitching has been horrible. The lack of rotation depth has been costly. Even the guys you normally depend on look shaky. Max Muncy isn’t hitting. Every Gavin Lux misplay seems to lead to a bunch of unearned runs. The team did not play well at all.
Which brings us to my favorite part of every year when the Dodgers have a bad stretch of games: the inundation of emails and the posts on social media telling the world that this Dodgers team is no good and won’t make the playoffs.
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“This team has shoddy defense and not enough hitting. They will be lucky to finish at .500”
“Worst Dodgers team of the last 10 years. Major changes need to be made.”
“This team won’t be making the playoffs this year, I guarantee you that.”
“I can’t believe you, or anyone else, thinks this team is good. Take off your blinders.”
That is actually a sampling of emails I received last year under similar circumstances. Last season, the Dodgers began 13-2 and looked like the best team in history. Then they went 4-14 and were suddenly 17-16. The emails poured in. The Dodgers ended up winning 106 games.
The 2019 Dodgers had a stretch where they lost six in a row, and another stretch where they lost six of eight. They won 106 games.
The 2018 Dodgers went 1-9 at one point and were 16-26 on the season. They won the division and went to the World Series.
The 2017 Dodgers went 2-6 at one point and at another time lost 16 of 17 games. They finished 104-58 and went to the World Series*. (*-Astros cheated).
And on, and on.
We have to wait and see. I get so many emails from readers filled with anger or sadness after losses. They call the team a bunch of losers and choke artists. But here’s the thing. We don’t know exactly how good, or bad, this Dodgers team is yet. They weren’t as good as they started the season. They aren’t as bad as they are playing now.
I don’t know if the Dodgers will win 100 games or just 80. You don’t either. If they make it to the playoffs, I don’t know if they will win the World Series. You don’t either. If following a team isn’t an overall enjoyable experience for you, then you may want to find something else to do with your time. It’s not worth the stress.
There are fans of other teams that haven’t made the playoffs in years. So, if you are angry or sad, spend some time with your friends. Hug your significant other. Play with your kids. Pet your dog. But you can still ignore your cat, because cats are evil and were sent here from an alien planet as spies.
I wrote something similar to the above paragraphs before. In 2020. The Dodgers ended up winning the World Series that year.
A different perspective
In my quest to give you a variety of voices to hear from, once again here is a Q&A with Times Dodgers beat writer Jack Harris.
Q: Let’s start with Clayton Kershaw. He is on the IL again, which has become a yearly tradition. With Kershaw and Andrew Heaney out, the fears of a lack of rotation depth are manifesting. Do you foresee a trade for starting pitching at some point, or will the Dodgers just ride this out? And if another pitcher goes down, what happens?
Harris: At some point, a trade for another starting pitcher — especially of top-half-of-the-rotation caliber — could make sense. I’m just not sure it’s right now.
The Dodgers are hopeful that Clayton Kershaw will be back as soon as (or shortly after) his 15-day IL stint is up. He played catch Sunday and is slated for a bullpen on Wednesday, making a quick return seem feasible. Andrew Heaney has also started throwing again and will begin bullpen sessions this week, putting him on track to return sometime in the next month or two (a return date hasn’t been finalized, but he’s moving in the right direction).
As long as neither suffers a setback, the Dodgers know their rotation won’t be limited in the long-term. Because of that, I wouldn’t expect them to be in a rush to force a trade now.
That said, this stretch has revealed the shallow nature of their pitching. Managing absences in May is one thing. But if they have more injury problems later in the season, or in the playoffs, a lack of depth could haunt them.
So yes, at some point, it would certainly behoove them to evaluate trade options (especially since they should have some more financial flexibility from the Trevor Bauer suspension). But unless there is a deal now that they can’t pass up, such a move might make more sense closer to the trade deadline.
Q: Batting averages are down across the majors, and most of the Dodgers are below their career norms. You wrote a great article about deadened baseballs. Do you believe that’s the main factor causing these low numbers?
Harris: It’s a factor, but it’s hardly the only one. I think early this season the Dodgers have had a few hitters especially impacted by the deadened balls — fly ball sluggers such as Justin Turner and Max Muncy, in particular, who have seen several drives die at the track.
There have been plenty of other causes though. Trea Turner has been chasing too much to either side of the plate (part of the reason he’s making less contact on pitches out of the zone). Cody Bellinger hasn’t kept a consistently short swing, at times allowing too much “lift” in his motion, as Dave Roberts described it, that’s hampered his ability to make contact with the ball. Chris Taylor has seen his strikeout rate spike while going through some mechanical tweaks. And not even Justin Turner and Muncy have blamed their issues solely on the ball.
However, as the weather warms up, and the ball flies better — this week it is seemingly jumping more — it should no doubt help the Dodgers’ numbers improve. Just how much of an impact it makes, however, remains to be seen.
Q: Max Muncy is struggling mightily. At what point should we worry that this is not just a slump and that there is something else going on? And will there be a point when he drops from the cleanup spot?
Harris: Muncy is having one of the stranger seasons. While he had a hit Sunday, he still owns the lowest batting average (.150) among qualified hitters. Yet, he has the highest walk rate (21.1%) by a wide margin.
The biggest reason for concern might be in his underlying numbers. Earlier this season, despite his low slash lines, his expected stats (expected batting average, slugging percentage and wOBA, which are all based off exit velocity and launch angle of batted balls) were above league average — suggesting he was getting unlucky, and that the results would come around.
Now, however, even those metrics have tailed off. Entering Sunday, he was in the fourth percentile among major-leaguers in expected batting average, and 34th percentile in expected slugging percentage. Only his expected wOBA is still better than the league-average.
Roberts said he is still confident in Muncy, but that if this continues, he could be dropped in the lineup. He’s also gotten a few extra off days recently, with Roberts hoping it will help him “reset” at the plate.
Roberts said Sunday, “the best version of our ball club is if he’s hitting fourth.” For that to be true, though, Muncy will need to improve on what he’s doing right now.
Q: The Dodgers hit a mini-slump against the Phillies, prompting many emails saying this team is weak and is falling apart. There’s a small segment of the Dodger fanbase that falls apart whenever the team loses two games in a row. What do you say to those fans?
Harris: I’d remind them, bad series happen. Bad weeks happen. Even an entire bad month can be overcome during a 162-game season.
And in the Dodgers case, they are still tied for first place in a tough NL West. They’re still in a better position right now than they were this time last year, when they overcame a month-long slump in May to win 106 games. And they’re still a near-lock in most projection systems to make the playoffs.
What is somewhat concerning about this series, though, is that it’s the first time the Dodgers have faced a top-end lineup at full strength (the Giants, Braves and Padres were all missing key parts when the Dodgers played them earlier this year). And mistakes that their pitchers once were getting away with have been punished repeatedly by the Phillies.
Roberts said it’s a “reminder” for his staff to execute better. But you have to wonder if it has also been a sign the Dodgers aren’t quite as good on the mound as they appeared during the first month.
Time will tell. But there’s still little doubt right now they’ll be able to bounce back — especially after picking up a walk-off win in the finale.
Q: Is there any ballpark you are particularly looking forward to visiting this season? Why?
Harris: Last week was my first time at Wrigley Field, which was very cool — especially since there was time to explore the ballpark between the two games of Saturday’s doubleheader.
The only regret: I couldn’t talk my way into climbing up into the center-field scoreboard. Next time!
Trips to San Francisco are always enjoyable, especially in June and August as we have this year, when we’ll get a break from the hot weather elsewhere around the country.
The Miami-New York trip in late August/early September is another one I have circled ... albeit, more for the cities themselves than the actual stadiums.
And as a Phoenix native, I always enjoy trips back to Arizona (you won’t find any Chase Field slander in this space, no matter how warranted).
Q: I think a lot of readers don’t know what exactly the day looks like for a Dodgers beat writer. Can you take us through what a typical day looks like for you for a 7 p.m. Dodger game?
Harris: Let’s do a timeline ...
In the morning/afternoon: Do research (reviewing the previous night’s game, looking for interesting stats, etc.), plan out future stories, catch up on what’s going on around the sport.
2 p.m.: I try to get to the ballpark about five hours prior to first pitch. Sometimes, there are players working out on the field (when healthy, Kershaw is out there almost every day) or throwing bullpen sessions. Otherwise, I sit in the press box and begin preparing for the game.
3 p.m.: We spend an hour in the clubhouse pregame from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. At home, there usually aren’t many players in there (they are either in the cages, the food room, or elsewhere in the clubhouse reporters aren’t allowed).
4 p.m.: Everyday, Dave Roberts speaks to the media pregame in the dugout. Then, we hang out and watch batting practice.
5:30 p.m.: Head back upstairs, transcribe whatever interviews I did pregame, and write a post for our live blog.
7:10 p.m.: First pitch.
Postgame: Run back downstairs for Roberts’ news conference and postgame clubhouse availability. Then come back up to the press box to finish my story for the night.
11 p.m.: On a good night, I’m out of the ballpark by 11 or sooner (on a long night, it’s after midnight). Then it’s back home to get ready to do it again the next day.
He went on the IL with an inflamed SI joint (more on that below). Gee, I guess they should have gone ahead and let him go for that perfect game.
Ask Tim Leary
Former Dodger pitcher Tim Leary, a standout on the 1988 World Series championship team, has agreed to answer reader questions. Leary was acquired along with Tim Crews from the Milwaukee Brewers before the 1987 season in exchange for Greg Brock. He went 3-11 with a 4.76 ERA in 1987 before an excellent 1988 when he went 17-11 with a 2.91 ERA and six shutouts. He was 6-7 with a 3.38 ERA when the Dodgers traded him and Mariano Duncan to the Cincinnati Reds for Kal Daniels and Lenny Harris.
Leary was also a heck of a hitter, and fans of that 1988 team will remember the time he pinch-hit in the 11th inning of a 1-1 game with the San Francisco Giants. With the bases loaded and two out, Leary laced a Joe Price pitch up the middle for the walk-off win. He won the Silver Slugger award that season after hitting .269 with three doubles and nine RBIs. And he hit .304 in 1987.
Send in your questions for Tim by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Leary will answer selected questions in a future Dodgers Dugout.
Greatest moments in Dodger Stadium history
Not only is the All-Star game at Dodger Stadium this year, but it’s also the 60th anniversary of the opening of Dodger Stadium. The Times will be devoting a special section to all of that, and we want your help.
What do you think are the 10 greatest baseball moments in Dodger Stadium history? Email me your list of 10 at email@example.com
What do you think are the 10 greatest non-baseball moments in Dodger Stadium history? Email me your list of 10 at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thousands of you have already voted, and thank you for that. If you want a partial list of great moments to jog your memory, they were listed in the previous newsletter, which you can see here.
Remember, I need your 10 greatest baseball moments and 10 greatest non-baseball moments. Please don’t list just one moment, try to come up with 10 in each category.
David Price, LHP. It is possible Price could rejoin the team on its next trip,
Mitch White, RHP. The Dodgers want to build up his arm strength so he can pitch five innings and make starts. He could be back before the end of the month.
Victor González, LHP, left elbow inflammation. He had arthroscopic surgery on his elbow last week and he could return in August.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, left shoulder discomfort. He has been cleared to resume throwing. That will lead to eventually pitching off a mound and then a minor-league rehab assignment. If all goes well, he’ll be back in June.
Blake Treinen, RHP, right shoulder discomfort. He hasn’t thrown for a couple of weeks and probably won’t be back until after the All-Star break.
Note: Now that we are past May 2, the 10-day IL becomes the 15-day IL for pitchers and two-way players only and will remain that way for the rest of the season. Non-pitchers will still go on the 10-day IL.
Clayton Kershaw, LHP, SI joint inflammation. What is the SI joint? According to the Mayo Clinic (and they ought to know), “the sacroiliac (SI) joint is located in the pelvis. It links the iliac bone (pelvis) to the sacrum (lowest part of the spine above the tailbone). This joint transfers weight and forces between your upper body and legs. It is an essential component for energy transfer between the legs and the torso.” Which seems pretty key for a pitcher. Kershaw received an epidural injection and the hope is he spends the minimum time on the IL.
Caleb Ferguson, LHP, Tommy John surgery. Began a rehab assignment with Oklahoma City on April 28 and has a 11.57 ERA after 4.2 innings. Could be back this month. His last game with Dodgers was Sept. 15, 2020.
Danny Duffy, LHP, left elbow. He is throwing pain free and could be back after the All-Star break. Back being a relative term since he has never actually pitched for the Dodgers.
Dustin May, RHP, Tommy John surgery. May is throwing off a mound and has begun to mix in breaking pitches among his fastballs. He is still scheduled to be back in August or September.
Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Tommy John surgery. It is extremely unlikely that he pitches for the Dodgers this season.
These names seem familiar
A look at how players who were with the Dodgers last season are doing this season for other teams (through Sunday):
Matt Beaty, Padres, 37 at-bats, .108/.175/.189, 9 OPS+, on IL with a shoulder injury
Josiah Gray, Nationals, 4-3, 4.34 ERA, 37.1 IP, 31 hits, 18 walks, 39 K’s
Kenley Jansen, Braves, 2-0, 2.45 ERA, 14.2 IP, 6 hits, 3 walks, 20 K’s, 8 saves
Joe Kelly, White Sox, 0-1, 27.00 ERA, 2 IP, 6 hits, 4 walks, 2 K’s
Corey Knebel, Phillies, 0-3, 3.60 ERA, 15 IP, 13 hits, 6 walks, 14 K’s, 7 saves
Billy McKinney, A’s, 52 at-bats, .096/.158/.173, 2 OPS+, designated for assignment
Sheldon Neuse, A’s, 121 at-bats, .281/.346/.388, 125 OPS+
AJ Pollock, White Sox, 73 at-bats, .192/.221/.274, 47 OPS+
Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 46 at-bats, .239/.375/.413, 132 OPS+ (has also pitched an inning, giving up four runs)
Zach Reks, Rangers, 14 at-bats, .286/.286/.357, 93 OPS+, back in minors
Keibert Ruiz, Nationals, 101 at-bats, .267/.312/.356, 99 OPS+
Dennis Santana, Rangers, 0-1, 2.00 ERA, 9 IP, 4 hits, 2 walks, 3 K’s
Max Scherzer, Mets, 4-1, 2.66 ERA, 44 IP, 29 hits, 11 walks, 55 K’s
Corey Seager, Rangers, 124 at-bats, .234/.304/.411, 113 OPS+
Steven Souza Jr., Mariners, 11 at-bats, .182/.182/.182, 11 OPS+
Yoshi Tsutsugo, Pirates, 86 at-bats, .174/.286/.233, 54 OPS+
Today: Arizona (*Madison Bumgarner, 2-1, 1.78 ERA) at Dodgers (Tony Gonsolin, 3-0, 1.33 ERA), 7 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020
Tuesday: Arizona (Merrill Kelly, 3-1, 1.71 ERA) at Dodgers (TBD), noon, SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020
Tuesday: Arizona (TBD) at Dodgers (*Tyler Anderson, 3-0, 4.40 ERA), 7 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020
Wednesday: Arizona (Zach Davies, 2-1, 3.57 ERA) at Dodgers (Walker Buehler, 4-1, 2.81 ERA), 1 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020
Stories you might have missed
Plaschke: The Curse of Trevor Bauer continues to punish the Dodgers
Trevor Bauer’s two-year suspension appeal reportedly set for later this month
Dodgers place Clayton Kershaw on injured list, hopeful his absence will be ‘brief’
Vin Scully gives a speech in 2014 at the Ronald Reagan Library. Watch and listen here.
Until next time...
Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at email@example.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.
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