Throughout the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers — dating back to their days in Brooklyn — they have always been considered a team that can pitch well. Even in down years, the pitching staff has mostly been a steady force for the club.
Entering the 2023 season, that was expected to continue. The starting rotation was due to feature Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Noah Syndergaard and some promising rookies as depth options. That was combined with a group of talented arms in the bullpen, including Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson.
On the other side of the ball, the Dodgers lineup had questions to answer after losing Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger while replacing them with mostly unknowns and a few steady but unspectacular veterans.
However, throughout the season thus far, it’s been the offense that has kept the Dodgers in playoff position while their pitching staff has struggled and dealt with numerous injuries.
As a team, the Dodgers have a 4.49 ERA, which ranks 21st, placing them among rebuilding teams such as the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and Chicago White Sox, along with some disappointing clubs in the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets.
The Dodgers have led MLB in ERA every season since 2018 when they finished second to the Houston Astros. The last tine they finished outside the top five in team ERA was in 2014, when they ranked sixth. The last time they finished outside of the top 10 was in 2010 when they were 12th with a 4.01 ERA.
Since Dave Roberts was hired as manager prior to the 2016 season, the Dodgers have finished as the best pitching staff four times, the second-best twice and the fifth-best once, which makes the current trend all the more frustrating.
When Roberts was asked if this was the lowest he’s felt with the Dodgers pitching staff, he answered, “Probably, yeah.”
“When you’re trying to get guys opportunities and feel good about their spots, and when you’re in a situation where you don’t know which way to go, it’s frustrating for everyone.”
While the starters have not performed up to their standards, the Achilles’ heel for the Dodgers staff has been the bullpen. Entering play Thursday, they rank last in the National League with a 4.90 ERA, only ahead of the Tigers in MLB.
“It’s very frustrating,” Roberts said. “They’ve got to be better.”
The reasoning for the struggles? “Execution,” Roberts answered. “It’s not workload, it’s not the right lanes or the wrong lanes. It’s they need to be better. Period.”
Roberts has not addressed the relief pitchers as a whole, but he has spoken with them individually. He also believes they have been having conversations among themselves to address their struggles.
There are no obvious replacements within the organization, and teams tend not to begin trading until the middle of July, which makes it hard for the Dodgers to find new options and upgrades for the staff.
“We have to use the guys that we have,” Roberts said. “That’s how we go forward. They’ve got to be better.”
The 2023 MLB trade deadline is Aug. 1, and the Dodgers will surely be on the hunt for upgrades in the bullpen and their rotation. But until then, the current players on the roster will have a chance to prove their case to remain with the team, or find themselves traded, released or optioned.
“They’re very important, because like I said, they’re getting opportunities and as you run them out there, you learn more,” Roberts said.
Dave Roberts frustrated by Dodgers blown lead against White Sox
On Wednesday, the Dodgers took a 4-2 lead into the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox, only to see it fall apart when they gave up six runs over the final two innings.
“Very deflating,” Roberts said after the loss. “Clayton pitched his [behind] off, competed, didn’t have a whole lot as far as stuff, gutted his way through six innings. And in his last inning he had to get five outs. We took a lead and we gave it away.”
Yency Almonte got through a clean seventh inning on just 10 pitches, but he was sent back out to start the eighth. Roberts said he was hopeful Almonte could record two outs before he went to a left-hander, but a double and a homer tied the game.
“When you throw a handful of pitches and then you’re going to go and get two hitters, it’s not two innings,” Roberts said. “Considering what he did, all that stuff, it’s a no-brainer. It just didn’t work out.”
Brusdar Graterol and Evan Phillips were both available, and Roberts considered using them.
“But when you throw four or five pitches, and then you’re going to go out there and get two hitters, I don’t think that’s a big ask,” Roberts explained of sticking with Almonte to begin the eighth.
Alex Vesia ended up replacing Almonte following the blown lead, only to falter himself. Vesia hit Andrew Benintendi, threw a wild pitch, and gave up a single to Clint Frazier, putting the White Sox up 5-4.
With the Dodgers already trailing, Tayler Scott was given the ball in the ninth before he gave up one run following a walk, double and single. He left the game with two on, only to see both those runs score when Victor González gave up a single to make the game 8-4.
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