The Los Angeles Dodgers currently sit just 5 games away from their 81st game of the 2019 season — the true halfway point of the MLB season. Even if they lost every game between now and then to the Rockies, at worst, they would still have a 5 game lead in the division.
It’s indisputable that they’ve been great, arguably the best in baseball. However, as great as they have been, some questions to take this team to another level.
Is bullpen help coming?
Yes, the Dodgers bullpen has been better in the month of June (2.68 ERA in 53.2 IP through Thursday), but overall they’ve been one of the worst. Currently they have the 5th most blown saves in the National League, 2nd worst Inherited Runners Scored Percentage, and are tied for 3rd most losses in relief. They have been called into games with a lead to protect a national league high 134 times, and only 50 of those times have they come in with runners already on base.
Basically, they are being given a lead before the call and usually when the bases are empty — low pressure. Yet, they are either putting runners on that score and blow leads or they are allowing runners to score when they do inherit them. Joe Kelly who was brought on to stabilize the Dodgers relief efforts has perhaps been the worst, but has found some recent success in those low leverage situations. While he has shown inconsistency in the past, the Dodgers shouldn’t be betting their 2019 World Series goals solely on him regaining his 2018 post-season form. A proven relief arm (or two) needs to be added in the second half.
When will Kike start being platooned again?
Everyone loves Kiké Hernández. As the Dodgers super-utility player he brings lots of personality, energy, and exceptional defense. Unfortunately, what he doesn’t bring is consistent offense against right-handed pitching. In 143 at-bats he is slashing just .182/.237/.350 with 43 strikeouts. Against left-handed pitching however, he is slashing .253/.345/.432 with just 18 strikeouts. His defense and versatility is obviously the reason he’s playing everyday. That needs reevaluated in the second half.
With A.J. Pollock due to come back after the all-star break, its going to push true everyday players like Alex Verdugo, to the bench. While Kiké is certainly fan favorite and has a lot of value, he’s not an everyday player. The Dodgers need to prioritize what is best for the team over what they think they owe him. Additionally, reserving Kiké strictly for left-handed pitching, will boost his confidence as this team prepares for another post-season run.
When will Dugie stop being platooned?
Alex Verdugo who has long been stuck in the on-deck circle of the Dodgers farm system, has shown up ready to play in 2019. Given a huge opportunity filling in for the injured AJ Pollock, Verdugo has not disappointed. He is hitting .294/.347/.455 with 5 home runs, 30 RBIs, and is tied for 2nd on the team in doubles with 15.
Perhaps most impressive for the rookie is his poise at the plate. He stays in the zone and doesn’t chase. He has just 26 strike outs in 211 at-bats. Additionally, he has a tranquil approach in high leverage situations. He doesn’t press or try to do too much. He is hitting .291 with runners in scoring position and is currently tied with Justin Turner for most sacrifice flies on the team.
While all things point to a hitter mature beyond his years, he is primarily only starting against right-handed pitching, amassing 145 of his at-bats against them. Ironically though, Verdugo actually hits left-handed pitching better. In 66 at-bats against them he is slashing .348/.392/.515 with 4 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run and 7 RBIs, as opposed to .269/.327/.428 against RHP. While he has more home runs (4), doubles (11), and RBIs (23) against RHP he also more than double the at-bats against them. Verdugo should be in the starting line up every day, his veteran approach and infectious energy are enough to make the case, but the fact that he actually produces results against all pitching makes it a necessity.
When will Will Smith become a permanent fixture on the Dodgers?
The Fresh Prince of Los Angeles, Will Smith made quite the impression when he got his short call up to fill in for an injured Austin Barnes. In the 6 games he played in at the big league level he slashed .286/.348/.619 with 2 home runs and 3 RBIs. Defensively he didn’t commit any errors, threw out 2 of 4 steal attempts, and earned praise from the Dodger staff. His numbers (.287/.397/.592) at AAA Oklahoma City are also on par with his short tenure with with the Dodgers. There doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge for him down there.
Understandably, its about getting regular playing opportunities, but with the Dodgers catchers struggling offensively (until recently anyway) they should really consider giving him more major league at bats in preparation for the post season when the additional offense may be needed. An added bonus for Smith to be at the Big League level would be the invaluable opportunity to mentor under veteran catcher Russell Martin this year as it is likely to be his last in Dodger Blue.
When will the Dodgers switch to a 6-man starting rotation?
The Dodgers starters lead the National League in Quality Starts with 45, and their 5.8 average innings pitched per start is tied for most in the NL as well. What does this mean? It means they are putting a lot of mileage on these arms. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that they’ve been so good, but it may prove detrimental if it causes injury or burn-out by the post season. With Rich Hill down until at least August, now is a good time to spread the workload out over six pitchers. Yes, inserting Julio Urias and Ross Stripling into the starting rotation will add pressure to the bullpen, but often times growth comes out of friction and with the comfortable lead they’ve built in the division, it’s a safer time for that bullpen to do some growing.
Play it safe or supercharge this machine?
This Dodgers team is playing at an elite level and maybe toying with what has been working isn’t wise. Perhaps an “if it ain’t broke” approach is the smart and safe play. However, a car enthusist doesn’t put a supercharger on a broken car, they put it on a car they want improve the performance of. They want to take a good car to the next level. They want to take a car that is capable of winning by inches to a machine that removes any doubt that it will win.