Baseball fans around the nation have begun to pile on the Los Angeles Dodgers for their inept play thus far this year. With a big budget and heap of underperforming stars, the Dodgers have earned every ounce of criticism they have received.
Out of sync at best, lethargic at worst, the 22-29 Dodgers face an uphill climb in the NL West standings. This is a far cry from this point last season, when the 32-19 Dodgers had a five game lead over the rival San Francisco Giants.
Yet while pundits like Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com say that Dodgers’ scapegoated skipper Don Mattingly will soon get the ax, it is still too soon to smash the panic button and hand the division to another team.
As the great Sparky Anderson once told ESPN baseball analyst Jim Bowden, June 1 marks a point in the season where observers could truly begin to determine whether a “player or team’s performance was legitimate.”
Just a day and change removed from this pivotal date, the Dodgers still have time to turn things around.
This transformation must begin in the batter’s box. The Dodgers own one of the most anemic offenses in baseball right now. Per ESPN stats, this team has scored just 178 runs through 51 games. This is 29th in the league. Only the Miami Marlins' 145 runs have been worse.
Power-wise the Dodgers have been equally abysmal. This team has mustered just 36 home runs, which is 28th in baseball. They manage to put one ball over the wall every 46.6 at-bats. The Dodgers slugging percent is a squeamish .372.
Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have combined to hit 18 homers for the Dodgers. Chris Davis has 19 homers alone for the Baltimore Orioles.
The Dodgers are also 29th in baseball in RBI (169). Davis, along with Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Phillips have combined for 27 more RBI than the entire Dodgers’ offense.
While working to improve on offense, the Dodgers must also bolster its pen. Currently, the Dodgers’ pen has a 4.21 ERA, which is 24th in the league. Its .261 batting average against is 25th (11th in the NL).
Sprinkle in nine blown saves in 22 opportunities (59% save conversion rate), and the Dodgers’ bullpen has the potential to overwork and infuriate a starting rotation that has held the fort in the face of injury.
To prevent this, the Dodgers’ bullpen has got to man up, take pride and get the job done for Clayton Kershaw and Co.
Of course the Dodgers’ bullpen (and offense) should not take all the heat for the Dodgers’ ailments.
With its 41 errors and .978 fielding percent, the Dodgers field the worst defense in baseball (per ESPN).
Gonzalez leads the Dodgers with six errors. His .985 fielding percent is the worst amongst MLB first basemen (also per ESPN). Third baseman Nick Punto has committed five errors. And Matt Kemp has added four.
In order for the Dodgers to swing the pendulum, they must boost defensive play on the corner infield positions, much like the Orioles did last year. Once Baltimore did this, the team’s play took off.
The good thing for the Dodgers is that this team houses all the goods to make a monster sprint toward the postseason.
But to get there, this team must realize the rest of the league is not in awe of everything Magic Johnson and Crew has done in the past offseason to bolster the Dodgers roster and prestige.
On the contrary, teams around the league actually relish playing the Dodgers...right now. Yet it will be interesting to see if teams feel the same way come September, should the Dodgers cure its aforesaid ailments.