The Dodgers have lost 12 of their last 13, including yesterday’s Clayton Kershaw start, and they’ve seen the Diamondbacks shave 11 games off the division lead. Suffice to say, we’ve about hit peak panic mode at this juncture.
Judging by social media, everybody has a mess of theories why the Dodgers are playing like the worst team in baseball right now, and fans are angry. That’s fine in a way, because this definitely sucks, but it also doesn’t help any. It’s been weird to see certain fans complaining about how everybody but them are making excuses when in reality it’s the exact opposite, as those fans are the ones searching for reasons. Throwing out complaints about chemistry or roster shuffling or batting order is all about looking for excuses, basically looking for a scapegoat to pin this mess on when they’ve been doing the same things all year long. It’s a way to avoid the harsh reality of the situation: that there isn’t one or two things to fix that can magically pull them out of this, and they just need to play better baseball as a whole. It’s harsh because that involves accepting a lack of control over the way things are going and a certain faith in the team that they may not have anymore, but it’s also the truth.
Still, the Dodgers will be playing in October barring one of the most spectacular seasonal collapses in sports history, so it’s still worth looking at the big picture. Specifically, one of the most prominent inquiries I’ve received as I’ve tried to talk people off the ledge is, “So if not this losing streak, then what are the valid concerns with the Dodgers?” It’s definitely a fair question, and the rational answer in my estimation is primarily the same concerns that existed before this losing streak started.
1. The health of Corey Seager and his elbow.
Seager is due back in the lineup today from elbow issues in his throwing arm, and it’s worth worrying about an MVP-caliber player and his health down the stretch.
Obviously his defense is something to watch, but I’m also concerned about whether it has affected his hitting. When asked about the elbow, Dave Roberts said it doesn’t impact his hitting, but that he had been dealing with it for a couple weeks.
“Can’t recall what incident led to it, but it’s something he’s been managing, and [he’s sitting] just to get ahead of it. It’s a day-to-day thing,” Roberts said. “It doesn’t bother him hitting, so he’s available to hit. When he gets back to the starting lineup is contingent on his symptoms. It’s been a couple weeks. One throw lit him up a little bit. If we manage it, it should be fine.”
That was on August 30, and from August 16 to September 6, Seager’s line has been .327/.320/.327/.647. That scuffle was hidden behind a hitting streak, but Seager has put up no extra-base hits and no walks in his last 50 plate appearances. It’s hard to see that and not wonder if the elbow inflammation contributed to it.
It’s definitely worth monitoring, and really any injury from here on out is, because the main thing the Dodgers need to be entering October is healthy.
2. Yu Darvish and his mechanical changes.
Darvish currently has a 4.50 ERA in his five starts with the Dodgers, which is definitely not what they expected when they acquired him from the Rangers at the deadline. However, Darvish is currently in the middle of making significant mechanical adjustments, and whether that takes is going to be important.
“I made big changes,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “I had pretty good bullpen sessions. It was different, game-wise, facing hitters. That was me trying to make an adjustment with those mechanics. … Mechanically, I think because of the surgery, the way I pitched was more of the top to down [motion] after the Tommy John, compared to when I was more sideways and my sliders and offspeed pitches were a little different.”
What are the changes?
— 광자_Kwangjya (@lifemeetsart_kr) August 28, 2017
Basically seems like he’s trying to get his arm up earlier, be more direct to the plate, and deliver more upright to drop his arm angle.
Given the adjustment taking place and having less than a month to get it right, it’s a valid concern that they may not take in time. Whether he gets to the #1/#2 type of starter he can be or continues to struggle with his command will likely play a major role in whether the Dodgers can win it all this year.
3. Alex Wood and his velocity.
Admittedly, I had not been too alarmed with his dropping velocity, at least until August. Wood can still be #2 material when at 91-93 mph, but when he dropped to 89-91 mph, it was cause of concern. After adjusting his mechanics and having a rest due to a bizarre sternum injury, his velocity did rebound a bit.
While the results weren’t good (6 IP/4 R), the velocity ticking back up and the strikeouts (7) returning was promising. Whether he can continue to maintain those things to be ready for October is something to watch, as it’s the difference between whether the Dodgers have the best third starter or a question mark.
4. Pedro Baez and his role in the pen.
Despite Baez’s ERA for most of the year, this has easily been his worst year. Baez has seen his strikeout rate plummet from ~28% to ~21%, his walk rate hike from ~6% to ~10%, and his home-run rate has remained mediocre at ~13%. None of those are good things, and it has led to him currently carrying a 4.72 FIP and a 4.48 DRA, both of which are essentially replacement level for a reliever.
Did you think Baez was terrible before? Well I’ve got good news for you, because now Baez actually is that bad.
But one bad reliever in the pen isn’t anything to be concerned about, or at least it shouldn’t. However, Baez has been used as the primary setup man for most of the season, only recently being replaced in late leveraged situations by Brandon Morrow. And even after that demotion, he’s been used in a tie game in the ninth and a tie game in the 10th in the last week (both losses).
Needless to say, having a replacement-level reliever being used like a seventh-inning type is less than ideal. Baez deserves to be left off the playoff roster at this point, and it’s worth being concerned if the Dodgers continue to use him like he can give them important playoff innings.
5. Logan Forsythe and his lack of offense.
While the current offensive struggles are a concern, it’s hard to get too dramatic over a week or two of production when half of those games were basically rest days or missing multiple key components. Chris Taylor is still hitting and Seager will hopefully return healthy. The drop-off of Justin Turner from the first to second half basically just comes down to a .400 BABIP versus a .240 BABIP, and Cody Bellinger is now back in the lineup. The catcher platoon of Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes is the best in baseball, and Yasiel Puig‘s resurgence has made him a strength rather than a liability (not something I would’ve bet on). While it’s worth monitoring the likely left field platoon of Curtis Granderson and Enrique Hernandez (or even maybe Joc Pederson again), Granderson’s struggles are primarily due to running an .050 BABIP (patience & power still there) and Hernandez is still smashing lefties in the larger sample (.947 OPS).
That leaves us with the struggling Forsythe at second base, who sticks out like a sore thumb. Forsythe is running a .399 OPS in September, which has made him an unplayable disaster. But the concern isn’t about his recent run, it’s about how he’s looked all season long. His .230/.361/.316/.677 line is by far the worst since he became a regular in 2015, and while his walk rate has doubled (~8%/~16%), his power has halved (~.170 ISO/~.080 ISO), and he’s running a 90 wRC+.
So bench him, right? Well, the problem is that Forsythe is the best defender the Dodgers have at second. Taylor is playable there, but he has struggled on the infield, showcasing iron hands at times. Barnes is another possibility, but he too has looked a bit shaky and unsure, understandable since he’s a catcher. Chase Utley, meanwhile, is about 80 years old and has understandably declined with time (he also does take away some starts against righties as it is).
While no streak short of becoming Giancarlo Stanton will turn Forsythe’s season around, it’s important he becomes playable again, because the Dodgers understandably want his defense on the field in the playoffs. It’s reasonable to be skeptical about whether Forsythe can do that, but it’s something to monitor going forward because Forsythe’s spot is definitely the weakness in the lineup that sticks out.
6. Picking out a high-leverage left-handed reliever (or two).
While the bullpen has Kenley Jansen and Morrow from the right side, along with other options ranging from Ross Stripling to Walker Buehler to perhaps eventually Kenta Maeda, the situation from the left side is considerably more up in the air.
The Dodgers appear to have four options in Luis Avilan, Tony Watson, Tony Cingrani, and Edward Paredes, all of whom at one point or another has folded in leveraged situations. However, all have also shown signs of promise as well, which is what makes following this ongoing saga so interesting.
Who do you turn to? You tell me.
Avilan and Watson have the track records and quality recent performances, but Cingrani has looked the best since becoming a Dodger and is killing it of late. Paredes is a long shot, but he seems effective as a LOOGY and throws a ton of strikes.
The problem here is less about not having options, and more about the pecking order not being established. If the Dodgers need to get a righty out in the seventh, it’s gotta be Morrow. If they need to get a lefty out … well, they’re still experimenting with that. So somebody needs to emerge from the crowd, because every potential playoff matchup has a big-time lefty bat that’s gonna need a specialist matchup at some point. Definitely something they need to get in order before the end of the season.
The recent losing streak has shown what can happen when a very good team is playing very bad baseball, but it hasn’t necessarily exposed any new flaws. The concerns that were there before this run are the concerns that the Dodgers and fans should be worried about and monitor going forward as well. Hopefully some of these issues get solved as the Dodgers pull themselves out of this tailspin.