Not to speak for fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was a bitter World Series defeat last fall. The best Dodgers team of the Clayton Kershaw era finally reached the World Series, and for all the lamenting about Dave Roberts' managing of the pitching staff and Yu Darvish's performance, the team's two best players failed in the biggest moments. Kenley Jansen, the best closer in the game, blew the save in Game 2. Kershaw couldn't hold a 4-0 lead in Game 5. The Astros won Game 7.
With the pain of that defeat still resonating, the Dodgers are off to a lackluster 16-20 start. With Corey Seager out for the season, the team still waiting on Justin Turner's return and Kershaw on the DL with biceps tendinitis, angst in Dodger Nation is flowing high. The concern is understandable: It's been 30 years now since the miracle season of 1988 and the window with peak Kershaw may have passed.
At the start of the season, FanGraphs projected the Dodgers' odds of winning the division at 85.2 percent. Those odds are now at 36.7 percent; the Diamondbacks, with an eight-game lead over the Dodgers, are now the division favorites at 42.5 percent. The Dodgers' chances of making the playoffs have plummeted from 94 percent to 58.2 percent.
It all sets up as a season-long play on the emotions of Dodgers fans: Can the Dodgers return to the World Series or might they miss the playoffs altogether? Do they go all-in at some point -- say, use their deep reservoir of talent in the minor leagues to go after Manny Machado -- or do they stick to their guns, remain below the $197 million luxury-tax threshold and simply let the season play out with the current roster?
A 16-20 start isn't permanently damaging, but in the two-wild-card era since 2012, it's rare for a team to make the playoffs after starting the season below .500 after 36 games. Only six of 60 playoff teams have done so, and none in the past two seasons:
It's also true that the first 36 games provide a decent snapshot of things to come. Our 60 playoff teams combined for a .566 winning percentage in their first 36 games; they combined for a .577 winning percentage the rest of the season.
"I don't think anybody here would use our injuries as an excuse because, to your point, we have the resources in this market, as an organization, to build depth and to have contingencies in place," Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. "We have a track record of doing it. I think it would be disingenuous for us to suddenly say it's different."
That depth has been tested, with guys like Kyle Farmer and Max Muncy receiving playing time and not hitting well. Rookie outfielder Alex Verdugo got a chance to play in the wake of Seager's injury, as Chris Taylor has shifted back to shortstop, but was sent back down when Yasiel Puig returned from the DL. With a lack of power, he's not ready to be a big contributor anyway. Matt Kemp, a player few expected to even make the roster, has actually helped keep the offense afloat with a strong start.
Still, the feeling here is that the team will need another bat, aside from Turner's return to the lineup. Taylor and Cody Bellinger have yet to match their 2017 production, and Puig has yet to homer in 92 at-bats. While the Dodgers can expect more from Bellinger and Puig, Kemp is likely to regress, and you never know how Turner's wrist will respond when he does come back. Aside from all that, they're still down Seager.
Machado would obviously give them the power bat to replace Seager and allow them to move Taylor back to the outfield. Dodgers Nation -- the Twitter account, anyway -- says not to count on a Machado trade. "I think they're going to end up short of all-in, but they will absolutely do something to bolster the squad if it's justified," suggested a recent tweet. "Team just needs to avoid a complete collapse in the meantime and hover around .500 or a few above."
The problem with hovering around .500 is that the Diamondbacks and Rockies look like tough obstacles to climb over. When the Dodgers clawed back from that 15-21 start to win the division in 2013, they took advantage of a weak NL West. The Diamondbacks finished in second at 81-81, while the Padres, Giants and Rockies all finished under .500.
The Diamondbacks are off to a great start -- including an 8-4 mark against the Dodgers -- and have done it even though Jake Lamb and Steven Souza Jr., two of their best hitters, have been sidelined for most of the season. Those two have played just nine games between them, although Souza just returned and Lamb is expected back soon. Paul Goldschmidt is off to a slow start at .227/.357/.414, so there's a good chance the Diamondbacks' offense, which has actually scored fewer runs per game than the Dodgers', improves moving forward.
The Rockies are the team nobody is paying attention to, and when they do, they're still getting it wrong. This is a team with a strong rotation, good bullpen and terrible offense. They absolutely need to upgrade at first base, where Ian Desmond is killing them with a .176/.218/.360 line, and find at least another corner outfielder, with Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra drifting along with sub-.700 OPS figures.
The Rockies are averaging 3.95 runs per game, down from 5.09 in 2017. Put it this way: The Rockies have ranked lower than fifth in the NL in runs just twice in their history -- seventh in their expansion year of 1993 and eighth in 2008. They've ranked no lower than third since 2009. This year, they're 11th. That's how good the pitching has been.
Heck, if any team needs Machado, it's the Rockies, not the Dodgers.
Who wins the NL West? I'm going with the Diamondbacks and that eight-game cushion they've already built over the Dodgers. And Machado? I predict he'll be traded to the Braves.