It’s only 15 games into the season, but the Dodgers have already found themselves in a bind.
Two weeks after the excitement of Opening Day has been grounded like a paper airplane descending from the upper deck, the Blue Crew is an unimpressive 7-8, kicking its past four games.
The Dodgers will have 147 more games to play and are light years away from breaking the glass and sounding the panic button, but their mediocrity to this point remains unsettling.
What’s most worrying at this juncture is the team’s inability to manufacture runs despite an All-Star lineup that includes three hitters (Kemp, Gonzalez, Ethier) who average more than 65 runs batted in per season and have all posted at least one 100 RBI campaign.
Despite the efforts of Gonzalez and brand-new Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford, who are hitting a combined .390 with 36 percent of the team’s hits, the Boys in Blue have only manufactured a total of 41 runs this season in 15 games (2.7 per game).
Baseball’s a game of streaks, hot and cold, so the law of averages may suggest that the hefty-payroll team is purging its cold streak to commence the season.
However, this isn’t an isolated trend.
The Dodgers, who missed the playoffs in 2012 despite a desperate late-season push, have yet to gain traction with their new All-Star roster in spite of occasional outbursts of excellence.
Scoring, the most fundamental facet of the game, has been an issue for the Blue Crew since the last All-Star break. The team closed out the second half of last season with both the lowest run total (305) and total bases (995) in the National League West by a wide margin.
What’s more disconcerting to the Dodgers than surrendering four losses to the San Diego Padres—who have only won five games this season (5-10)—is that the mega plan to manufacture a World Series title by beefing up the roster has already taken a huge blow.
Star pitcher Zack Greinke, who signed a $147 million, six-year contract this past offseason, recently fractured his collarbone in a brawl with the Padres.
He was set to be replaced by former starter Chris Capuano, who had been coming out of the bullpen for LA this season, but he too has fallen to injury. In his first start of the season, the lefty gave up five runs in two innings, straining his calf in the process.
I’ll reiterate: It’s 15 games into the season, and baseball is a game of streaks.
However, the Dodgers can’t afford to start the season off with a drought. The roots of this newly sprouted team need to form before it can afford a spell without the nourishment of victory.
The good news for the Blue Crew amid their offensive woes is that their starting rotation is thriving.
Clayton Kershaw, despite an uncharacteristic outing against the Padres in which he allowed three home runs, has been dealing as usual this season. Righties Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley and Zack Greinke—up until his injury—have all been solid, and above all, South Korea native Hyun-Jin Ryu has shown no troubles adjusting to his first season in the MLB.
Regardless of the novelty of the 2013 season, the fact that two pitchers (Ryu, Kershaw) have tallied more hits (five) in 16 combined at-bats than starting infielder Luis Cruz has (four) in 40 at-bats is an alarming stat.
Above all, core slugger Matt Kemp is immensely struggling, recording only 10 hits with 14 total bases in 55 at-bats.
Is it the end of the world? Will Dodger Stadium be swallowed by the Earth if the Boys in Blue lose their next home game?
Nevertheless, it’s the last thing the new-look Dodgers need. In order to alleviate the cumbersome pressure that was thrust upon them in the late stages of last season, they needed to start the year with a bang.
With excitement come expectations, and that excitement is beginning to morph into despair as the Dodgers, the team with the highest payroll in the MLB, sank below .500 on Wednesday night as they were swept at home by the Padres in the final matchup of a three-game series.
The Dodgers will undoubtedly have their share of triumphs this season. Kemp will eventually find his groove, and the team won’t be hitting .227 with runners on base and .053 with the bases loaded (1-for-19) forever.
It will all even out in time.
Yet, this shoddy start puts even more pressure on a team with expectations in the stratosphere. Setting the right tone in the beginning of the season is vital to a team’s success.
Conversely, sometimes all it takes is a day off to let the dust settle.
The Dodgers played their last nine games on consecutive days despite traveling regionally to Arizona and San Diego. This isn’t a rare occurrence in baseball, a sport that averages 27 games a month per team, but it hasn’t given them any downtime, which is often a magical solution to slumping teams.
The Blue Crew travels to Baltimore for an early-season interleague matchup against the Orioles and will have Thursday off as a traveling day.
That may be just the magic dust the team needs to cultivate its growing roots.