It’s not yet September, but the Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the National League is already down to 15.
The Rangers’ best record is eight games in charge.
And, despite a possible push for MLB’s all-time wins record of 116, there doesn’t seem to be much drama left in the Dodgers’ remaining regular season slate.
New York’s three-game series against the Mets that begins Tuesday should be a rare exception.
Despite the Dodgers being eight games out of the National League’s top playoff seed, the Mets may be the biggest challenge they could face in their pursuit of the pennant, thanks to a team versatile and extremely heavy duty parking staff.
“I’m looking at him as a potential opponent down the road,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s going to be a fun series.”
Ahead of the three games in Queens, here are five takeaways on where the Dodgers stand.
Chris Taylor’s ‘scary’ strike problem
The Dodgers had plenty of feel-good stories this year.
Right now, Chris Taylor is not one of them.
In the first year of a four-year, $60-million contract, the utility man has battled injuries, inconsistent production and, most recently, a skyrocketing strikeout rate that has plagued Roberts.
“The strikeout rate, the swing and miss rate is scary,” Roberts said. “I know he’s not trying to swing and miss, trying to reach. But I think I feel confident in running it more consistently, it’s just getting better. And I know he understands that too.”
Taylor, who turned 32 on Monday, has always had a swing and a miss in his game, with a career strikeout rate of 28.6%. But usually, it is palatable, balanced by reasonable power and a consistent ability to still do business.
This year, however, their numbers are spiraling in the wrong direction.
On the season, his strikeout rate is 36.6%, the highest among hitters with 350 plate appearances. Since returning from a broken leg earlier this month, he has struck out 30 times in 73 at-bats. During the four-game series at Miami that ended Monday, Taylor went two for 12 with six strikeouts, dropping his batting average to .227.
It coincided with other statistical declines as well.
His .394 slugging percentage is on pace to be the lowest full-season mark of his Dodgers tenure. His .307 on-base percentage is tied for the second-lowest of his entire career.
“It’s kind of like that [a struggle] all year,” Taylor said. “But it’s been a little bit tougher lately.”
Roberts said, for now, Taylor will continue to get consistent at-bats, in hopes that he can work through mechanical issues that the manager believes are at the root of the problem.
“It’s certainly not for lack of trying,” he said. “I hope it works through.”
But, Roberts also warned, “If you’re not getting that [consistent power and contact] and the strike rate spikes, it’s just hard to stomach. So some level of consistent contact is what we’re all looking for.”
Taylor admitted that he was “missing balls that I don’t usually miss.” He also admitted that although it was much easier throughout his life, this slump is getting worse.
However, he’s still optimistic about a turnaround, drawing comparisons to last year when he slumped for a stretch of the regular season before becoming one of the Dodgers’ standout performers in the postseason.
“It happens every year when you go through phases,” he said. “This year, it’s a little bit more than in past years. But it’s not like a new feeling.”
The clock is ticking to figure it out.
A possible playoff preview in New York
Roberts did not shy away from the possibility of facing the Mets in the postseason. Therefore, he noted that a strategic final might be in place to hide information in case the teams meet in the playoffs.
“I think you’re facing a different league, in the sense that it’s a team you could see in October,” Roberts said. “I try to keep that in mind when I’m looking at tendencies and what guys are doing, then take what you get as a cross check.”
When asked if he might try to avoid specific matchups this week that could come up in October, Roberts smiled.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “Perhaps.”
The Dodgers already know who will face them this week (Taijuan Walker on Tuesday, Jacob deGrom on Wednesday, Chris Bassitt on Thursday) and who they won’t (Max Scherzer was pushed back a day and will lose in front of his old team).
The Dodgers still have one big pitching decision to make, and their starter for Thursday has yet to be announced.
While it appears that Clayton Kershaw could return to the injured list that day, Roberts did not rule out the possibility that Dustin May could start the rest of the regular season in the final series instead.
Trayce Thompson’s back splits
When the Dodgers traded for Trayce Thompson in June, they hoped the right-handed hitter could be a weapon against left-handed pitching.
So far, he has done the opposite.
In what was a breakout performance from the 31-year-old journeyman slugger, Thompson has had the most success against right-handed pitching – something he struggled with earlier in his career.
Thompson is batting .354 against righties with six home runs and a 1.123 OPS. Against lefties, he is hitting .172 with one home run and a .555 OPS.
Thompson hasn’t offered much explanation for the extreme splits, saying last week that he feels comfortable against either-handed pitchers.
Roberts hasn’t found a reason either.
“I think we’re all in awe of it,” Roberts said. “I think the numbers against the left will correct a little bit. And I hope that the numbers compared to the right are not self-righteous either. It doesn’t matter, when it’s in there I feel good. He deserves some opportunities, so I’m trying to get him in when I can.”
Trea Turner’s 1,000th win
Trea Turner is hoping his 1,001st hit will look nicer than his 1,000th on Monday night.
In a milestone moment, Turner reached the 1,000-hit career plateau on an infield single that set up the Dodgers’ final winning run in the 10th inning.
With the ball in his locker postgame, he laughed at the play, a dribbler up the third base line that gave him enough time to race to safety at first, before thinking about what it meant to his eight-year career.
“I think I was really looking forward to it, because my parents were here and my dad was counting down, so it’s good to get it in front of them,” Turner said. “I’d love to do that, but hopefully a lot more in the tank.”
With two hits Monday, Turner kept pace with teammate Freddie Freeman in the race for the MLB hitting leader. Freeman currently leads the majors with 163 hits. Turner is second with 161.
Trainer coming back
The Dodgers will likely get one bullpen boost this week, with Blake Treinen on track to return to the lineup Friday after missing more than four months with a shoulder injury.
During a rehab assignment with triple A Oklahoma City this week, Treinen pitched in back-to-back games for the first time, bouncing back from a two-run, three-hit, one-out slugger to pitch a scoreless inning in the second . appearance – during which his fastball averaged over 97 mph.
Treinen is scheduled to make one more rehab appearance Tuesday before coming off the injured list. He has allowed two earned runs while striking out six and walking one in five innings over six appearances during the rehab assignment.
Roberts said when Treinen returns, he will assume his usual high-leverage role.
The right-hander will be free to pitch in back-to-back games, but Roberts said he will try to avoid pitching for more than one inning at a time.
Once Treinen returns, the Dodgers will have four relievers on the injured list: Tommy Kahnle, Victor González and Danny Duffy (who are all on rehab assignments), as well as Yency Almonte (who has yet to throw a bullpen since going on the IL. with elbow tightness earlier this month).