Justin Turner has been on fire. Since returning from his second trip of the year to the disabled list in early August, Turner has a .488 on-base percentage and .714 slugging percentage. More than that, he’s all but been his usual self since June 1, with an .885 OPS.
Yasiel Puig has been on fire. Since his own DL trip ended in early May, the right fielder has a .365 OBP while slugging .578, for a .943 OPS.
Cody Bellinger has been on fire. Since August 1, Bellinger has matched Turner’s .488 OBP while slugging a nearly compatible .605.
Brian Dozier has been on fire. Starting his Dodger clock on August 1, Dozier is OBPing .429 and slugging .590. Despite an apparent EKG scare Monday, the second baseman is in tonight’s starting lineup for the Dodgers.
Nevertheless, several Dodgers have very much not been on fire, leading to four straight losses and a 5-10 plunge over their past 15 games).
While the Dodger bullpen has pitched under a laser-firing microscope for the past several days, the underplayed story is how the offense has let the team down, scoring a total of nine runs in the final three games at Colorado and then two more Monday against the Giants.
Since July 29, the Dodgers have scored 59 runs in those 15 games, but 21 runs came August 2 against Milwaukee. In the remaining 14, the Dodgers are averaging 2.7 runs per game.
There’s no particular shame in being held to two by the likes of Madison Bumgarner, even if one of them is on a collision-inducing bloop double by Clayton Kershaw, but there’s still an important mini-trend to process.
In making their July deals, the Dodgers bet big on bats, acquiring Dozier and Manny Machado. Their additions to the bullpen, Dylan Floro and the now fibula-challenged John Axford, look altogether small by comparison — but keep in mind baseball is a run-differential game. If you increase your offense, your bullpen gets more cushion. The Dodgers looked to ease the strain of their pen with a workaround, and certainly, the plan to eventually move two strong starting pitchers like Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling into relief played into that intent.
Obviously, over the past week, the strategy could not have looked worse, with the bullpen giving up go-ahead runs in six straight games. Kenley Jansen’s heart issue unexpectedly put more pressure on the relief crew than it was ready to handle. But also, the Dodger offense came to the rescue only once, in Thursday’s crazy 8-5 win. So when you look at the culprits of an ugly week, they include not only the relievers, but the recent performance of Matt Kemp, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson and perhaps most frustratingly, Machado.
During the four-game losing streak, Machado is 1 for 12 with a walk and no RBI. In fact, Machado hasn’t homered in his last 48 at-bats, during which time he has an OPS of .547.
For better or worse, this isn’t Machado’s first drought of 2018. From June 2-22, Machado went 59 at-bats without a home run, until hitting a go-ahead shot in the 15th inning for Baltimore. From that moment until Los Angeles traded for him, Machado’s OPS shot up to 1.060.
By deliberately giving themselves more options on offense than they can fit into a starting lineup, the Dodgers need their offense to produce consistently — or as consistently as a fickle sport like baseball allows. That way, they’ll be able to take advantage of the pitching strengths they do have, whether it’s a resurgent Clayton Kershaw or the new bullpen fortifications of Stripling (who is rested enough to pitch tonight, but might be nursing a sore back) and Maeda (who will probably make his bullpen move Wednesday).
Things could get worse before they get better — part of me wonders whether the bullpen will pitch four shutout innings in a 9-2 loss before the Dodgers emerge from this tailspin. But ultimately, as much as dead weight as the Dodger bullpen has been over the past four games, you might allow yourself to believe that it will be much stronger going forward, and on top of it all, the Dodger offense will provide lift off.