No. Of course not. What’re you, new?
In the snap judgment/hot take culture that we live in, two or three weeks can seem like a long time. And that’s really all it was, back when the Dodgers were 13-2 and looked for sure like they were going to stomp all over the NL West and take a serious run at the all-time wins record. Still might! If there’s any team capable of some 40-5 stretch, it’s this one.
It’s also important to remember that the Dodgers have entered this kind of malaise before. 162 games is a long damn time, and no team gets through it without some kind of beer belch. The 2017 team, the first Death Star version of the Dodgers that ended up winning 104 games and waltzed to the World Series where they lost to the apparently cheating Astros, went 12-17 in September. The 2018 team kind of spent the whole season in that fog, winning only 92 games even though they had a run-differential of +194 and their Pythagorean record, what that run-differential says they should have gone, was 102-60. They even needed a game 163 to claim the division over the Rockies before returning to the World Series. This has happened before.
Still, when the monster that’s been roaming the hillside stubs his toe and falls over for a bit, it’s news. Since that 13-2 start, they’re 5-15, and have lost five straight series. So what exactly is going on here?
First off, the Dodgers have been slightly done in by MLB’s carnival games. Six of their 15 losses have come in either extra innings with the ghost runner, or in seven-inning doubleheaders. They managed to do both on the same day against the Cubs in a doubleheader, losing in seven innings and then losing in nine when the eighth and ninth were actually extra-innings. It’s a neat trick. These are just about as big of a coin flip as baseball gets, in the same fashion that one-run wins don’t really tell you much about a team and kind of fall on whatever side of luck is smiling at you that day. So during this 5-15 stretch, their run-differential is only -6. Which means their Pythagorean record for these 20 games is about 9-11, or even 10-10.
So what’s been going on in this three-week stretch? Well it’s not much to do with the starters. All have ERAs under 4.00 during the stretch aside from Walker Buehler, who has a 4.19. He also has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 27-to-1 during this time, so, yeah, not really a huge problem there.
The pen? Kinda? Dennis Santana has certainly had his issues, walking seven in his last eight appearances, and giving up 10 runs, capped off by getting utterly thwacked by the Angels in his last outing. Blake Treinen has only given up two runs, but they were big ones in narrow losses to the Brewers and Cubs. Garret Cleavinger has been just this side of gasoline, giving up eight hits and six runs in just six appearances.
But you have to ask if Cleavinger and Santana would be even seen at all if the Dodgers weren’t dealing with a raft of injuries in their pen. Cory Knebel, David Price, Brusdar Graterol, and Scott Alexander are all on the shelf, and all would probably be getting appearances ahead of Santana or Cleavinger. The Dodgers have specialized the past few seasons in gaming the IL and calling up a cavalcade of whosits and whatsits to throw 98 MPH for a few appearances over 10 or 15 days and then go back into the closet of miscellaneous stuff until they’re needed again. But rarely do they call them all up at once. It’s supposed to be a revolving door, not a dog-pile through the window.
Offensively, there really isn’t anything more than a couple hiccups. Max Muncy can’t stop striking out, doing so 30 percent of the time in this 20-game stretch. Muncy has been able to balance that out for the most part by walking a quarter of the time, and homering when he does make contact, but it’s a tenuous footing, let’s say (all stats from Fangraphs). Other than that, Will Smith is the only regular with a wRC+ under 100. Gavin Lux has apparently fallen down a sewer hole, with a wRC+ of 33 as he plays second. It could be argued that they miss Edwin Rios to spell Lux, but Rio was hitting .078 when he hit the shelf last week and there’s only 60 games of sample over the past two seasons for him being productive. To say what Rios is and what the Dodgers are missing for sure would only be a guess. That still leaves a cast of Betts, Taylor, Seager, Turner, and Pollock, for which most teams would sacrifice a handful of barnyard animals.
The Dodgers certainly do miss Cody Bellinger, who played four games before having to go into packing ice with a hairline fracture in his leg. He should be back in the next week or two, but any team would miss a perennial MVP candidate.
Overall, the Dodgers are just suffering from some sequencing and bad luck. 80 runs over 20 games isn’t bad, and usually would be enough with the Dodgers’ pitching. Problem is, they piled up 30 of those runs in just two games, leaving 50 for the other 18. 2.7 per game is a whole different thing. Throw in MLB’s gimmicks, and you get a temporary stumble. But nothing here seems to be structural.
We should all prepare for that 40-5 stretch some time this summer.