The Dodgers were widely considered the best team in baseball when the season began. After all, they won the World Series after a thoroughly dominant 2020 campaign and this winter added the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. Then, they jumped out to a 13–2 record to start the season, confirming the hype was for real.
That is, until they slipped. Injuries mounted and some key players underperformed. Los Angeles is 7–15 since its 13th win. Should we be worried about the Dodgers? Sports Illustrated's MLB experts weigh in.
Welcome to the year after winning the World Series. Nineteen consecutive teams could not defend their title, the longest streak since the Fall Classic began. But don’t worry about the Dodgers until we get to October. This team is relentless on offense because it does not chase. It forces pitchers into the strike zone and then pounces.
To beat Los Angeles, you better have pitchers with elite stuff who can get misses in the strike zone, which is why the Darvish-Snell-Musgrove trio in San Diego (.231 average in zone) and the Woodruff-Burnes-Peralta (.172) trio in Milwaukee are so formidable.
The one area the Dodgers should be concerned about in the near term is their bullpen. Injuries (Corey Knebel, David Price, Brustar Graterol) have turned this into an ordinary group that doesn’t have the same efficiency and power of their bullpen last year. The Dodgers entered play Thursday with a bullpen strikeout-to-walk rate that was the third worst in baseball (1.86). Last year it was second best (3.44). Kenley Jansen is featuring a very good cutter/sinker combination, but his 14 walks in 14 games are alarming, especially for a guy who doesn’t hold runners well.
I'm not terribly concerned. This is still the most talented team in baseball. The Dodgers' struggles have been caused more by injuries than by ineffectiveness, and the cavalry will return at some point. The bigger issue is how well the Giants have played and how good the Padres are. San Francisco probably isn't a real threat to win the division, but San Diego is, and Los Angeles can't un-lose these games. It could be a tighter September than the Dodgers expected. Still, they are going to make the playoffs, and once they get there, they're better equipped than anyone else to succeed.
I'm not terribly concerned. Yes, it's been a brutal three weeks, but they've played better than their record indicates—they still have the best run differential in the National League! (Even if you concern yourself only with the meat of their losing stretch, dropping 15 of 22, they've been outscored by just one run; that's not ideal, obviously, but it's not proof of a team going completely off the rails, either.) While it's awful to lose a pitcher like Dustin May, most of their other current injuries either have good outlooks for the short term or are to less crucial members of the roster. (And they have more than enough depth to go forward, anyway.) The bullpen hasn't looked great, but it's not broken, and there's not an overarching structural or managerial issue in there that strikes me as particularly worrying. The Dodgers are still a very (very!) good team. They're just suffering through one bad stretch.
The Dodgers have been unlucky so far, with a 1–6 record in extra innings and a league-high 10 losses in one-run games (only the Marlins have even eight one-run losses, and 21 teams have five or fewer). They still have the NL's best run differential (+40) and a MLB-high 96% chance to make the playoffs, per FanGraphs, with the league's second-highest World Series odds (16.8%), behind only the Yankees. They are certainly still very good.
But as the defending champions with baseball's highest payroll, this is a World Series or bust team. And in that context, I'm quite concerned they won't meet those expectations. Los Angeles finally seems to be scraping the bottom of its organizational depth on offense, with the latest reinforcements not consistently cutting it. They're now behind the Mets and White Sox among the list of divisional favorites, with a 62.7% chance to win the NL West. The Padres already have shown this season they have what it takes to match them at their best, and the emergence of the Giants further muddles the odds of L.A.'s being able to skip the wild-card game. The Dodgers still have the top-to-bottom talent to be the favorites in any given series, but anything can happen in a winner-take-all game—especially considering the NL's imposing group of potential wild-card starters.
Your level of concern should depend on your preseason expectations for the Dodgers. If you expected them to win the World Series, then you better be worried. Sure, they added Trevor Bauer to their already elite rotation and most of their championship roster was returning, but it's incredibly hard for World Series winners to defend their title. Just look at how that's gone for teams over the last two decades.
Speaking of how defending champs have fared the last 20 years, only five of them have even won the division in their title-defense season. There's a lot of pressure to repeat, and the other teams within the division usually improve to try to contend the following year (Hello, Padres).
All this said, I am concerned not because I picked them to win the World Series this year (I didn't), but because of what their performance this year means for them beyond it. As Will said above, their organizational depth on offense is finally thinning. The Bauer contract will handcuff how much they can spend in the offseason, when Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw are free agents. Cody Bellinger stands to earn raises through arbitration entering the next two years before he becomes a free agent after the 2023 season. They will have some difficult decisions to make these next few years, regardless of where they finish this season. What we're seeing now could be the beginning of the end for baseball's most dominant organization over the last 10 years—and that's concerning.
Not too concerned. For all the doom and gloom in Dodgerland, this is still a team that has the highest run differential in the National League and ranks among the top five in hitting and pitching WAR. Injuries have played a critical role in the team's early-season struggles, with Bellinger's absence and May's season-ending surgery having the biggest impact. The four starting pitchers who have been able to stay healthy—Kershaw, Bauer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías—have all been excellent, and they project to be particularly lethal for opposing hitters to deal with in a playoff series. This team was projected for big things in 2021 for a reason, and their depth of talent rivals any other in the league. Expect the panicked cries from Chavez Ravine to die down by the All-Star break.
It’s probably pretty foolish to be concerned about the Dodgers unless these struggles continue through June.
Los Angeles is just three games back in the NL West entering Friday, and Bellinger should return to the lineup by the end of the month. This is still a dominant rotation even with May out. Mookie Betts should regain his All-Star form sooner than later. Perhaps the Padres knock off the Dodgers in October, but that was already a possibility before Los Angeles’s early-season struggles. They remain the favorite to win the National League, even if our preseason expectations were a bit out of control.