By Casey Boguslaw, Featured Writer
The Los Angeles Dodgers have to be thinking about sending the Chicago Cubs thank you cards for their work this weekend. The Dodgers entered Friday with a slim three game lead over the defending champion San Francisco Giants. The Cubs did their job – actually sweeping a four game series against the Giants. The Dodgers did not return the favor to the Cubs. The Cubs entered Friday three and a half games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates and even with their sweep, still find themselves in the same position. They find themselves there because the Pirates hosted the Dodgers this weekend and swept them as well.
After another loss Monday to the Washington Nationals, the Dodgers are now 11-11 since the All-Star Break and 4-5 since what was a fairly aggressive trade deadline for the franchise. This has to be a disappointment for a team that is built to win a championship now and only furthered that belief with their work before July 31st. Their acquisitions from the trade deadline have been a big part of the slide that the Dodgers are facing. The Dodgers have been one of the best teams in the league at avoiding losing streaks this season and with the Nationals in town, getting back to their winning ways sooner could put a potential playoff rival on vacation this October.
On July 23rd, I tweeted “Really can’t see how any team beats the Dodgers in a playoff series”. Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw were both in the middle of outstanding spans and when those two are your 1-2 in a short series, it’s tough to envision multiple losses. The Dodgers starting rotation had been a strength up to that point but the front office decided to double down at the deadline. Instigated by a few injuries to the rotation, they brought in Mat Latos and Alex Wood to be the 3-4 and make for a great rotation, on paper. Wood has had a few bumps in his transition to his second major league team allowing seven earned in 11.1 innings, not yet earning a win in his two starts. Latos has been arguably worse with seven allowed in 10 innings but his strikeout rate has gone from around eight per inning with the Miami Marlins to only striking out one in his ten innings in a Dodgers uniform. Latos has claimed nerves have gotten to him with his move to the Dodgers and it is his first experience in a playoff race in a few years.
If Latos’ nerves were the worst of the Dodgers problems with their new acquisitions, it may be tolerable but it’s the season long weakness that has seemed to get weaker after the deadline. Going into Monday’s game, the Dodgers bullpen ERA is 4.19, thirteenth in the National League. They are tied for second in the Majors with 17 blown saves, only behind the Atlanta Braves’ 18. Newly acquired Jim Johnson contributed four of those blown saves this year for the Braves and now is contributing them to the Dodgers. In all four of his appearances in a Dodger uniform thus far, he has allowed an earned run. This all climaxed Sunday night with his eight earned run blowup on national television. After a rough 2014 (7.09 ERA, 5.08 FIP) with the Baltimore Orioles, Johnson had seemed to fix his flaws this season with the Braves. Primarily working as a setup man to Jason Grilli, Johnson had performed admirably (2.25 ERA, 3.21 FIP). It hasn’t translated yet to Don Mattingly’s bullpen. Luis Avilan was also added to the bullpen in the Johnson trade, who has performed better but in lesser stakes.
The Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen missed the first few weeks of the season with an injury but has been solid since returning. After that though, it’s been rough for the pen. The acquisitions were supposed to strengthen a weakness but so far it’s only made it weaker. Joel Peralta was having a strong season but since the deadline he has seen his ERA go from 3.78 to 5.40. A bullpen can sometimes be a house of cards and right now it has appeared that the additions to the house have sent it tumbling down.
Don Mattingly hasn’t exactly built up a strong coaching resume in his short career as most believe that the Dodgers should have had more playoff success to this point. He has been criticized for his (mis)management of pitchers, specifically in the playoffs as he has left more than a couple of opportunities to be second guessed. For Dodgers fans, they are hoping that Mattingly is able to find the right balance with a few new ingredients in his bullpen. The starting rotation should remain a strength; the lineup is as strong as anyone (although Howie Kendrick’s injury will require some creativity as well), but it will require strong bullpen management for this team to get to its goal. The new front office put faith in Mattingly this year, a surprise to many, and he will have to show that he has earned that trust. The leash has to be short and the success of the newest Dodgers may determine the future of the entire team.