Entering 2014 many Dodgers fans felt that their team would pick up right where they left off last year, where the NL West champions fell just short of a World Series berth against the St. Louis Cardinals.
However this season has produced many more negatives than positives, as the team has coasted through the first third of the season, looking like the April and May Dodgers of 2013.
So far the Dodgers mediocre season has consisted of inconsistent hitting to go with a struggling bullpen along with the always unpleasant injury bug rearing its ugly head.
LA’s struggles at the plate have been centered on underperforming stars Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez. Two of the centerpieces from last year’s NLCS squad have failed to return to their 2013 form, which saw Gonzalez hit .293 and drive in 100 runs, while Ramirez destroyed the ball with his impressive .345 average to go along with 57 RBI’s in just 86 games.
This is a new year, however, and with Gonzalez hitting just .269 with Ramirez looking to raise his .261 clip, the team has seen a noticeable drop-off on the offensive end.
The most consistent hitter for the Dodgers this year was actually one of the team’s biggest question marks entering the season, Yasiel Puig. The Cuban five-tool player has continued to blossom into one of the game’s most exciting young talents.
Puig is leading the team with a .347 average and 40 runs batted in, but it has become apparent in recent weeks that teams are challenging the 23-year-old less and less as his bat continues to heat up. Until another consistent offensive threat emerges for the Dodgers, it’s likely other teams will pitch around him.
With Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier failing to produce at a consistent level as well, the team has floundered despite having one of the most potent offenses in the league. Too many hitters are not playing up to their potential so far, contributing to an average of just over four runs per game for the team.
The offense earns itself a C- for their inconsistency and lack of timely hits.
The bullpen has been another area of concern for LA, one year after it was a major reason for their emergence as a championship contender.
Of their relievers, Brian Wilson has been one of the biggest underperformers after proving to be a reliable late-inning option last season.
A recent injury to Chris Withrow took away one of the team’s best options this season, meaning veterans Brandon League and Chris Perez will need to step into his role as a shutdown reliever.
League showed promise early in the year, but has struggled with consistency during his time in L.A. Perez used to be one of the premiere closers in the American League as a member of the Cleveland Indians, but has had a rough go of it this year with an earned run average hovering around five.
Several quality starts have been wasted by a poor Dodgers relief core this year, and in an age where pitching wins championships the bullpen has become more important than ever.
A starting rotation that includes perennial all-stars Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke coupled with rising star Hyun-Jin Ryu and veterans Josh Beckett and Dan Haren should yield a much better than mediocre record for the team. Those five have combined for a 27-13 record in 2014, while the team is sitting at 32-31 overall. That means all other pitchers are just 5-18, a horrendous mark for any team to be able to overcome.
With the lack of a shutdown reliever at this point in the season, the Dodgers bullpen earns a D rating so far this year.
If the Dodgers are going to catch up to the Giants in the NL West at any point this season, they will need similar dominant pitching to their division rivals. San Francisco relies on solid pitching and timely hitting, a recipe the Dodgers need to adopt of they will have any postseason success this year.
Simply relying on their starting pitching to win every game is an unreasonable request for the Dodgers, and it is apparent both the offense and the bullpen will need to step up if the team will be playing baseball into October.
The talent is clearly on this roster as evidenced by the highest payroll in all of baseball, but the camaraderie and timely plays haven’t been there yet.
The Dodgers took off in June last year, and Don Mattingly is certainly hoping for a similar spark to ignite a playoff push for the remainder of the season.