Dodgers: Positives from a Slow and Painful Start

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 08: Kenley Jansen
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 08: Kenley Jansen /

2018 has been a painstaking affair for the Dodgers so far. Games have been long, frustrating, and basically how every team felt when playing against the Dodgers in 2017. Still, just like not everything can go well not everything has gone bad. There are some positives within this storm of a start that point to potential success.

So far, the only two positives for the Dodgers on paper have been the pitching and defense. The Dodgers are sixth in the league in ERA, with starters earning a 2.42 ERA which is third-best. Discarding Logan Forsythe’s rare three-error game, the Dodgers as a team have only made two errors. The offense has been the Achilles heel which has cost several close games and made the bullpen look bad.

They will fall

Despite an egregious start on paper, the offense hasn’t been as bad as it seems. They’ve been shutout for 18 innings, almost no-hit twice, and haven’t blown anyone out except the last two games of the opening series. Hitters have been hitting the ball hard and mustering good at-bats, the hits are just not falling.

Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig’s seasons are symbolic of the Dodgers offense. After hitting the ball on the screws all series, Puig dumped one into shallow center field for his lone hit in a 2-1 win over the Giants to snap a four-game losing streak. Following the hit, Puig sheepishly grinned knowing that out of all the hard hits, that’s the one that boosts his average.

After Bellinger led off the tenth with a double, Chris Taylor had the opposite reaction. His mission was to hit the ball to the right side to get Bellinger over to third. He put together a fantastic at-bat, staring off some close pitches that were very resembling of the Dodgers 2017 approach. He finally got one over the plate to smack into right, but the ball magnetically found itself in Joe Panik’s glove.

That has been the Dodgers offensively this season. However, hitting is both contagious and cyclical. The offense is struggling for runs right now, but soon they will come in bunches. The at-bats in Sunday’s win is evidence that the hits are right around the corner.

No velo, no worries

There have been concerns with drops in velocity from Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen. It’s obvious that without these two going full speed, the Dodgers aren’t good enough. But does velocity have much to do with that?

The answer is no for both of them. For Kershaw, this is a blessing in disguise. Last year, he gave up a career-high in home runs and couldn’t rely on his curveball. A potential reason for that is because he relied on throwing hard too much. His slider flattened out, and his fastball could only be located in one spot–inside to righties.

The drop in velocity has forced Kershaw to pitch with all four of his pitches. Yes, four. The league knows Kershaw has a fastball, curve, and slider, but the drop in velocity has sliced a differential between his slider and cutter. Evidence of Kershaw’s brilliance has been his three starts, in which he’s only allowed one run in each.

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Kershaw no longer relies on a hard fastball/slider combo on the third base side of home plate, which made him so successful 2011-today. Old habits made him successful, but also predictable. He has now opened up the first base side of the plate, which has thrown off hitters even more. It also makes his curve ball more deceptive. The drop in velocity allows him to ease it in there rather than spike it or yank it across his body.

Reaching 30 and an option in his contract, this is a make or break year for Kershaw. As he climbs in age, he needs to be craftier than ever. That may produce an even greater Kershaw than we’ve seen. To put it in perspective, Kershaw has had this much success with hitters knowing what’s coming.

Kenley Jansen’s early struggles have been the one concern pitching-wise for the Dodgers. Not having an automatic save in the back of the bullpen throws everything off. His struggles have not been because of the drop in velocity though.

Jansen’s effectiveness has not been because he throws 97 mph. It’s because of the deceptive way he throws the ball and the natural cutting action he gets. Jansen hides the ball so well and has a long stride which makes his fastball look 97 when it’s around 93. So whether he’s throwing 93 or 90, as long as he has his deception and movement, he’ll still be the premier closer.

The reason for his struggles as Orel Hershiser pointed out, is a nagging hamstring on his right leg. That forces Jansen to spin out quicker, which shows the ball sooner and flattens the ball over the plate. Luckily, Jansen’s last two outings have resembled his former-self, and a few pitches have touched 94 mph. After only mustering one strikeout in his first three outings, he struck out the side on Sunday.

Next: Toles is not the Dodgers offensive savior

The Dodgers are on the wrong side of a 3-6 start. Two of those losses came in extra innings, and two were 1-0 shutouts. Once the hits start to fall, the wins will come. One more positive thing to take into Oakland, Kyle Farmer still kills the Giants.