November was bittersweet for Dodgers fans. On the bright side, it marked the first time since 1988 that the boys in blue returned to the World Series stage. Conversely, it also saw the team force a pivotal game seven, where the Houston Astros won with ease, taking home the championship with a 5-1 victory.
Although 2017 didn’t end the way Los Angeles would have liked it to, it did offer the hope that the Dodgers had a strong enough roster to contend for a World Series win, and that they could make it back for a chance to be crowned world champions.
The start of the 2018 season, however, has done very little to bolster that hope, as the Dodgers find themselves with a 3-6 record at the conclusion of their first three series. So far, they have faced the San Francisco Giants twice, with a series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in between.
Arizona was expected to be one of the stronger teams this year, after finishing last season at 93-69. The Giants, on the other hand, finished last season at 64-98, and are a team Los Angeles should be collecting wins from if they plan on contending again.
When a team with high expectations has a slow start to the year, the pitching situation must be examined. The Dodgers lost Yu Darvish, a late season addition in 2017, to the Chicago Cubs, and Clayton Kershaw is now 30 years old. These two elements have the potential to lead to some pitching woes. However, that is not the case in the slightest.
As a team, Los Angeles is sixth in the MLB in ERA, with 2.72, with Kershaw’s efforts being a main contribution to that overall number. The ace has the lowest ERA of all starters at 1.89, and is the team leader in strikeouts, with 19. These solid stats are made more confusing by the fact that Kershaw is 0-2 in his first three starts.
Alex Wood, who falls second in LA’s starting rotation, has a similar stat line. He has the second lowest ERA of all starters at 1.93, and is tied for the lowest amount of hits allowed on the team, with seven. These efficient numbers should be good enough for at least one win, but Wood sits with an 0-1 record after two starts.
Pitching doesn’t appear to be the problem, so maybe the Dodgers struggle defensively. Again, this is not their issue. Although their fielding numbers aren’t spectacular, L.A. has committed just five errors, registered 268 putouts, and has a fielding percentage of .987, all of which are right at the league average. The Dodgers are also one of the best teams in the MLB in runs allowed, their 25 being fifth least allowed overall.
By process of elimination, it can be concluded that Los Angeles’ offense is their biggest weakness, and the numbers appear to back that theory up. In 328 at bats, the team has recorded just 70 hits, good for 20th in the league. They have a collective batting average of just .213, and have the fourth least number of runs scored, with 29. These numbers help explain why Kershaw and Woods have yet to earn a win.
In their first two games of the season, the Dodgers lost to San Francisco 1-0 both times. On opening day, Kershaw did allow a home run in the fifth inning; however, L.A. had only five total hits, two coming from Kershaw himself. Woods’ start the following day saw him allow just one hit in eight innings before closer Kenley Jensen allowed a run in the ninth. The Dodgers were only able to muster one hit the whole game.
One factor that can be attributed to the team’s low batting average is the loss of third baseman Justin Turner, who led the Dodgers last season with a .322 batting average. Turner was lost for an indefinite amount of time after breaking his wrist in a preseason game on March 19. Logan Forsythe, who is starting at third base in Turner’s place, has a batting average of just .158, and has brought in just two runners.
Turner’s output is clearly missed, but not the only reason for L.A.’s offensive struggles. Cody Bellinger led the team last year in RBIs and home runs with 70 and 39, respectively, but only has three RBIs and one home run in nine games. In fact, no Los Angeles hitter has more than one home run, and the team has only four collectively. This comes as no surprise, as the batters have been unable to put any power behind their hits. The Dodgers have a .293 slugging percentage, which is third worst in the MLB.
To be fair, Los Angeles has gone against two of the better defensive squads to start the season. In terms of fielding percentage, Arizona and San Francisco are both top 10 in the league. The Diamondbacks come in fourth, with a .995 percentage, while the Giants are ninth with a .989 percentage.
Both teams are also top 10 in overall pitching performances. Arizona has a collective ERA of 2.56, while San Francisco has a 2.86 ERA. Both are tied in runs allowed, having given up just 28 runs at the conclusion of their first three series.
The season is still very young, meaning the Dodgers aren’t fated to have a weak offense for the remainder of the year, but it is troubling how consistently they have struggled at the plate. The city of Los Angeles is waiting with bated breath for its team to have a breakout game at bat. When that happens, it would be wise to wait until a big offense becomes a part of this team’s culture before celebrating.
The Dodgers were able to push the Houston Astros to the brink last season with a very similar roster, so there’s no reason to believe they can’t make it to the World Series again. If they can get their offense to finally click, they’ll greatly resemble the team that made it to baseball’s ultimate stage just a year ago. There’s still so much baseball left to be played, and one can only hope the Dodgers figure it out in time.