Less than six months ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers were playing in Game 7 of the World Series, in which they lost to the Houston Astros, 5-1. It was a closely contested series that saw two titans of the National and American Leagues battle back and forth. It took an enthralling seventh game, in which the Dodgers had their fair share of opportunities to win, to vanquish this team. They were one win away from being 2017 World Series champions, proving how powerful their team is.
Fast forward to this still-early 2018 season, the script has been dramatically flipped. The question heading into June last year was whether the Dodgers were the best team ever. They had the best record in the MLB and pushed through a tough NL Playoffs to reach the World Series. Now, the main question is what’s wrong with the Dodgers? What happened to the team that was favored to win the championship in 2018, according to Vegas?
Going into this season, the Dodgers roster hadn’t changed much at all with the only notable departures being Yu Darvish and Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers re-acquired Matt Kemp, but remained modest throughout free agency and didn’t acquire another big batter or pitcher. They had good reason to approach it this way, considering how great their roster already was. All-Star pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen and All-star hitters in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger were set to carry over their success from their 104-win regular season last year.
The year didn’t start off well for the defending NL champions as they went 12-16 through the month of April. Their dominance in the NL West seemed to be threatened with the resurgence of the San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The month ended with the unfortunate news that Seager would be out for the year with a torn UCL that would require Tommy John surgery. Soon after, their ace, Kershaw, suffered a bicep injury that required him to join a DL-ladened starting rotation with Rich Hill, Hyin-jin Ryu, and Julio Urias. On the offensive side, Justin Turner, who is arguably their best hitter, joined Seager on the DL.
The rash of early season injuries has certainly affected the Dodgers. Without the depth in their rotation and in their batting order, they haven’t been able to blow away teams like they have in the past. Without Seager’s constant production, Bellinger’s power numbers have suffered. Bellinger has eight home runs and 25 RBIs second on the team in both categories to Yasmani Grandal. While Grandal has enjoyed a career start so far, other producers like Bellinger and Yasiel Puig have suffered. Their starting pitching without Kershaw has suffered tremendously, as Alex Wood leads the team with a 3.75 ERA. With the bevy of starting pitchers out, Kenta Maeda has been called on to be their primary starter. Although Maeda has been solid, the Dodgers cannot rely on him to be their main man.
Luckily for the Dodgers, their early season woes may not affect their ability to compete in the NL. As Kershaw is ready to make is next start, the Dodgers are only three and a half games out of first from the Colorado Rockies. The Diamondbacks have cooled off significantly after their torrid start, making the division a wide-open race heading into the dog days of summer. As other pitchers begin to return and the bats begin to awaken, the Dodgers are in position to make a run at the playoffs. With a record of 25-28 and winners of eight of their last 10 games, the Dodgers can wipe away the memories of an anomaly of an April.
However, there is no denying that this time around it will be significantly harder. The Dodgers do need more help in the batting department and will be looking for a possible trade before the July 31 deadline. After staying put in the offseason, the Dodgers will certainly be aggressive to try and improve their team on both sides of the field. One of the main aspects that the team will be looking to improve is their starting pitching and relief pitching depth.
Jansen has continued to be an All-Star and has provided 12 saves for the team, he has blown a few saves and hasn’t been nearly the dominant closer he can be. This can be remedied by acquiring another solid starting pitcher or another relief arm. With the Dodgers having to play many games from behind, Jansen and the rest of the bullpen has suffered with an accumulative ERA of 3.59. If the Dodgers want to turn their season around, they must start by addressing this pressing need.
The Dodgers will also be in the market for another batter, specifically a power bat. Although Kemp and Grandal have been pleasant surprises, other players like Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, and Austin Barnes, have not produced much. Expect the Dodgers to be the in heavy consideration for Manny Machado, who can fill in at shortstop for the injured Seager. Machado, who is a natural third baseman, was slotted to play short beginning this season. Although it isn’t his preferred position, he would certainly benefit from being on the Dodgers, as he’s currently playing on a lowly Baltimore Orioles team. If he could provide the Dodgers with an offensive spark and carry them to the postseason in a competitive NL West, trading away assets will be worth it.
There is still plenty of season to be played, and the Dodgers may not have to rely on the trade market to turn around their season. As proven by the lack of offseason moves they made, this Dodgers team is built to win now. While there is no doubt they will miss Seager, they can replace him by acquiring Machado or even fellow-Oriole Adam Jones. The Dodgers have the assets to pull off a trade, or several trades, that can save their season. Nonetheless, the current reality is that the Dodgers are fourth in their division and aren’t a lock to make the playoffs like they were a year ago. They will have to rally through injuries and fight for a spot in October. Thankfully for them, it’s still May and they have plenty of time to right the ship, whether internally or externally. There are a few things wrong with the Dodgers, but they can be solved.