Look, I know everyone’s in a panic over their recent collapse, but despite their three-game losing streak, I still think the Boston Red Sox will make the playoffs.
Oh, you were asking about the Dodgers?
Things are as bad as they have been in a long time. Los Angeles is 8-14 (.364) in its past 22 games, punctuated by a 3-8 record in games during that stretch decided after the seventh inning. The bullpen has been completely unreliable, and the post-trades offense has been a disappointment.
The Dodgers have erased 53 days worth of progress, falling 3 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West for the first time since June 30. They are 2 1/2 games behind in the NL wild-card race, last among the five teams in the mix for two spots.
I have died a little bit inside with every late-inning defeat, and I want to tell you that I came here today prepared to give into the gloom.
If the Dodgers do continue to underperform, there’s nothing left to discuss. You can’t rally to a division title while winning a third of your games. And you can’t win more than a third of your games if your bullpen can’t hold a lead. It won’t help if your team, as Chad Moriyama pointed out, continues to have the least clutch offense in baseball.
Take this with a grain of salt, because I don’t have the data to back it up, but I’m convinced that the Dodgers’ late-inning problems right now are mainly mental. Every pitcher (aside from the mostly sidelined Kenley Jansen) who enters a game close and late bears the burden of the failures of recent days. They get within one out of victory, get ahead of a batter 0-2 or 1-2, and then seem to try to make the perfect pitch.
With 35 games remaining, the Dodgers do have less time to turn things around than they had in the spring.
All that being said …
Be wary of judging a team at its worst. That’s the mistake people made when counting the Dodgers out in May following the 16-26 start to the season.
This is the same Dodger team that went 43-20 (.682) — the best mark in the NL — from May 17 through July 28. In fact, given the acquisitions of Manny Machado and Brian Dozier and the resurgence of Clayton Kershaw, it should be a better team. If you want to argue that the Dodgers were playing over their heads earlier this summer, then you have to be willing to entertain that they are playing below their heads now.
However much the bullpen has been in a shambles, we still haven’t seen it with Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and upstart Caleb Ferguson firmly in set-up roles for a Kenley Jansen that isn’t rusty.
And as far as the division race goes, I have to think some of those who are sure that a 3 1/2-game deficit means the season is over were among those tweeting last year that the sky was falling when the Dodgers’ division lead dropped to nine games with only 19 remaining. As good as those Dodgers were in 2017, they lost 16 of 17 in one horrific stretch, and it became impossible for some people to fathom how they would ever recover. But that’s exactly what happened, recovering all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
This year’s team obviously doesn’t seem as impressive as last year’s, and I’ll acknowledge that the conversation has deteriorated from winning the World Series to simply making the playoffs. (It’s a reminder that, even without the long-awaited World Series title, not to take these October appearances for granted.) So part of me still thinks that the worst is yet to come. But part of me still thinks that the best is yet to come.
On Monday, I saw the best at-bat a Dodger has had all season. With the Dodgers down by a run, facing a pitcher throwing 103 mph, Max Muncy, a player who was completely dismissed months ago — and then completely dismissed again after a severe July slump — came through with an incredible, two-strike, game-tying single. Amid all that has gone wrong lately for the Dodgers, Muncy won the moment.
Win the moment. Win the pitch, win the at-bat, win the inning, win the game, win the season. That’s what it takes. And that’s what the Dodgers are still completely capable of.
Don’t worry about the ticking clock — not yet, anyway. With seven games remaining against Arizona and six with Colorado, the Dodgers are very much in control of their own destiny. They’ll have to earn their way to the top, but they’ll have every opportunity to do so.