Wednesday, October 4 2023
Pittsburgh Pirates' Connor Joe, right, is greeted by Andrew McCutchen (22) as he crosses home plate after hitting a two-run home run off Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, April 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Four weeks later, the Dodgers are right back where they started.

Through 26 games this season, they have as many wins as losses, dropping back to .500 after a 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.

And just like at the beginning of the year, their new-look roster is facing more questions than answers, continuing to sputter with an inconsistent and shorthanded offense, underwhelming and out-of-sync pitching staff, and previously unforeseen problems such as their inability to control the running game.

“There’s some things we got to get better at,” manager Dave Roberts said. “On both sides of the baseball.”

To this early juncture, there’s been little to count on from a club that won 111 games last year (19 of their first 26).

Their two superstars, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, have underwhelmed, both ranking outside MLB’s top 50 in on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

Their next tier of contributors have all missed time — Max Muncy (paternity list) and Will Smith (concussion) should return this weekend, but J.D. Martinez might need to go on the injured list after all with a back injury sustained last weekend — leaving an already top-heavy offense dangerously thin.

The veteran bats they were hoping could plug roster holes haven’t produced enough, contributing to the Dodgers’ bottom-five team batting average of .223.

On the flip side, the Dodgers’ once-trademark ability to prevent runs has been diminished, too.

Their starting rotation has been fine, but far from great, dropping to 15th in the majors with a 4.42 ERA after Julio Urías’ 5⅓-inning, six-run start Thursday — his second straight outing giving up at least five.

Their bullpen has been unexpectedly dreadful, finishing the trip with a 5.18 ERA that ranked fourth-to-last in the majors.

And their inability to prevent teams from stealing bases — the Dodgers have yielded an MLB-most 38, while catching just six — has only compounded their pitching woes.

At various points this week, in what was the Dodgers’ third series loss out of their last four, Roberts tried to pinpoint explanations for each of his team’s ailments.

The offensive woes — epitomized by the Dodgers’ 11th different game Thursday scoring three runs or fewer?

“Guys are getting opportunities they might not get if other guys are around,” Roberts said, after playing this past series without Smith, Muncy, Martinez or shortstop Miguel Rojas, who could return from a hamstring strain early next week.

“As guys start to trickle back and come back, then playing time is going to be curtailed,” Roberts added. “So for me … it’s about earning opportunities to get quality at-bats.”

Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías pitches in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates.Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías pitches in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías, pitching in the third inning against the Pirates, lost his third consecutive start. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

The bullpen conundrum — encapsulated by nine-plus ERAs from 2022 stalwarts Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia and unreliable performances from several others?

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly who the leverage guys are that we can kind of trust in various spots,” Roberts said. “The arm talent is still there. The track record is still there. But we got to be better.”

The baserunning struggles — which have been particularly costly against speedy opening-month opponents such as the Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks?

“We just have to be better,” Roberts said, noting more pitch-outs and pick-off attempts might be necessary, too. “Can’t keep everybody off base, but when they do, it can’t be a free 90 feet.”

His players have taken accountability, too.

Austin Barnes, who has been behind the plate for the majority of opponents’ steals so far this season, said the stolen base problem has been about execution, despite the impact of MLB’s new baserunning-friendly rules this year.

Urías, meanwhile, expressed frustration with his inability to deliver Thursday, when the club’s opening day starter and top rotation ace gave up his most earned runs in a start since June 2021.

“I’m not executing the way I should,” he said. “I honestly just have to be better.”

The good news for the Dodgers: Despite their 13-13 record, they sit only one game out of first-place in the National League West. They have shown flashes of excellence at several points this year, especially when they’ve had their full lineup. And they still managed a 4-3 mark on this trip, even if two of the wins came on late-game, go-ahead homers.

“It wasn’t pretty, we kind of found our way in that position each game differently,” Roberts said. “But we’re going to get our team back here — our full strength team — soon.”

Right now, that’s the best fix the Dodgers can hope for.

Because, for a club that entered this campaign seemingly in danger of taking a step back in 2023, their play to this point has done little to quell long-term fears.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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