When the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a World Series berth at Wrigley Field last October, the final out found the glove of their shortstop. But it wasn’t Corey Seager, their regular starter at the position, who caught that line drive from the Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras. It was Charlie Culberson, who was playing there because a back injury had forced Seager to miss the National League Championship Series.
Now, the Dodgers will have to win again without Seager, and for a much longer stretch. Seager’s season is over because of an elbow injury that requires Tommy John surgery, and while it is easy to imagine a deal for Baltimore’s Manny Machado as a replacement, the Dodgers seem unlikely to trade premium prospects for a player facing free agency next winter. Besides, their problems run deeper than shortstop.
Consider the Dodgers’ roster for their World Series loss to Houston last fall. Of those 25 players, six are gone: Culberson, Yu Darvish, Andre Ethier, Brandon McCarthy, Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Five others were on the disabled list last week: Seager, Logan Forsythe, Rich Hill, Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner.
Four others had regressed significantly from their outstanding 2017 performances: Austin Barnes, Kenley Jansen, Chris Taylor and Alex Wood. Of the remaining players who returned and the newcomers, almost none have stood out. One new pitcher, Scott Alexander, has been sent to the minors, and another, Tom Koehler, has been injured.
It is fair to say that only three Dodgers players have exceeded expectations: catcher Yasmani Grandal; outfielder Matt Kemp, who arrived from Atlanta in a trade; and starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, a returning veteran who was not on the World Series roster. But Ryu, who is 3-0 with a 2.12 earned run average, landed on the disabled list after straining his groin on Wednesday.
So while injuries have been a factor for the Dodgers, collective underperformance has mattered more. The Arizona Diamondbacks have also dealt with injuries — to Jake Lamb, Robbie Ray, Steven Souza Jr. and Taijuan Walker — and they still have the N.L.’s best record.