Just like in any other sport, Major League Baseball has its short list of teams that annually are expected to compete for division titles, league pennants, and World Series championships. Among those teams are the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that consistently qualifies for the postseason (including three straight appearances entering this season), yet have failed to win the NL pennant in nearly 30 years. This season, the Dodgers are expected once again to chase a championship, but several things may keep them from even reaching the playoffs.
It’s not to say that LA has had a terrible start to the 2016 campaign or anything. In fact, the Dodgers own a record of 20-19 through 39 games played — keeping pace with the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. The team also recently came off a solid stretch against the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals, winning four out of seven against two NL contenders. That’s a good early season start for any team, but there are still plenty of reasons to believe that the Dodgers will slip out of the postseason come October.
With some stiff competition in their own division, deficiencies on offense, and questions on the mound, here are three things that will keep LA sitting at home at the end of the regular season.
3. Competition in the NL West
By popular measure, the Dodgers are supposed to win the NL West this season. It’s a feat that they’ve accomplished in each of the past three seasons and with a strong roster still on hand, you won’t find a lot of people picking against LA in the division. However, with the presence and poise of the Giants and a potential sleeper contender in the Colorado Rockies, LA won’t have an easy time walking away with the division crown in 2016.
San Francisco looks strong this season as they chase their fourth World Series title of the decade (you can hardly take two steps without some Bay Area fan reminding you that it’s an even-numbered year). The Giants beat the Dodgers in three out of four games during their first series of the season and always seem to bring their A-game against their arch-rival. With talent on offense ranging from Buster Posey to Hunter Pence, the Giants have scored the sixth most runs in baseball through 40 games played. On the mound, they have a solid trip of starters in Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, and Madison Bumgarner to support their efficiency at the plate. The Giants aren’t going anywhere and will make a fourth consecutive division title difficult for the Dodgers.
As for the other teams in the NL West, the Rockies might have the best chance to make things interesting in the division. This is a team that hits the ball better than most, with a legitimate MVP candidate in Nolan Arenado leading the charge. While the pitching in Colorado is still mostly horrendous, the play of Tyler Chatwood is inspiring hope that the team can stay competitive throughout the season. After a recent sweep of a strong team in the Mets, it may be time to start taking the Rockies seriously as a threat to both the Giants and Dodgers.
If LA can’t win their own division, it may be impossible for them to reach the postseason as a wildcard team. With the Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Mets, Nationals, and other strong teams vying for the four other playoff spots, the room is too crowded for the Dodgers to expect to make the playoffs if they fail to come out on top in the NL West.
2. Lack of offense
On paper the Dodgers have plenty of hitters that can produce runs and keep the pressure off their pitchers. Whether it’s Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, or exciting rookie Corey Seager, the talent is there in the lineup to be effective. However, the numbers simply haven’t supported that talent to this point in the season, raising questions about their ability to win games at the plate.
Seager leads the team in almost every offensive category, but his .293 average with six home runs and 20 RBI wouldn’t lead several other teams in the game. They aren’t hitting enough home runs (23d in baseball), have a less than desirable team batting average (20th), and could stand to score more as well (12th). With consistent offenses in the NL, like Colorado and San Francisco, the Dodgers’ relatively mediocre offensive output could hurt them down the line, especially if their pitching isn’t dominant.
1. Strength of the rotation
LA has one of the better rotations in baseball, owning the seventh best team ERA in the game at this point. With ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw continuing to do his thing and the emergence of Kenta Maeda, the top of the rotation for the Dodgers looks almost as good as it did last season — when Zack Greinke called LA home. Their bullpen is also decent, but the thing that might hold back the Dodgers’ staff is their second-tier starters.
Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, and Scott Kazmir make up the final three starters in the Dodgers’ current five-man rotation. None of those guys own an ERA below 4.00 and all have been wildly inconsistent on the mound. Kazmir is the most disappointing of the bunch, as he was brought in to offset the loss of Greinke in the offseason. There is still plenty of time for these pitchers to turn their seasons around, but if they can’t, the effectiveness of Kershaw and Maeda won’t matter. The Dodgers must pitch well most nights if they want to win enough games to make the playoffs. As of now, it doesn’t look like that’ll happen.