Thursday brings good news for the Los Angeles Dodgers: they can't lose. It's an off-day. The Dodgers, following Wednesday night's walk-off loss to the Cubs (CHC 6, LAD 5 in 11 innings), have dropped 13 of their last 17 games. It's their worst 17-game stretch since going 1-16 back in August and September 2017. They've lost four straight series for the first time in four years.
"Obviously, we haven't won a whole lot of baseball games in the last couple of weeks," manager Dave Roberts told reporters, including MLB.com's Juan Toribio, following Wednesday's game. "We've got to play clean baseball, clean defense, and continue to grind at-bats. So I think that, obviously, we're better than what we've shown, and we got to get back to doing the little things and playing good baseball."
The Dodgers started the season looking like the juggernaut they were expected to be. They won 13 of their first 15 games and outscored their opponents by nearly three runs per game. Since then, they have the second-worst record in baseball:
Some perspective is in order: Los Angeles, despite this miserable 4-13 stretch, is still 17-15 overall and only 1 1/2 games behind the NL West-leading Giants. Their plus-37 run differential remains the best in baseball. All the things that are going wrong (probably) won't last forever, and once they round back into form, the Dodgers will be a force.
That said, the 4-13 stretch has done real damage to their NL West title odds. According to FanGraphs, the Dodgers came into the season with a 70.0 percent chance to win the division, and they climbed as high as 86.9 percent on April 21. Now though? Now their NL West odds are down to 54.6 percent. The division race is tighter than it needed to be this early in the season.
The Dodgers can forget about a record-setting season at this point -- Los Angeles would need to play at a 125-win pace the rest of the year to break the record set by the 2001 Mariners (116-46) -- though there is still plenty of season to play and lots of time to turn the ship around. In the meantime, here are four reasons the Dodgers have crashed so hard these last 17 games.
1. Betts and Seager aren't hitting
Well, no one's hitting, really. The Dodgers are hitting .208/.320/.345 as a team and averaging 5.06 runs per game during this 4-13 stretch, and that's buoyed by a 16-run outburst this past Sunday. In the other 16 games, they're averaging only 3.31 runs per game, which sources confirm is really bad. The entire offense has been lagging of late.
Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, the club's regular 1-2 hitters, have been the biggest offensive anchors during the 17-game slide. Betts went 0 for 6 with three strikeouts in Wednesday loss -- it was the fifth 0-for-6 game of his career and first since 2017, and only his second career three-strikeout game -- and is hitting an underwhelming .248/.358/.410 overall in 2021.
Seager went 1 for 4 with a strikeout Wednesday and is sitting on a .250/.348/.433 season batting line. That's not horrible, but it's certainly below expectations. It hasn't helped that Seager's defense at shortstop has taken a big step back this year. Wednesday night he made a crucial throwing error that contributed to the game-tying run:
The numbers during the 4-13 stretch are ugly. Mookie is 14 for 64 (.219) with one home run during the 17 games while Seager has gone 13 for 65 (.200) with two home runs. To put it another way, Betts and Seager combined to hit .302/.412/.521 during the 13-2 start. In the 17 games since, they've combined to hit .209/.306/.308. That won't cut it. Need more from the 1-2 hitters.
Other offensive culprits during the 4-13 skid include Max Muncy, whose 16 walks give him a .375 on-base percentage in the 17 games, but is hitting just .111 with a .267 slugging percentage. Gavin Lux has underwhelmed at .212/.257/.264. Even Justin Turner has gone 10 for 54 (.241). As a team, the Dodgers are 33 for 149 (.221) with runners in scoring position during the 17 games.
"We're absolutely frustrated," Muncy told Toribio. "We're way better than this. Period."
2. The bullpen keeps blowing leads
Three times in the last week the Dodgers lost despite being one out away from a win. Mitchell White blew a two-run lead in the 11th inning Saturday, then blew a two-run lead in the eighth inning of a doubleheader game Tuesday. Garrett Cleavinger blew a one-run lead in the 11th inning Wednesday. The 4-13 slide was three timely outs away from being a more tolerable 7-10 skid.
The Dodgers bullpen has a 3.69 ERA overall this year, including 3.94 ERA during the 4-13 stretch, which isn't great but isn't truly awful either. That does not include 12 -- 12! -- unearned runs because of the extra innings tiebreaker rule though. Maybe strand the runner at second once a while? It's possible. I've seen it with my own eyes. Los Angeles is 1-6 in extra-inning games this year.
"We've put ourselves in positions to play extra-inning games when I think that we probably shouldn't have," Roberts told Toribio. "I don't really have an answer for the (1-5 record in extra-inning games during the 4-13 skid), but I do know the innings prior to the extra innings, collectively, we could've done a better job to not be in that extra-inning situation."
The bullpen has 12 blown saves in 32 games this year. They blew 10 saves during the 60-game season a year ago and 29 saves in 2019, the last full 162-game season. Los Angeles is on pace for 61 blown saves this year. Yikes! I doubt they'll continue at that pace, though the 12 blown saves in 32 games happened, and they've contributed to losses.
Furthermore, the bullpen ranks 22nd in win probability added (minus-0.53), and they have the second most meltdowns in baseball (22). Meltdowns are relief appearances that decrease the team's win probability at least six percent. Long story short, the bullpen has been very shaky of late. Leads are slipping away and small deficits are becoming large deficits.
3. The depth players aren't performing
The Dodgers have been the sport's most successful franchise the last few years because they have star power and also impressive depth. When someone goes down with an injury, they've been able to turn to their bench or dip into their system to get a capable replacement. Guys like Enrique Hernández and David Freese were ideal depth players for a contending club.
This year the replacement depth players are playing like, well, replacement players. Utility man Zach McKinstry was impactful (.296/.328/.556) before going down with an oblique injury, and Matt Beaty has had his moments (.303/.439/.394) in limited playing time. Otherwise, the Dodgers haven't gotten much from their depth players:
- IF Edwin Ríos: 4 for 51 (.078), including an 0-for-32 slump before going down with a shoulder injury
- IF Sheldon Neuse: 6 for 25 (.240) with two homers
- OF Luke Raley: 7 for 34 (.206) with one homer
- OF DJ Peters: 0 for 5 with four strikeouts
In the bullpen Cleavinger, White, and and Alex Vesia have combined to allow 12 runs (six earned) in 12 1/3 innings. In the past, the Dodgers would lose a player to injury or someone would underperform, and they'd plug in someone else who played at a high level. They were so good and so deep it was almost obnoxious. This year those depth players have been a net negative.
4. Injuries are piling up
The Dodgers currently have 11 players on the injured list, third most in baseball behind the Brewers (16) and Giants (12), and six of those players suffered their injuries during this 4-13 stretch:
- UTIL Zach McKinstry (oblique strain on April 20)
- RHP Corey Knebel (lat strain on April 23)
- LHP David Price (hamstring strain on April 25)
- RHP Brusdar Graterol (forearm tightness on April 26)
- IF Edwin Ríos (shoulder discomfort on May 4)
- RHP Dustin May ( )
Los Angeles has also been without former NL MVP Cody Bellinger (hairline fracture in his leg) and depth starter Tony Gonsolin (shoulder inflammation) since the first weekend of the season, and also without Joe Kelly (cyst in his shoulder) all season. So, among those on the injured list are the starting center fielder, four late-inning relievers, and the Nos. 5-6 starters. Yeesh.
The Dodgers have three days off in the next eight days and won't need a fifth starter again until May 18, buying them time to figure out how they'll replace May. Gonsolin only recently started throwing and Bellinger is still limited with his running, so their returns aren't imminent. Also, Price has a Grade 2 strain, which typically take weeks to heal, if not months. He's out a while.
In the past, the Dodgers could flex their organizational muscles and use their depth players to weather the injury storm. This year those depth players aren't performing though, and the team has an inordinate number of injuries. Every team loses two or three guys at same time at some point. That's baseball. But 11? The injuries are becoming a real problem.
"I feel for him, most important," Roberts told reporters, including ESPN's Alden Gonzalez, after it was announced May would have Tommy John surgery. "For our ballclub, it's a big blow. But we have a lot of talented players and we just have to find a way to fill that void."