Is the Dodgers' worst losing skid in 5 years cause for concern?

'We’re not getting it done'

Following the Los Angeles Dodgers' 3-1 loss to the Reds on Saturday, the middle game of a surprising sweep suffered in Cincinnati, Mookie Betts chuckled at the notion that teams overloaded with star talent should be less vulnerable to an extended stretch of losing like the one the Dodgers are currently enduring.

“That’s what a sheet of paper says,” Betts said. “That’s not how the game goes. The game has to be played. You don’t know how guys are feeling or what’s going on with guys. The sheet of paper will say, yeah, we’re talented … But the game is gonna determine. … We’re not getting it done.”

Betts is right. On paper, the Dodgers shouldn’t be swept by a reeling, last-place Reds team (24-30) they just took three of four off of a week earlier in Los Angeles. On paper, a lineup with three MVPs atop it and several accomplished hitters behind them shouldn’t struggle to score runs to the degree the Dodgers have over the past few weeks (3.09 runs per game in the past 11 contests, a stark decline from the 5.4 mark posted over the season’s first 44 games). On paper, a team this loaded shouldn’t lose five games in a row (two to the Diamondbacks, three to the Reds). But here the Dodgers are.

They'll attempt to break that losing skid on Monday, when they play a doubleheader against the also struggling Mets (22-30) in New York.

If five consecutive losses doesn't sound like a lot, consider the fact that the Dodgers hadn’t lost more than four games in a row since Betts was acquired before the 2020 season. The most recent skid of this length came when the Dodgers dropped six straight in April 2019, a season in which Los Angeles went on to win 106 games. In 2018, the Dodgers dropped six straight in mid-May to fall to 16-26 — 16-26!!! — before rallying to 92 wins, another division title and, eventually, an NL pennant. An 11-game losing streak in September didn’t stop the 2017 Dodgers from winning the NL West by a mile and nearly winning it all as well.

Though only a handful of the players from those rosters remain on the 2024 squad, each of those examples is a reminder of how high a standard this organization has set over the past decade and, in turn, a reason not to bet against the Dodgers’ ability to turn this around in short order.

Many great teams across the league have spiraled in the summer months and paid the price, costing themselves the chance to compete in October. But the Dodgers’ unparalleled track record of recent regular-season excellence is rooted in part in their ability to withstand and overcome the rare difficult periods. In this era of Dodgers baseball, never has a regular-season cold stretch managed to actually derail an eventual trip to the postseason, no matter how bad things have looked at times.

The Dodgers are struggling to score runs lately, but star players such as Mookie Betts aren't the problem. It's the bottom of the lineup that has gone ice cold. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
The Dodgers are struggling to score runs lately, but star players such as Mookie Betts aren't the problem. It's the bottom of the lineup that has gone ice cold. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

While that context is crucial, it’s not to imply that the 2024 Dodgers are without flaw. Even after a billion-dollar offseason in which the ultra-aggressive front office appeared to raise both the floor and the ceiling of the roster, red flags remain regarding the meager bottom half of the lineup and the wavering depth of the bullpen. Losing closer Evan Phillips and third baseman Max Muncy to the injured list earlier this month has unquestionably contributed to this ugly run, forcing manager Dave Roberts to mix-and-match in the later innings with less-than-stellar options while the pitiful production from the bottom of the order has proven more problematic in Muncy’s absence. It’s not that Gavin Lux (.542 OPS), rookie Andy Pages (.652 OPS), Chris Taylor (.338 OPS), Enrique Hernandez (.555 OPS) or the recently demoted James Outman (.516 OPS) are expected to keep up with the sky-high performances of Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman. But there is a level of pressure on them to not be so bad that the advantage of having such a powerful top three is undercut.

“I think it comes with the nature of having a top-heavy, star-laden top end,” Roberts said Friday before the series in Cincinnati began. “But I do think that those guys at the bottom, outside of probably Miguel Rojas, are just underperforming. And that's on them as well. So I think that it is relative, but I still believe that they know they should be better.”

No longer can you point at the calendar and shrug “it’s early.”

“I think now's the time that guys have had enough at-bats, there needs to start being some adjustments,” Roberts said Friday.

With the bottom four spots in the order going a combined 0-for-24 across Saturday and Sunday’s games, patience might be waning.

Standings-wise, though, the Dodgers remain in sufficiently sturdy position atop the NL West, with a 33-22 record. As L.A. scuffled in Cincinnati, the rival Giants squandered an opportunity to sweep the Mets by blowing a ninth-inning, two-run lead on Sunday in Queens. San Diego dropped a series at home to the Yankees; Arizona did the same against the lowly Marlins. The Dodgers’ five-game lead remains the second-largest of any division leader in MLB, narrowly behind Philadelphia’s surprisingly substantial lead over Atlanta through nearly two months of play.

While the Dodgers' lead has been helped by the fact that the teams chasing them have struggled to catch fire in any meaningful way, it’s also indicative of how well the Dodgers were playing out of the gate. Even amidst this cold stretch, we’re talking about a team with a .600 winning percentage one-third of the way through the season. It’d be one thing if the current iteration of the team had yet to demonstrate its tremendous potential, but that’s certainly not the case. We’ve seen this team look as advertised, and as long as the core superstars on both sides of the ball remain healthy, it’d be foolish to expect this lull to sustain much longer.

On June 7, the Dodgers will arrive in the Bronx for a highly anticipated showdown with the Yankees. Should Los Angeles find its stride again before then, that series is primed to be one of the best of the year, with whispers of “World Series preview” practically an inevitability. If they don’t and their divisional lead continues to shrink, perhaps some tougher questions will need to be asked. But with the Mets, Rockies and Pirates lined up as L.A.'s next three opponents, a return to powerhouse form over the next couple of weeks feels more likely.

At least, that’s what the sheet of paper would say.