Coming into the year, the Dodgers were expected to steam-roll their way through the regular season on the strength of an offense that featured All-Star caliber players at every position and a pitching staff fronted by the trio of Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, and Clayton Kershaw.
While their 38-23 record is more than solid, the offense that many predicted would be historically great has been inconsistent as a whole, including some concerning individual performances throughout the lineup. With the Yankees and Mets owning the best records in either league, the question has to be asked: “Are the Dodgers still the World Series Favorites?”
What’s gone right for the Dodgers so far?:
The Dodgers currently own the best starting pitching ERA in the big leagues, despite the contributions coming from unlikely sources. The backbones of the Dodgers rotation this year have been Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson, who both sport perfect 8-0 records. Both were thought to be solid contributors to the rotation this year, but nobody could have predicted the level at which each pitcher has performed.
Gonsolin has blossomed into an NL Cy Young candidate, turning in consistently excellent starts all year. The electric right-hander owns an other-worldly 297 ERA+ and 0.82 WHIP through 12 starts on the year. He has been especially dominant of late, as he is on a streak of six straight starts with at least six innings pitched and no more than two earned runs and four hits allowed.
Tyler Anderson has stepped up big after signing with the Dodgers in the offseason and has produced at an All-Star level. The 32-year-old lefty has induced soft contact at a near-elite level, while riding a bugs bunny changeup that he has thrown more often than his heater. The results have been extraordinary, producing a 150 ERA+ over 67 innings of work.
Offensively, the superstar trio of Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Trea Turner have, for the most part, lived up to expectations. The three have combined to post a 132 OPS+ while hitting out of the top three spots in the Dodgers order. Turner and Freeman have yet to miss a game in 2022, while Mookie has missed only two, providing consistency to a lineup that is hungry for it. Turner and Freeman have yet to produce the power numbers we’ve become accustomed to, but with the alleged new ball being used, that could change in a hurry.
Gavin Lux has developed into a solid everyday player, while Chris Taylor and Will Smith have each been solid contributors as well.
Where are the Dodgers failing to meet expectations?
The Dodger’s offense was supposed to be the strength of this club, an extremely dynamic unit combining power, speed, contact, and discipline. The offense as a whole has been largely disappointing.
Much of this disappointment stems from the middle of the order. The Dodgers currently rank 17th in OPS out of the four-hole, 28th in the five-hole, and 15th in the six-hole.
The trio of Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger have combined to produce a minuscule 76 OPS+ while hitting in the middle of the Dodgers lineup. The struggles of each individual are concerning for different reasons.
Muncy’s return from a UCL tear has not gone as planned. He’s become uber-patient at the plate to the point where he takes driveable pitches seemingly every at-bat. It looks to be a timing/comfortability issue, making him the most likely of the three to return to previous form.
Justin Turner’s age appears to have finally caught up to him. He has to cheat heavily on anything over 95 mph, a clear sign of losing bat speed. The hitting machine he’s been in years past appears to have finally run out of fuel.
Finally, Bellinger’s at-bat consistency has easily been the worst on the Dodgers. He routinely chases while ahead in the count and has times where he doesn’t look like a major league hitter. It’s beginning to look like we have seen the last of MVP or even All-Star Cody Bellinger.
LA’s bullpen currently leads the majors in K/BB ratio and is eighth in ERA, however, untimely performances have plagued them all year as they subsequently lead the majors in blown saves.
Acquired for AJ Pollock in the offseason, Craig Kimbrel has been erratic, sporting a 106 ERA+ and unsightly 1.45 WHIP. He has not stabilized the back-end of the bullpen as the Dodgers had hoped.
The biggest disappointment in the bullpen has been fireballer, Brusdar Graterol. He simply has not taken the step forward that many expected him to take. He is still having trouble missing bats as evidenced by his 7.3 K/9 and 100 ERA+.
Reasons for Optimism
Here are some of the names currently on the injured list for LA who could return this year:
- Walker Buehler
- Dustin May
- Blake Treinen
- Andrew Heaney
- Tommy Kahnle
- Edwin Rios
That is a wealth of All-Star caliber pitching unavailable to a team with the second-best staff ERA in the majors. When fully healthy, the pitching staff can compete with anybody.
The offense as a whole has been difficult to watch at times. Lazy at-bats seem to bleed together and sometimes it feels like if Mookie isn’t hot they can’t score. Despite this, they are fifth in team OPS, second in runs, and first in walks. Not bad for an offense deemed ‘disappointing’.
Their alarming middle-of-the-order production will only improve as the year progresses. The struggles of Muncy, Bellinger, and Justin Turner are certainly concerning, however, the trio has been so bad that it seems the only direction for them to go is up.
It is important to note that Andrew Freidman has been extremely aggressive at the trade deadline during his tenure as the Dodgers general manager. While the starting staff has been excellent as a whole, the health-related questions as it pertains to Buehler, May, and even the oft-injured Kershaw could force Freidman’s hand to acquire a proven starter such as Frankie Montas or Luis Castillo for a postseason run.
Another scenario could present itself if 37-year-old Justin Turner continues to struggle. Despite no Dodger fan wanting to accept it, Turner’s skills have declined at the plate enough to where it wouldn’t be out of the question to downgrade him to a bench role. Look no further than Dodger’s farmhands Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch to fill the role. Both prospects are currently raking in Triple-A and could be ready to make contributions tomorrow if need be.
Are the Dodgers still World Series favorites?
While the Dodgers have been disappointing thus far in 2022, they should still be considered the World Series favorites.
Both the rotation and bullpen have reinforcements on the way to bolster what has already been a fantastic pitching staff.
The lineup is one of the best in the majors despite terrible individual performances from key players.
This team is simply too talented and deep to forecast further offensive struggles as the year goes on. The offense will get better. The pitching staff will continue its dominance. The Dodgers are still the World Series favorites.