Let’s do the good stuff first: The Dodgers notched an elusive combined no-hitter on Friday against a pretty wretched San Diego Padres team. Walker Buehler has one of the best baseball names I’ve ever heard, and has so far also excelled at throwing a baseball in three starts this season. Kenley Jansen hasn’t blown a save since April 17. Alex Verdugo is playing in the big leagues and Matt Kemp is back in L.A. and playing above replacement level for the first time since 2015. They somehow own the second best run differential in the NL West, despite an unsightly 15-19 record.
You’d have to strain a bit to come up with anything more, though, or to deny that the team’s near-horrific start has the potential to get spectacularly worse. Clayton Kershaw was placed on the disabled list over the weekend with bicep tendinitis, a strange and unexpected injury. It might just be a small thing—he’ll begin rehab sometime on Monday and things will or won’t develop from there—but it’s a peculiar enough injury that the team has no timetable for his return. It’s often hard to wade through Concerned Front Office language like “cautiously optimistic,” which could just as easily imply two missed starts or two missed months, but Kershaw’s three-season streak of DL stints inspires little confidence that they’ll want to hurry him back.
Kershaw joins a ragtag bunch on the Dodgers’ extremely expensive disabled list. A week into May, they’re already just having one of those years. The loss of Corey Seager was the most shocking blow; the 24-year-old All-Star underwent Tommy John surgery last week and will miss the remainder of the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu had been looking something like the 2013-14 version of himself before getting sidelined with an extremely painful-sounding groin injury until at least the All-Star break; given the inclusion of the uncomfortably vivid phrase “torn off the bone” it’s hard to know what to expect in terms of his recovery. Rich Hill was out for a few weeks but will return to start against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday. Erstwhile super-prospect Julio Urias might start throwing off a mound soon, and the team has talked about him rejoining the team in the second half.
The lineup, which has at least stayed middle of the pack in runs, batting average, and OPS, is set to get some help: Justin Turner, who hasn’t played yet this season, will come off the DL sometime this month; Yasiel Puig will return from a hip pointer this week, with Logan Forsythe not far behind. That’s probably not enough to replace the Dodgers’ best positional player and best pitcher, should he also miss extended time, but Turner is crucial to the team’s offense—he got on base to the tune of .415 last season—and provides extra protection for Cody Bellinger.
Of course we’ve been here before, when the Dodgers lost Kershaw last year and somehow got better, winning 17 of 20 games immediately after his back injury in July. But this is not the same team, Jansen’s fastball looks strikingly more hittable, the rotation suddenly looks more wobbly behind Kershaw, and there’s a tough Diamondbacks team atop the National League, unhampered by the offseason loss of J.D. Martinez or April injuries to Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray.
The Dodgers are still the Dodgers, which is to say that they’re the sort of juggernaut that can reasonably be expected to trade or sign its way back into contention against all odds. Manny Machado seems to be the obvious fix, here, but given that the team is up against the luxury tax threshold—and given that MLB teams seem to have decided to treat the luxury tax as a de facto salary cap—it’s not unfathomable that they might stand pat when it comes to immediate help before the trade deadline. For once, after a five-year run of division titles, the Dodgers might just have to get by with what they have.
Correction (2:49 p.m. ET): The article originally stated that the Dodgers’ combined no-hitter was on Saturday. It was on Friday night.