The Los Angeles Dodgers are set to conclude a grueling nine-game road trip this week, one that has featured almost every challenge the team could imagine.
It began with a rainout in Minnesota, which led to a day-night doubleheader later in the week. The second game of the twin-bill against the Twins lasted over five hours. After jetting down to Miami for the weekend, the team flew back up north to Washington, D.C. and was greeted with a mid-game rain delay that lasted over three hours.
Despite the unwelcoming conditions of the past week, the Dodgers are guaranteed to return home to sunny Los Angeles with a winning record overall.
As the Boys in Blue prepare for a big four-game series with the San Francisco Giants later this week, let's take a look at the three biggest takeaways from the past month of Dodgers baseball.
The Dodgers Aren't Making Home Fans Happy
The Dodgers have been sending home fans to the parking lot with their heads down for most of the season so far.
The team is a very underwhelming 6-9 at Dodger Stadium this year. The home slate started out on the wrong foot when the Giants blitzed Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu with six runs in the first inning of Los Angeles' home opener, quickly subduing the pomp and circumstance of the pregame festivities.
Fans at Chavez Ravine haven't had much to cheer about since then, as the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies have been the most recent teams to take series from the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The only team the Dodgers have been able to handle at home was the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks.
All told, the Dodgers are the only National League squad currently among the top three teams in their division to have a losing record at home.
But Don Mattingly's bunch has made up for it on the road, where they continue to frustrate opposing fans.
Entering the final two games of their series against the Washington Nationals, the Dodgers own a ripe 12-6 record on the road. That's good for second in the National League behind the surprising Milwaukee Brewers.
The Dodgers have already swept the Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins at their places this year, and are in position to complete a winning road trip by taking one of their two remaining games at Washington this week.
Outfield Dilemma Not All It's Cracked Up To Be
Ever since the Dodgers called up Yasiel Puig from the minors last season, skeptics immediately questioned how Mattingly was going to manage the playing time of four high-paid outfielders with only three outfield spots available.
Well, the the potential problem didn't really come into play until the beginning of this season, and so far it hasn't been that big of an issue.
Mattingly has been employing an outfield rotation that favors certain matchups and situations while giving his four elite outfielders multiple opportunities to start each week.
Veteran left-handed outfielders Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford typically sit against southpaw pitchers. This is a wise move considering Ethier has posted a meager .233 batting average against lefties over the course of his career. Crawford is slightly better at .258.
But when Mattingly looks down his bench and sees a right-handed batter like Scott Van Slyke, a guy who's hitting .375 with three home runs this season against lefties, it makes sense to start him over Ethier or Crawford.
Other times, Mattingly will give certain outfielders the day off if they have been slumping or—in the case of Puig—taken a fly ball off the head while crashing full speed into a wall, as was the case Sunday afternoon in Miami.
The bottom line is that the Dodgers have the rare luxury of mixing and matching above-average outfielders on any given day. Although Puig, Ethier, Crawford and Matt Kemp are getting paid enough to warrant a spot in the starting lineup every day, it simply can't work when all four of them are healthy.
So far, the Dodgers have not had to deal with any public gripes about playing time, as Mattingly has continued to give each of them a fair chance every week.
The Bullpen Has Been Overused
Dodgers relievers lead the majors in innings pitched at 119 and have issued the second-most walks entering Tuesday's game at Washington.
It also hasn't helped that Los Angeles has played in more extra-inning contests than any other team in the league. Part of the reason for these long games is due to unpredictable situations, but other factors include relievers failing to do their jobs by closing out wins.
Closer Kenley Jansen's 18 appearances are more than the Dodgers would have liked to see, especially considering the team has only played 33 games so far. Jansen's two blown saves and 3.52 ERA are also numbers that the team expected to be lower at this point in the season.
Just this past weekend, Dodgers relievers were unable to preserve a 7-3 lead in the seventh inning at Miami. Los Angeles eventually won in the 11th inning, but not before the bullpen hurled 102 pitches—the same number that starter Paul Maholm threw in six innings of work.
Luckily for the Dodgers, their starting rotation gained some much-needed stability this week with the return of Clayton Kershaw. The defending Cy Young Award winner should be able to give the bullpen a rest, and it will be up to the other starters to follow his lead by going deep into games.