It’s still early in the 2018 Major League Baseball season, but one thing is clear: the Los Angeles Dodgers are in serious trouble. The boys in blue dropped their sixth straight game Wednesday night, and they’ve looked awful for most of the year.
How bad has it gotten? The Dodgers have sunk to last place in the National League West, behind my lowly San Diego Padres and the aging, banged-up San Francisco Giants. Their 16-26 record is tied for second-worst in the NL. Only the Cincinnati Reds (15-29) have been worse.
This is largely the same team that was a dominant force last year and was a game away from winning the World Series. Now? The Dodgers trail the Arizona Diamondbacks by 8.5 games on May 17.
So what happened? The simple answer is, a lot.
First, Justin Turner missed the first six weeks of the season with a broken wrist and has just returned from the disabled list. Logan Forsythe has also just come back after only playing in 13 games so far this year. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw, Tony Cingrani, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are all on the DL, while Corey Seager will miss the season thanks to Tommy John surgery and Julio Urias is recovering from shoulder surgery.
So injuries have played a huge factor in the team’s disappointing start. But that’s not the whole story.
For some reason, those lethal Dodgers bats we saw last season have gone silent. Los Angeles ranks 21st in batting average league-wide (.238), 21st in OPS (.705) and 24th in home runs (39). Compare that to last season, when the Dodgers ranked 11th in home runs (221), eighth in OPS (.771) and hit .249 as a team.
The pitching is also not up to par. The Dodgers were second in baseball with a 3.38 ERA in 2017, this year they rank 12th at 3.99. That’s not a huge difference, but when you combine that with less offense it becomes one. Opposing batters hit a league-low .228 off of Dodger pitching last year. In 2018 that number has risen to .249, which ranks 16th in baseball. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ bullpen has an awful ERA of 4.54 this season (23rd in baseball), after posting a great mark of 3.38 in 2017 (third in baseball).
Everyone just seems to be off.
The team’s wonder-boy from 2017, Cody Bellinger, is slashing .270/.330/.478 this season after going .267/.352/.581 as a rookie. He has just six home runs and 19 RBIs through 42 games after mashing 39 bombs and driving in 97 runs in 132 contests last year.
Chris Taylor is similarly off. The 27-year-old was a revelation in 2017, slashing .288/.354/.496 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs in 140 games. This year? He’s down to .240/.309/.417 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 42 games.
To be fair to Taylor and Bellinger, it could just be that the league has adjusted to them. Bellinger appears to be suffering a sophomore slump and, while he wasn’t a rookie, Taylor was playing his first full season in 2017 as well. The rest of the roster doesn’t have an excuse for hitting so poorly. Kike Hernandez (.216/.297/.423), Joc Pederson (.235/.345/.357), Austin Barnes (.219/.405/.313) and Yasiel Puig (.202/.261/.303) have all been terrible.
I mean, the team’s only bright spot offensively has been Matt Kemp. Yes, that Matt Kemp. The 33-year-old is hitting .304 with five home runs, 17 RBIs and has an OPS of .823. When Matt Kemp has been your most consistent offensive weapon and it’s not 2011, that’s a bad thing.
Things aren’t exactly rosy on the pitching side either. Kenta Maeda has an ERA of 4.75 and a WHIP of 1.53. Rich Hill was great in 2017 but has been a disaster this season, with an ERA of 6.20 and a WHIP of 1.74. Reliever Pedro Baez (4.12 ERA, 1.78 WHIP) has been terrible and the usually dominant Kenley Jansen has looked positively human (3.78 ERA, 1.20 WHIP).
Getting Kershaw and Ryu healthy will help things, and rookie Walker Buehler has looked really good since his late-April call-up. But there is so much wrong with this team, and they’re already so far behind their main competition in the NL West, it’s going to take something major happening for this to turn around.
Can the Dodgers right the ship? Of course. It’s really early and injuries have played a huge part in this fall from grace. But as the month wears on with no improvement things are starting to look bleak.