Despite reports to the contrary, the Dodgers are not out of it yet

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

There’s no shortage of depressing articles to write about when it comes to the Dodgers right now. We all know about their bullpen problems and their lack of clutch hitting. There’s going to be a whole off-season to do that, and right now I don’t feel like dwelling on the possibility that the Dodgers won’t make the playoffs at all. There’s 33 games remaining in the regular season, and the Dodgers need to do everything they can to defend not only their NL West title but also their National League title.

While the bullpen blows the game in late innings on what feels like a nightly basis, we may forget the fact that this team won the pennant less than a year ago. They’re not playing like they are reigning pennant winners, and that’s the part that’s the most frustrating. It’s now or never when it comes to the Dodgers’ 2018 story.

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The Dodgers definitely need to bring some Walker Buehler fire in September. Buehler struck out a career-high 9 batters across 7 shutout innings on 104 pitches in his last start against St. Louis. Only two Cardinals reached scoring position, but he battled to escape the jams. Ice seems to run through his veins, and the young right-hander doesn’t always hide his emotions. He struck out perennial Dodgers killer Matt Carpenter three times, and he pitched like the season depended on it. Because it did. Every game matters.

The game fell apart once Scott Alexander served up a solo shot in the eighth, and Kenley Jansen allowed the devastating two-run home run in the ninth. The Dodgers also only mustered two hits in an uninspired offensive backdrop behind the star of the show, Buehler.

“Walker Buehler put the Dodgers on his back tonight.” – Joe Davis

Meanwhile, Rich Hill stepped up in yesterday’s 11-0 blowout of the Padres on Friday night. He allowed only two hits and struck out eight in seven scoreless innings, and he even drove in a run with a RBI single. Sure, the decisive win was against the Padres, and they’re bottom dwellers in the NL West, but it was nice to see the offense and pitching sync up for the victory in the series opener.

There’s still something there, even if it’s small, that is leftover from the incredible 2017 club. The 2018 Dodgers aren’t completely dead, and for a moment I got sucked back into this whole thing and felt stuff when Buehler yelled expletives walking off the mound after he shut down the Cardinals. My apathy and acceptance of the mediocre season was leaving me empty. Buehler’s ardor made me snap out of that place for a moment, but those moments have come far less often than last season.

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What I’m trying to say is that the Dodgers aren’t out of it just yet, and I choose to maintain hope until the final game that matters is played. Things are looking bleak for sure, but I’ve learned not to trust baseball until the very last out. I’m not ready to can the entire coaching staff or start selling off players or anything extreme. I really don’t think Dave Roberts‘ in-game managerial decisions have been more detrimental to the team’s results than say the atrocious bullpen over the second half (4.40 ERA, 1.41 HR/9) and an offense that leads the league in home runs (179) and run differential (+116), but sucks in high-leverage situations (.230 batting average and 10 home runs).

Speaking of that issue, a few days ago I wrote about the Dodgers’ struggles in one-run games over at True Blue LA.

“The Mariners are hitting .256 overall as a team, but in high-leverage situations so far this year, they’re hitting a major-league best .300. The Dodgers are hitting .231 in high-leverage situations this year. That’s 37 points lower than last year’s team. They’re simply less clutch this year.”

Jeff Sullivan went into even more detail on the Dodgers’ poor results in the clutch on FanGraphs.

“If the Dodgers were to keep this up, they’d finish with the fourth-worst Clutch score on record. Of course, given the extreme nature of where the Dodgers are, we wouldn’t expect them to remain quite so bad, but much of the season is already over. The Dodgers already have a team Clutch score of -9.1, even without extrapolating over 162 games. Only 26 teams have finished worse, over four and a half decades. The Dodgers and the Mariners have had kind of opposite seasons.”

A big reason why the Dodgers seemed to play out of their minds last season was their ability to come up with key hits in the clutch. It wasn’t just one guy who did it either, but a different hero each night. They were successfully collaborative in a way few baseball teams ever are. They simply haven’t been that yet this year.

Of course, 2018 has been an adventure for this team. A squad that lost Corey Seager for the year and Justin Turner for a big chunk of time. Kenley Jansen‘s irregular heartbeat and DL stint sent the bullpen into a spiral. Tom Koehler never made one pitch for the Dodgers. The bullpen was hardly touched at the trade deadline despite a plethora of injuries and inconsistencies. Hyun-Jin Ryu suffered a major groin injury, halting his hot start to the year. There’s always a broken rib in sad Dodgers tales, and Walker Buehler missed time with said injury. Matt Kemp, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson, and Max Muncy all had up and down years at the plate. Austin Barnes‘ bat fell off completely. Yasiel Puig dealt with nagging injuries and nagging naysayers. Clayton Kershaw‘s velocity was down, and his back flared up again. Yasmani Grandal let some balls pass, and everyone brought out the pitchforks.

Things were bad, then good, then bad again. As baseball goes.

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Despite all that, I’m saying there’s still a chance. They still have 7 games left against the Diamondbacks and 6 games against the Rockies. The rest of the schedule outside those two series is a lot easier — besides the 4 games in St. Louis — than the schedule they’ve faced since the All-Star break. Time is waning, but I’m not throwing in my rally towel just yet.

Sure, if the season ended right now, the Dodgers would not make the playoffs. Their current 85-win pace won’t cut it this year in a very competitive National League. Missing the playoffs completely is an unacceptable outcome for a reigning league champion. Even a shot at a Wild Card is better than completely missing the postseason altogether. Hell, give me one game with Kersh or Buehler on the mound, and I’ll take my chances.

I’m just not ready to write a sad ending to the Dodgers’ 2018 season yet. So here’s to a late-season rewrite.

About Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler
Stacie Wheeler, born and raised in So Cal, has been writing about the Dodgers since 2010. She wrote daily as the co-editor of Lasorda's Lair for five long years, and she has also written for Dodgers Nation, Dodger Blue 1958 and The Hardball Times. She currently contributes to True Blue LA. Stacie graduated from the University Of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in Cinema-Television. You can also watch her videos on her YouTube channel, DishingUpTheDodgers.