The Dodgers’ Struggles Start with their Offense

Whenever the Los Angeles Dodgers start slumping like they have been this past week, most fans are always quick to blame the shortcomings in the team’s pitching staff beyond Clayton Kershaw. It’s easy to see why. After letting Zack Greinke walk in free agency following a season in which he was the Cy Young runner-up, the Dodgers made only small moves to re-tool their weakened starting rotation and notoriously inconsistent bullpen. That disappointed many fans who had gotten used to the team’s lavish spending since being bought by the Guggenheim Baseball Group in 2012.

It’s not too surprising, then, that the Dodgers have been struggling on the mound. Despite Kershaw’s typical dominance and the surprising excellence of Japanese signee Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers pitching staff as a whole hasn’t looked too great. But although they deserve plenty of blame for the Dodgers’ recent skid – they’re 4-8 dating back to April 25 – their struggles are far from the biggest issue plaguing the Dodgers.

Because the Dodgers, especially at home, have forgotten how to hit.

During their homestand from April 25 through May 1, the Dodgers scored a combined 12 runs over six games, losing all of them save for the last one in which Kershaw pitched a complete game shutout and recorded the only RBI of the game in a 1-0 victory. They were somewhat better on the ensuing road trip, scoring 21 runs in five games, but the offense was still inconsistent, and struggled against Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman. That doesn’t bode well for a team that returns to Dodger Stadium on Monday to face the dominant New York Mets rotation in a rematch of last year’s NLDS.

To pinpoint a problem in the lineup is hard because, well, it’s everywhere:

2016 Dodgers wRC+ by position through May 7

  • Catcher: 86
  • First Base: 102
  • Second Base: 76
  • Shortstop: 83
  • Third Base: 83
  • Left Field: 64
  • Center Field: 128
  • Right Field:83

When keeping in mind that wRC+ is weighted so that 100 equals league average, that’s a pretty depressing list. The one notable exception is center field, where the “Joc Pederson/Trayce Thompson don’t-call-it-a-platoon” is actually holding up quite nicely. First base has also been solid, although Adrian Gonzalez recently turned 34 and is starting to show his age.

Everywhere else, though, has been a problem.

Yasiel Puig has cooled off considerably since his hot start to the season, slashing .143/.143/.310 in the past two weeks. Justin Turner and Corey Seager, who were once thought to compose one of the most offensively productive left infields in baseball, have a combined 1.3 WAR – all of which comes from their defensive value. Before and after his April DL stint, Carl Crawford hasn’t improved upon his late-career uselessness and currently holds a slash line of .200/.237/.314 and a WAR of -0.5.

Although he’s finally been starting to find his bat lately, Howie Kendrick posted a wRC+ of -10 for the month of April. His recent hot streak has upped that to a whopping 23. A.J. Ellis, the opening day starting catcher, is slashing .192/.283/.298 on the season. Both have had to make way for more recent additions Chase Utley (130 wRC+) and Yasmani Grandal (131 wRC+), but still see regular time in the lineup.

Overall, the Dodgers are slashing .210/.296/.330 with a wRC+ of 71 over the past fourteen games. Only the Yankees, Royals, Phillies, and Braves have hit worse over that stretch. At home, they’re batting .199 (lowest in MLB) with a 69 wRC+ (4th-lowest in MLB) on the season.

The offense isn’t only the biggest of the Dodgers’ issues at the moment; it’s also the least fixable one. According to manager Dave Roberts, the Dodgers are debating internally weather to call up 19-year-old phenom Julio Urias to help their pitching staff. Along with Urias, the team also has fellow top prospects Jose De Leon and Jharel Cotton in Triple-A. Both could be ready for their major-league debut very soon. Yet the Dodgers have no such options on the offensive side of the ball, with many of their top position player prospects still honing their skills in the lower minors. Furthermore, the team’s depth is structured as such that it would be difficult to acquire another bat at the trade deadline and wedge him into the lineup.

The good news is that it’s still early May, the season is still young, and there’s still plenty of time for first year hitting coach Turner Ward to breathe life back into this lineup. The bad news is that if things don’t get turned around, the 2016 Dodgers season is about to get very ugly very quickly. The pitching staff may get more attention from the media, but this team will live and die by its offense.

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