At the end of a disastrous trip, a three-city tailspin, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put on a bold face and predicted to reporters Sunday that his beleaguered team would finish on top of the National League West.
Calling his shot, Roberts said: “We are going to be at the top of this division, and I have no doubt in my mind.”
Roberts is right not to sing the blues, even if he’s wrong in the end. When the narrative turns negative, a leader’s job is to stay positive. Still, the truth is the Dodgers’ recent slump has created several doubts about the reigning World Series champions.
“I think the Dodgers are a big disappointment, not only because of the expectations but also because of the way they started the season,” VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo said.
There is also truth in cliches — it’s a long season, and it’s no time to panic — but nearly six weeks into the six-month marathon, the Dodgers and Yankees, the American League favorites, are far from dominant and struggling to stay above .500.
Hold the Hollywood script on a Los Angeles-New York showdown in late October.
The Dodgers’ slide has been costly to bettors who were riding a hot team out of the gate. The Dodgers opened the season 13-2 to spark memories of the 1984 Detroit Tigers, who started 9-0 and reached 35-5 after 40 games.
“When teams go on streaks, people love to play them every night,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “We know how baseball gets bet. At first, people were betting the Dodgers during that hot start.”
On the recent trip through Milwaukee, Chicago and Anaheim, the Dodgers lost eight of 10. A 5-15 mark in the last 20 games had left L.A. at 18-17 and third in the division.
In last year’s pandemic-shortened season, the Dodgers finished 43-17 for a 71.7 winning percentage that projected to 116 wins in 162 games. Oddsmakers opened the Dodgers’ win total for this season at 104, a number they already seem unlikely to surpass.
Injuries are an excuse. Cody Bellinger, the NL MVP in 2019, has been out since early April with a fractured left fibula, and the outfielder might not return until June. With his sweet left-handed swing, Bellinger is the closest thing in baseball to Roy Hobbs in “The Natural.” He has been missed. An offense that averaged 5.8 runs in 2020 has tailed off to 4.9 per game this season, when the Dodgers have lost a major-league-high 10 games by one run.
Dustin May, a rising star in the rotation, needs Tommy John surgery and is lost for the season. Remember the Dodgers’ unparalleled pitching depth? Tony Gonsolin, Brusdar Graterol, Corey Knebel and David Price are also injured.
The Dodgers were favored in 34 of their first 35 games — they closed as small underdogs in a 3-1 loss to the Brewers on April 30 — and had lost five times as favorites of -200 or more.
“It could take 60 games before some teams get on track,” Magliulo said. “The expectation is the Dodgers will turn things around.”
The Dodgers must solve shortcomings in the bullpen, but their top four starters — Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias — combine to rank among baseball’s best. The time to start a turnaround could be now as L.A. opened a nine-game homestand Tuesday night against the Mariners, with the Marlins and Diamondbacks on deck.
Meanwhile, the Giants (21-14) and Padres (19-16) led the West. The Dodgers are 3-4 against San Diego and have yet to play San Francisco.
“I doubt the Giants can continue a season like this,” Avello said. “It will end up being a two-team race with the Dodgers and Padres.”
The Yankees, currently -125 favorites to win the AL East after opening -175 at BetMGM, did not expect to be chasing the rebuilding Red Sox in the division race. Boston (22-14) is on pace to fly over its preseason win total of only 79. The Yankees, 18-16 after a 5-10 start, had a win total of 95.
“The Red Sox are the biggest surprise in the league,” Magliulo said. “The Yankees are either feast or famine at the plate, but it’s a team capable of going on a run.”
Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres had one home run in 120 at-bats, and first baseman Luke Voit, last year’s MLB home run king, is set to debut this week after offseason knee surgery.
“I think the Yankees have got a few issues, and the bats have not really started to come around yet,” Avello said. “The Yankees are a team that just needs time to get going. I would think when it’s all said and done, the Yankees will finish 20 games over .500. Are they good enough to win it all? I don’t know.”
Oddsmakers are well aware it’s a long season and it’s no time to panic, so the top two teams on DraftKings’ World Series odds board remain the Dodgers (+ 325) and Yankees (7-1).
“You don’t get too crazy,” Avello said. “You make some adjustments, but there’s no reason to move odds on many teams in the first 30 games of the year.”