All the Reasons You Should and Shouldn't Panic About the Dodgers' Mediocre Start

Abbey MastraccoContributor IMay 11, 2021

Los Angeles Dodgers' Max Muncy, left, manager Dave Roberts, center, and Justin Turner watches during the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers were not built simply to win—they were built to dominate opponents in historic fashion. Yet the reigning World Series champs and winners of three National League pennants since 2017 are somehow reeling after losing 15 of their last 20 games. They had started a scorching 13-2.

Following a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday night, the Dodgers are 18-17 and in third place in the NL West behind the upstart San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres.

It seems unthinkable that a juggernaut such as the Dodgers could be just one game over .500. The team seems to be having a difficult time digesting this stretch as well.

Trevor Bauer, the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner and the club's star acquisition of the offseason, is angry.

"I'm pissed, personally," Bauer said after the loss in Anaheim. "I freaking hate losing. I want to win. That's why I came here. We are not playing up to our capability right now, so I'm mad."

Utility man Chris Taylor said the team is too talented to not get back on a winning path. Manager Dave Roberts seems to be struggling for answers just like everyone else.

The root problem has yet to reveal itself. Sometimes you can look at a team's numbers and see a definitive weakness.

The Angels can hit but can't pitch. Cleveland can pitch but can't hit. The Cincinnati Reds have the best OPS in the NL (.758) but the worst bullpen (5.46 ERA).

While there are troubling trends in Los Angeles, they aren't major enough to say they are costing the Dodgers. It appears to be an issue of moving parts that just aren't moving together.

Should we be worried about the most talented team in baseball? Let's look at a few trends to see which ones are worthy of panic and which ones are not.


Offense Panic Meter: Moderate

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Here's a fun fact: The Dodgers have scored the second-most runs in baseball and the most in the NL. They have a plus-32 run differential, the best in the NL.

Now, here's a not-so-fun fact: The Dodgers have lost an MLB-high 10 games by one run. In one-run games, they are just 4-10.

So, what's wrong?

The lineup has been inconsistent. Over the last 10 games, the Dodgers have averaged 4.9 runs per game, but that is misleading. The lineup exploded for 16 runs last Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers and 14 six days later against the Angels, but in six of those games, they scored one, two or three runs, and in the other two they scored five apiece. They won only the games in which they scored in double digits.

Yet the Dodgers' .748 OPS is the fifth-best in baseball. Justin Turner is hitting .319 with seven home runs. Taylor, Corey Seager, Mookie Betts and Max Muncy have OPSes over .800. This is impressive considering L.A. is missing Cody Bellinger and key bench players Zach McKinstry and Edwin Rios (injured list).

The one hole in the lineup is second baseman Gavin Lux. He's hitting just .209 with three extra-base hits and zero home runs. He's walked just five times in 93 plate appearances and has struck out in 25.8 percent of them.

Lux, a left-handed hitter, has only had a few chances against left-handed pitching and hasn't exactly passed the test: He's 1-for-16 with six strikeouts and zero walks. It's not uncommon for younger hitters to struggle with left-handed pitching, but Lux was billed as a super prospect, so the depth of his struggles have been surprising.

Lux was so good in 2019—with a 1.028 OPS in 113 Double-A and Triple-A games—that he forced his way onto the major league roster, but he got only one postseason at-bat last season, and it looks like the 23-year-old is still trying to find his big league stride. He's shown some improvements recently, going 8-for-27 with a double and two runs. Now he'll have to show he can continue to improve.


Starting Pitching Panic Meter: Low

Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Dodgers starting pitchers have a 2.97 ERA, which is third-best in baseball.

Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias and Walker Buehler have all been as good as advertised. However, Dustin May's elbow injury and subsequent season-ending Tommy John surgery have exposed the Dodgers' lack of depth. Tony Gonsolin, who has been stellar in two seasons as a spot starter, is not close to coming back from a shoulder injury but will replace May when he's cleared to return.

If there is any reason to worry, it's about the back end of the rotation. But otherwise, this is one of the best units in baseball. It sure would help, however, if the Dodgers' suddenly anemic offense gave the starters some run support.


Bullpen Panic Meter: High

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Dodgers led the Angels 13-0 on Saturday, only to have the bullpen implode and let the Angels back into the game. The team that actually plays in Los Angeles won 14-11, but it shouldn't have been that close.

At the start of the season, it looked like the Dodgers were so stacked that 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner David Price would have to pitch in relief. The experiment did not go as planned, as he amassed a 5.59 ERA before going on the injured list (hamstring). Corey Knebel (lat) and Scott Alexander (shoulder) are also out with injuries, and Knebel won't be back any time soon.

Joe Kelly recently returned from the injured list, but his first appearance of the season was a disaster. The Angels tagged him for four earned runs over two-thirds of an inning.

Blake Treinen has been good, as has lefty Victor Gonzalez, but Kenley Jansen remains a roller coaster. The 33-year-old closer is 0-1 with a 1.88 ERA, but he's already blown two saves in seven opportunities.

It's tough for Roberts to go to Dennis Santana or the other two left-handers, Garrett Cleavinger and Alex Vesia, right now. They aren't getting outs in big spots. The high-leverage guys have done their jobs, but the Dodgers can't use them unless they're in position to do so, and the low-leverage guys haven't been doing their jobs well. Having only one solid left-hander is limiting.

This is where the Dodgers might be able to improve by using waiver-wire pickups to supplement their relief corps. A big trade would cost them in prospects, and this isn't the time of year to start dealing those.


Defense Panic Meter: High

Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

Los Angeles pitchers are having a hard team holding runners on base. The Dodgers are allowing 1.1 stolen bases per game, more than any other team.

The defense goes beyond the basepath. FanGraphs ranks the Dodgers 27th in defensive WAR and 25th in ultimate zone rating. Seager has cost the team two runs, Turner has cost it five, and Taylor has cost it five across his three positions (two in center field, two in left field, one at second base).

Oddly enough, this is where Lux is excelling. He has saved the team three runs, behind only Muncy (five at first base) and catcher Will Smith (four). But the Dodgers need him to start hitting to justify keeping him in the lineup.


Overall Panic Meter: Moderate

Ashley Landis/Associated Press

There is a popular theory in sports called the ketchup bottle theory. At some point, everything that is bottled up will break free. Instead of hitting into outs, batters will push baserunners across the plate.

There are legitimate concerns about the bullpen and the defense, but the Dodgers should be able to hit their way out of this slump. This is what happens when one aspect of a team is stronger than others; when it doesn't perform up to its full capabilities, the weaknesses are exposed.

But on paper, this is still the strongest team in baseball and still the best bet to win the division. DraftKings lists the Dodgers as -400 favorites to win the NL West. The Padres (+250) and Giants (+2200) pose real threats. Both clubs made solid upgrades to be in these positions, but they are not without their weaknesses as well. The San Diego defense is bad, and the Giants are relying on a lot of players over 30.

So here is my hot take: The Dodgers will get past this and go on a tear over the summer, and this dismal stretch will seem like a distant memory.

Well, probably. Maybe. They should be fine. I think they'll be fine.


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