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Why Dodgers are in danger of experiencing more playoff heartbreak


Now that federal investigators say they have solved the Mystery of the Missing Millions, Shohei Ohtani can focus entirely on baseball matters.

Such as whether his team can actually win a World Series.

These Dodgers are what they were expected to be — to a degree. Counting Ohtani, they have four of the best hitters in baseball. In Tyler Glasnow, they have a very good pitcher who can be great if he stays healthy.

Those aren’t their concerns. Their problems are in the previously overlooked parts of the roster.

They have an extremely top-heavy lineup. They have an unreliable bullpen. They have a shaky defense.

These shortcomings are why they have dropped three of their five games against the San Diego Padres, including a 6-3 defeat on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers have played one other National League team that was in playoff contention last year, the Chicago Cubs, and were beaten by them twice in a three-game series earlier this month.

This isn’t to say the Dodgers won’t win their division.

They should.

This isn’t to say the Dodgers won’t win 100 games again.

They should be back on pace to do so after their three-game series against the overmatched Washington Nationals this week.

This is about October.

The Dodgers have a great roster, which is why they will wear down the other teams in the NL West during a 162-game regular season.

What’s uncertain is whether they are a great team, which is what they will have to be to win the 11 games required to be crowned World Series champions. The first 18 games of the regular season have raised questions.

Dodgers second baseman Gavin Lux stands in the dugout before a game against the San Francisco Giants on April 1.

Dodgers second baseman Gavin Lux stands in the dugout before a game against the San Francisco Giants on April 1.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“I would say at this point in time, there’s more that’s gone wrong with our club than has gone right,” manager Dave Roberts said.

The Dodgers were in the middle of one of the more bizarre sports scandals in recent memory, as Ohtani discovered that his former interpreter allegedly stole more than $16 million from him.

The bottom of the lineup has been unproductive, as the team’s No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 hitters entered Sunday with a combined .194 average, which was the fifth-worst in baseball. In the loss to the Padres Sunday, those places in the lineup were occupied by Teoscar Hernández, James Outman, Kiké Hernández and Gavin Lux. They were a combined 0 for 13 with two walks.

The bullpen hasn’t been much better, as the combined 4.64 earned-run average of their relievers ranked 22nd in baseball entering the series finale against the Padres.

Reliever Brusdar Graterol landed on the 60-day injured list with shoulder problems. Another prominent reliever, Blake Treinen, broke his ribs after he was struck by a comebacker in an exhibition game. Neither Graterol nor Treinen has pitched this season.

On the bright side, the Dodgers are 11-7.

“I think, to use a tennis analogy, we’re holding serve,” Roberts said.

Roberts pointed to the team’s improved defense, even though the Padres tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth inning on a throwing error by Betts, the former right fielder and second baseman who is now playing shortstop.

“To say where we’re at, whether it’s the standings or the win-loss, that’s a good thing,” Roberts said. “That speaks to the guys in that room.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts high-fives Gavin Lux (9) after a win over the Giants on April 1.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts high-fives Gavin Lux (9) after a win over the Giants on April 1.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Roberts backed the players at the bottom of the order to eventually hit, citing their track records. He’s right. They should. But if their recent playoff disappointments have taught the Dodgers anything, it’s that hitting regular-season pitching isn’t the same as hitting postseason pitching. Will the bottom of their lineup vanish again in October?

The bullpen’s shortcomings have been magnified by the rotation’s issues. With a 3-0 record and 2.25 earned-run average Glasnow looks like an ace. In his most recent start, he struck out 14 batters over seven scoreless innings. However, the Dodgers are still in the process of figuring out what they have in the likes of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, James Paxton and Bobby Miller, who was placed on the injured list. Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw should rejoin the team at some point, but the two former All-Stars are returning from major operations and the team can’t be certain of what it has in them.

If the Dodgers are forced to rely on their bullpen too much, they can once again find themselves in the position they were in on Sunday: With J.P. Feyereisen on the mound in the seventh inning of a tie game. Feyereisen, who didn’t pitch last year as he recovered from a major shoulder operation, loaded the bases and gave up a three-run triple to Jurickson Profar.

“Certainly not ideal,” Roberts said.

With Evan Phillips and Daniel Hudson unavailable on this night because of their recent workloads, what choice did the manager have?

The Dodgers can take solace in the reality they have a foundation like any other team in baseball. Betts is hitting .375 with six homers. Ohtani is batting .338, Freeman .299 and Smith .371. They have something formidable to build on.

But the point is they still have to build. They need some players to play better. They need others to return from injuries. They need to find outside reinforcements at the trade deadline. Otherwise, this October will look like previous ones. The elements for that are in place too.


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