Flash back to the final week of August. The Los Angeles Dodgers were 50-plus games over .500 and had already piled up 90 victories, and the conversations were about record-breaking win totals and October parade routes through Los Angeles. Then everything changed.
The Dodgers had lost 11 straight games before snapping the nightmare streak with a 5-3 win in San Francisco on Tuesday. Now, entering Wednesday’s matchup with the Giants (10 p.m. ET on ESPN & WatchESPN), L.A. is just five games ahead of the Nationals for the best record in baseball.
So what has gone wrong? We asked our experts to weigh in.
Which is the real version of the Dodgers: The team that rolled through the first five months, or the team stumbling through September?
David Schoenfield: I’m a total wuss and will cop out on this question: I don’t know! They’re the only team to win 15 of 16 and lose 15 of 16 in the same season. We’re totally influenced by recency bias and they’ve played like the 1962 Mets of late, but they still have the best record in the majors, so I’ll lean in that direction.
Sam Miller: The Dodgers are a great team. They were a very good team on Opening Day, and then they called up Cody Bellinger, who is great, and Alex Wood earned a spot in the rotation, and he turned out to be great; and Chris Taylor broke out as a very good major leaguer. To that, they added Yu Darvish, who is pretty great. And Curtis Granderson, who is a very good major leaguer. Even if I didn’t know that this roster had snapped off the best 50-game stretch in history, and even if I didn’t know that this roster is on pace to win 104 games, or that Baseball Prospectus’ third-order winning percentage says this is one of the 15 or so best teams since 1950, I’d be able to tell they’re great. They’re not so great that we don’t have to bother playing the games, but no team ever is in baseball.
Sarah Langs: I think the real answer lies somewhere in between. We could tell by how overwhelming the stats were — the pace they were on and the numbers they were set to break — that it was probably not sustainable for a full season. Neither is losing over large stretches and notching win streaks not seen by the team since the 1940s. As it stands now, even with the recent slide, their starters’ ERA is top-five in the majors and the bullpen is top-five as well. Not the best, but not near the bottom of the league, where they’ve stood during the stretch.
What’s wrong with the Dodgers right now?
Schoenfield: Everything. When I saw them in New York a few weeks ago and they were still chasing the single-season wins record, I was a little surprised that none of the players I talked to embraced chasing the record. I get that the ultimate goal is to win the World Series, but not caring about the record opened up the possibility that they might lose their edge a bit. Of course, they mostly just haven’t hit well or pitched well.
Miller: Over the past three weeks, almost every player in their lineup has (coincidentally or in some sort of depressing form of emergence) slumped together. That’s why they’ve been losing, though it’s not why they should be worried, or at least a little worried. They should be a little worried because Wood’s velocity is down and he looks a little gassed, because Yu Darvish has been only intermittently dominant this year (both before and after the trade) and because Clayton Kershaw came off the disabled list throwing slower than he did before he went on. Baseball teams are always going to be somewhat at the mercy of their hitters’ hot and cold streaks, and the playoff rotation that the Dodgers built is supposed to be a little bit of a firewall. But currently, it’s not looking like a sure thing, the way it did after the Darvish trade.
Langs: Clutch hitting has eluded the team over this span. They had the fifth-best OPS with runners in scoring position in the first 127 games of the season. Since then, they’re among the bottom few teams in the league in that category. A similar split is evident with two outs. They were second in the majors in OPS with two outs in those first 127 games, but are in the bottom few in that stat since. They have struggling players (such as Justin Turner and Chris Taylor) and pitchers (such as Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda).
How worried are you about the Dodgers’ rotation?
Schoenfield: Two guys. Wood has a 5.10 ERA over his past eight starts, and that lines up with a decline in fastball velocity. When he was throwing 93 mph in the first half and touching 95, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Now he’s throwing 91 and giving up hits and home runs. Darvish, meanwhile, had a great first start, a couple OK ones and now two terrible ones. If there has been a nitpick on Darvish over the years, it’s his fastball command, although sometimes it seems that he nibbles too much. Two starts ago he threw 88 pitches in just three innings.
Miller: Not worried, exactly. They are extraordinarily deep, and their pitchers have been rested throughout the year, so they’re less prone to rotational collapse than most teams. I do think they’re downgraded from what they looked like a month ago. That’s still a good rotation, and it might get back to full strength, and it could carry them through October. Just not the lock it was.
Langs: Concerned. When the Dodgers acquired Darvish at the deadline, the big story was that they now had this super-rotation that could win in any playoff series. How quickly we forget … they had Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the playoffs, and that still didn’t get them a World Series trip, let alone a victory.
How worried are you about the Dodgers’ lineup?
Schoenfield: Does a dog worry about fleas? Let’s admit it, the offense was carried in part for a long time by Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor. Bellinger was probably due for a slump and Taylor had been riding unsustainable BABIP. Even then, this is a good but not great offense, ranking sixth in the National League in runs scored.
Miller: Not at all. Every baseball player slumps. The postseason is still three weeks away. The Dodgers’ lineup is deep, it’s healthy, it’s great on both sides of the ball, and it’s more or less the same dozen guys who were unstoppable for far longer this year than they weren’t.
Langs: Not as worried as I am about the pitching. Corey Seager has been consistent. Yasiel Puig already has a career high in home runs. Justin Turner’s second-half downturn is a concern, but the first-half clip he was at was bound to level off. If he can return to about what he did last season and the year before, that lineup is in pretty good shape.
How many wins will the Dodgers finish the regular season with?
Schoenfield: I’ll go with an even 100, which would still make them the first Dodgers team to reach the century mark since 1974. That was the year Mike Marshall pitched 208.1 innings. What’s the big deal, you ask? They all came in relief.
Langs: 103. They’ll get it together — no team with that much talent can struggle like this for much longer. They’ll get it together and reach 103, which would be third-most in a season in franchise history and the most since they won 105 in 1953 in Brooklyn.
Who will knock the Dodgers out of the postseason (or will they win it all)?
Langs: When you look at how the Dodgers have matched up against the Diamondbacks this year, it’s not difficult to see Arizona winning the wild-card game and then taking down the Dodgers. In 19 games, the Diamondbacks have scored 5.2 runs per game against L.A. this season. The Dodgers have scored just 3.7 per game in those matchups. The Diamondbacks have hit 32 home runs in those games, the Dodgers have hit 18. No team has ever won the World Series after experiencing a regular-season losing streak longer than nine games, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. The history is against the boys in blue.