DENVER -- Nothing, it seems, causes more panic -- or creates a false sense of security – like the first week of the baseball season.
Hot streaks are praised. Cold streaks are scorned. It's sort of like judging the success of vacation based on the drive to the airport for the flight there, but it is all we have for the time being and the early results are the only ones that can be judged.
And so it is with the Los Angeles Dodgers' offense, which seemed like it couldn’t touch left-handed pitching last season and had given off a similar scent at first blush this year.
Except what really seems to be happening is that the Dodgers' offense simply has yet to form an identity. It hasn’t picked a lane.
Ask the subjects themselves and the Dodgers say they like this offense. The consensus is that the club will indeed hit left-handers better than it did last season. It’s a hard point to argue. The offense was historically bad against lefties last year, so there really is just one direction to go.
On Sunday, the Dodgers went on the attack against an opposing left-handed starter, after faltering against one a couple other times in the early season. The Dodgers scored five runs off Rockies starter Tyler Anderson in five innings, adding four walks into the mix as well. Anderson has never allowed that many in a big league start.
“I don’t think that’s anything we’re worried about,” Corey Seager said about facing left-handers. “We’re going to grind whether it’s a lefty or a righty. So it’s come out and win that game that day.”
Seager did his part with a multi-hit game to go with two RBIs and two runs scored. Five Dodgers had at least two hits on a day the club collected 15 hits total.
“That was a good day for us,” he said. “It wasn’t all hits, even though we had a lot of hits. We extended some innings with walks and stuff and extended innings like that. It was productive and that’s what you’re looking for.”
When judging the Dodgers’ attack against Anderson alone, progress has indeed been made. In three starts (19.2 innings) against the Dodgers last season, Anderson gave up just four runs.
Before the game, manager Dave Roberts expressed more confidence for his hitters, perhaps sensing what was to come.
“Well, I think that with the track records, I think we know who we are as an offense,” Roberts said. “I think that against left-handed pitching probably we’re better than we were last year. I really believe that. I know we will be better this year. I know we will score runs.”
The Dodgers were dead last against lefties last year in batting average (.213), on-base percentage (.290), slugging percentage (.332) and, of course, OPS (.622). Since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, only five major league clubs posted a worse cumulative batting average over a season. And of any team to make the playoffs in the past 100 years, that .213 mark against lefties was the worst.
So while, yes, it technically is early, a slow start against lefties with nearly an identical roster to last season's sure seemed cause for concern.
Taking into account the early part of the season, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was asked when exactly is the time to get a read on what kind of offense the club has.
“I don’t know how to answer that exactly, but we are far away from that point in time,” Friedman said. “My sense is, like we do most years, we get to the end of April and we kind of assess the first month. And some things it’s more noise and some things are more systemic and need to address. I really don’t expect that to be the case.”
There are a number of reasons Friedman thinks the Dodgers will be better against lefties, and it’s not just because it will be harder to do any worse. The club went out and acquired Logan Forsythe and Franklin Gutierrez to assist with the problem. They were confident Justin Turner was a far better hitter against lefties than what he showed last year. And they are also sure Scott Van Slyke and Enrique Hernandez can help the cause when asked as well.
“Against lefties, I know what happened last year and I know our first two games, so I get the narrative and the conversations about it,” Friedman said. “But I am confident that when we look up six weeks from now, eight weeks from now, that won’t be the narrative.”
Forsythe had three hits with two runs scored as he gave the Dodgers a look at how he can help with the problem. He also emerged from a slow start at the plate.
“I know these guys and I know they are going to hit left-handed pitching,” Forsythe said. “Maybe it was just a thing last year. You have to look at all the variables. Maybe the lefties they faced last year had some really good games. I think there are some intangibles that come with that. Maybe not batting average, but you look at quality of at-bats, trying to wear down a guy get to their bullpen. I think that is what this team will do.”
Justin Turner has insisted the Dodgers will be fine against lefties, and he got things going in the first inning with a two-run double. So does Turner want to give those asking a hearty “I told you so”?
“Nope, you guys can write it all on your own,” he said with a grin.
While Sunday’s results against the Rockies’ Anderson were promising, the Dodgers will get a stern lefty test this week in Chicago. They will face both Jon Lester and former Dodger Brett Anderson in the series at Wrigley Field.
Lester, who will start for the Cubs on Monday, started Games 1 and 5 for the Cubs in October’s National League Championship Series. The Cubs won both games. Over two postseason rounds last year, the Dodgers went 0-3 in games started by left-handers and batted .195 against lefties.
“I think every year there is always talk that if a team gets off to whatever start they get off to there is talk about the identity or how this team is going to do, but our guys, we’re going to hit, we’re going to score runs,” Roberts said. “So on the offensive side, I’m not too concerned.”
The Dodgers will press on knowing they aren’t as good as their best day and certainly aren’t as bad as their worst day. And that goes for the days they face lefties as well.
“I do think that is the case,” Friedman said. “You know what, I do think we are stronger against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching, but I would rather it [be] that way. If you have to be stronger on one side over the other I’d rather it be lefties. But I do think we have a talented group of guys to help us combat left-handed pitching as well and I am confident that will play out that way.”