The Dodgers are off to their worst beginning in twenty years. Why?
In the series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t do anything right. Although the Dbacks lost their talented third baseman Jake Lamb with a sprained AC joint in the ninth inning of the first game of the series, the Dbacks swept the Dodgers.
The Dodgers haven’t played well this season. Last year the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, who played a thrilling dramatic World Series in 2016, had slow beginnings to the 2017 regular season, but both made it to the playoffs. The same thing might be happening to the Dodgers in 2018.
Many baseball-knowledgeable people are worried about the decreased velocity from both Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen. Although Kershaw has two losses this season since he has received no offensive support in both of his starts, he should have won both games when he has allowed only three solo home runs in twelve innings. He has dominated his opponents, even in Arizona where the arid climate affects how the ball reacts when thrown.
In 2017, Kershaw allowed 23 home runs, the most in his Hall of Fame career. Why?
The new focus on hitting the ball in the air has something to do with it. Kershaw though has had many strikeouts during his career, he has mastered pitching to contact allowing him to last longer in games in an era of a strict observance to pitch counts. When the hitters are making a conscious effort to hit the ball in the air, most of the contact will result in fly balls, and some will travel out of the ballpark.
Decreased velocity shouldn’t be a problem for Kershaw. It is easy to observe when every telecast shows the velocity of every pitch thrown. Sometimes decreased velocity means a pitcher is developing an arm injury, but with these cases, the pitcher doesn’t have good movement or location of his pitches.
This is not Kershaw’s problem in 2018. He has had a brilliant curveball in both starts. He has walked three in 12 innings, abnormally high for the greatest pitcher of his generation, but it is not out of the ordinary for every other Major-League pitcher. Kershaw’s ERA of 2.25 shouldn’t have two losses on his seasonal line if he has received any offensive support.
While no one should worry about Kershaw at this stage of the season, many people should worry about Jansen. Unlike Kershaw, who made 36 appearances in 2017, 4 more than an ordinary season even though the Dodgers played 177 competitive games, Jansen was overworked in 2017, and the results of his frequent use last year might be showing now.
Jansen at 30 is the greatest closer in Dodger history. He had a magnificent 2017 season earning him the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year award. Although he struggled in the World Series against the powerful Houston Astros, he was spectacular in his 78 appearances.
Always mindful of their pitchers’ workload, the Dodgers didn’t have Jansen perform much during spring training. Not having the normal extra month of rest during the offseason since his team participated in the entire postseason may be affecting Jansen.
In 2018, Jansen has made only two appearances, allowing two homers and two uncharacteristic walks. The Dodgers lost both games. Jansen’s fastball, normally averaging 92 MPH, has been clocked at a mere 88-89 MPH, and his famous cutter hasn’t had the same sharp break as usual. After each outing, the telecasts have shown him rubbing his valuable right shoulder, a cause for concern for the Dodgers. After two disappointing appearances it is difficult to panic about Jansen who has been consistent during his career beginning in 2010, but if his struggles continue, the Dodgers need to find another reliever who can close to give Jansen a break.
Whereas pitching problems dominated the Arizona series despite Wilmer Font’s gutsy 74-pitch performance on Monday to save the rest of the bullpen, the Dodgers haven’t generated much offense in their seven games. Twice they have been on the losing end of one-hit shutouts, and both Johnny Cueto and Patrick Corbin are good pitchers; nevertheless, they probably won’t compete for the NL Cy Young Award this year.
It is difficult to determine what Dave Roberts should do to jump-start the offense. The only Dodger who has had a satisfactory offensive performance in 2018 is Yasmani Grandal. He can’t play every day. The Dodgers have had many fly balls dying on the warning track, and perhaps in warmer weather they would be home runs.
It is difficult for Roberts to put on plays to generate more offense when not many Dodgers have reached base. Wednesday Corbin struck out 12 Dodgers.
Obviously, the Dodgers need to regroup. Thursday is a day off, and they are predicting rain for Friday. No one has announced starting pitchers for Friday night or Saturday afternoon in San Francisco because the weather looks nasty.
Even without Justin Turner, the Dodgers aren’t as bad of a team as their 2-5 record indicates. If this bad stretch as every team in 2018 will experience didn’t begin the season, it won’t be magnified as much as it is now. The Dodgers will improve, but their fans must be patient.