Only four teams in the National League have a losing record -- an amazing factoid, as that's as many as the American League Central -- and, all told, three of those teams probably saw it coming. The Reds, the Marlins and the Padres all have hopes and dreams and plans,
Only four teams in the National League have a losing record -- an amazing factoid, as that's as many as the American League Central -- and, all told, three of those teams probably saw it coming. The Reds, the Marlins and the Padres all have hopes and dreams and plans, but it is unlikely any of their fans are truly, profoundly shocked by their team being under .500 at this point in the season. There's a bright future for those teams, but it is, alas, their future, not their present.
But the other one, no one saw coming, not least of all its fans. The Dodgers -- the team that came within one win of a World Series title last year, the team that won 104 games in 2017, the team that Sports Illustrated was calling "the greatest team ever" just nine months ago -- are off to a worse start than even their most ardent doubters could have imagined. They entered Thursday 16-20, somehow eight games out of first place in the NL West; that's as many games as the White Sox are out of first in the AL Central, and the White Sox are 9-25.
Everything in Los Angeles is backwards and wrong. Clayton Kershaw is on the disabled list, Corey Seager is out for the year, Kenley Jansen somehow has an ERA over four and the team's best hitter might be Matt Kemp.
Most disturbing, though, has been the play of the D-backs, who have the best record in the NL in large part because they have owned the Dodgers, winning eight of 12 already against them this season. While Los Angeles has been trying to figure out its issues, Arizona has given it no quarter. The D-backs have been relentless, and they have already taken full advantage of every Dodgers misstep. L.A. has no margin for error anymore.
So the Dodgers are eight games out, Seager's done, the D-backs are hot, the Rockies are good again and even the Giants are hanging in there. Dodgers fans should panic, right? Fret not, True Blue loyalists: The Dodgers are going to be just fine. Here's why:
1. They're starting to get healthier
Seager isn't coming back, but the rest of your favorites are. Yasiel Puig returned from his left hip and left foot injuries, and he notched three hits in the Dodgers' 6-3 win over those D-backs. Justin Turner, the team's heart and soul who fractured his left wrist in Spring Training, said he hopes to return for the series in Washington from May 18-20. John Forsythe should be back in a week. And Kershaw started throwing Wednesday, and he believes he can be back by the end of the month, if not before.
When you take Puig, Forsythe, Turner and Kershaw away from a team, they're going to struggle. But they are on their way. Also, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Julio Urias will be back after the All-Star break, if you're counting.
2. They're hitting better than their production suggests
The Dodgers have scored 162 runs, square in the middle of MLB, but it's more a matter of the timing, because individually, there aren't that many hitters struggling all that badly. Almost every regular has an OPS+ of 100 or higher -- 100 represents average -- and Kemp and Yasmani Grandal, in particular, have been excellent. Kemp is actually off to the best start of his career. The Dodgers' worst two hitters have probably been Puig and Forsythe.
As usual, the Dodgers have depth, with solid hitters everywhere. Guys such as Austin Barnes and Joc Pederson get on base constantly, but they still have a hard time getting in the lineup. Eventually, all that depth will pay off, and all those hits will finally happen in the right order. This is an above-average offense, even without Turner. It'll soon be playing like it.
3. The rotation is mercifully just as deep
This is always Los Angeles' magic bullet, that cascading depth, and the rotation has all sorts of options, even with Kershaw and Ryu out. Rich Hill is back, Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood have been steady, Thomas Stripling has filled in nicely and of course, Walker Buehler, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was throwing a no-hitter in his second start when Dave Roberts pulled him. L.A. has had to count on some of these guys a little more than it would have liked thanks to those injuries, but these are better options than most teams have.
4. They're outscoring their opponents
It's not often you see a team four games under .500 after only 36 games that has a positive run differential, but that's where the Dodgers are: They've scored 10 more runs than they've given up, and their Pythagorean record is actually 19-17. Remember, that's without all the players they've been missing. If Los Angeles was 19-17, like it should be, there'd be a lot less freaking out. The Dodgers have had some rough luck in the early going.
5. Jansen is coming back around
In his past seven appearances, Jansen has given up one earned run on six hits with two walks and six strikeouts. He blew through the D-backs on Wednesday, earning the save on just nine pitches. The velocity is still down a little from last year, but it's up from what it was at the begining of the year. Jansen is going to be fine. He already is fine.
6. They're about to play seven games against the Reds and the Marlins
That always helps. There is a non-zero possibility the Dodgers will be back at .500 in a week.
7. They still have the highest attendance in the sport
Six years running. The rough start hasn't stopped the fans from believing.
8. The projection systems still love them
Fangraphs Playoff Odds, despite the Dodgers being eight games out of first, still has them at 36.6 percent to win the NL West and 58.8 percent to make the postseason. That's better odds than, say, the Angels, the team with all the Southern California hype right now. For all the D-backs' excitement, they're only at 43.4 percent to win the division. The Dodgers are lurking, and the numbers show it.
9. They can go get help if they need it
There's a school of thought that Los Angeles will be wary of bringing in, say, a Manny Machado, because the Dodgers want to stay under the luxury tax before next year's big free-agent class. Even if that's true -- and there are all sorts of ways to stay under that tax number -- this is still an active front office that showed at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline -- when it dealt for Yu Darvish (not to mention Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani) -- that it knows how to bring in help in a pinch. The Dodgers are never sitting on their hands.
10. Seriously, Turner is almost back
Turner has been the clear leader in Los Angeles' clubhouse since he got there, famously showing up at Jansen's wedding and talking him into returning to the team. (Though the money helped, too.) Jansen said: "He put this team on his back, and that shows me how special he is. He keeps reminding everybody, you think it's better somewhere else, he reminds you what we have here. ... He came and reminded me that we have this special thing going here, and I needed to hear that. It meant a lot, coming from him, and it makes me a better person, a better player, a better leader."
Turner is the beating heart of this Dodgers team, and he hasn't played a game this year. But he's almost back. L.A. has had as ugly a start as you can imagine. But the Dodgers are still going to be fine. They always are.
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.