No one expected the Los Angeles Dodgers to repeat their excellence of 104 wins from last season, but they were not supposed to be struggling to win the NL West division this late into the season. They sit at 88-71 and half-a-game behind the Colorado Rockies for first place in the division. And just as surprisingly, they are struggling even to reach 90 wins, but things don’t get any easier as they finish the season in San Francisco against the rival Giants.
Yes, the Giants have been a lousy team this year, but this is the oldest rivalry in baseball, and the games are always tight and competitive. 2018 is the perfect representation of that, as there has only been an eight-run run differential in their 16 prior matchups, in favor of LA, but the Dodgers have still lost nine of them.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the boys and blue, and they are in danger of ending their five-year run as division champions this weekend. But they have no one to blame other than themselves. Yes, the National League has been very competitive this season, but the Dodgers have put themselves in this position and cannot look at anyone else outside of the locker room. It’s not as if the Colorado Rockies have been world-beaters. They have 88 wins too.
Since 2013, the Dodgers have won (chronologically) 92, 94, 92, 91, and 104 games. The 91 games felt like 95-100 because of the historic injury-riddled season they had to overcome. And in the other seasons, the Dodgers had the division all but locked up so took their foot off the gas because they did not have any real sense of urgency when playing. Over the five past seasons, they never spent one day in September out of first place, but in 2018, it’s been about two weeks.
They have been playing for their season this month. The Dodgers have not been in a playoff race this deep into the season this decade and have had to play from behind the entire year, so just scrapping at 90 wins, with this talent and the sense of urgency they’ve needed to have, is disappointing.
This may be the most talented team the Dodgers have fielded during this six-year run: the deepest lineup, best and deepest pitching rotation, and a bullpen, that has had its moments of good and bad mixed, which has bent but not broken. They have top-level talent and depth throughout, but it hasn’t shown.
Talent only means so much if the mental aspect isn’t there. They have lacked a sense of urgency, the fight, and hunger for most, if not all, of the season. It’s not a sense of entitlement, but a bit of a “California Cool.” They know they were going to be there in the end competing, and played like it. And when the time came (a little over a week ago), they responded by taking six of seven from the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies and put themselves 2.5 games up in the division, which was their largest lead of the year.
But again, they did not capitalize on the advantage, losing three games in the standings to the Rockies and falling into second. But this is nothing new. Inconsistency has plagued the Dodgers the entire season. Their nonchalant attitude led to a miserable 16-26 start, but then when their leader Justin Turner came back, they went on a run which made them the best team in the National League for almost 60 games. Then they tapered off a bit and hit another rough stretch, losing ten of 13 in August, before turning things up recently. But then they lost a critical series against the Diamondbacks this week.
They have been both clutch and “unclutch.” They took three of four from the then- first-place Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of August to take the lead in the division. And then, as mentioned earlier, they took six of seven games from two teams they were trailing for two different playoff spots.
However, as impressive as those were, they’ve been just as disappointing. After taking first from Arizona, they immediately turn around and drop two of three to a miserable New York Mets team. And the following week they lost two of three to a last-place Cincinnati Reds squad. And after sweeping the Rockies last week, they immediately lose to a last-place San Diego Padres team in yet another disappointing fashion and gave the Rockies a game back.
The Dodgers’ 1-6 record against the Reds may surely come back to haunt them, as will their 2-4 record vs. the last-place Miami Marlins. Speaking of which, they had a six-game losing streak earlier in the season; all which came against these two teams. It’s something in their mindset that has hurt the team. You can tell, when trailing 6-2 to the DBacks Wednesday night, they looked beaten and down.
But again, it’s on them. They are hitting a paltry .225/.305/.349 in high leverage situations and even worse with two outs and runners in scoring position (.197 batting average across 599 at-bats). And with runners in scoring position in general, they are hitting .248, which still isn’t good. You can blame the front office all you want; the overcomplication of matchups and lineup shifting does get tiresome. But they have put together a great team that should be comfortably in the division lead. Their Pythagorean Theorem record is 97-62 because of their run differential, but again, it’s their inconsistencies that have killed them.
If they were able to string together a few more hits with runners in scoring position, we would not be in this situation. But this is baseball, and baseball is weird. And all is not lost, as the Dodgers have a one-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card spot, and if the Rockies lose on Thursday, we’ll be in a tie atop the NL West. But this is not a team that wants to put their season outlook into the fate of one miserable wild-card game. Things aren’t looking so great for the Dodgers, and they can’t blame anyone else.