Dodgers Dugout: Here’s part of the reason Chris Taylor is slumping

Chris Taylor in the dugout during a game this season.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and it seems like just a week ago the Dodgers were a miserable team with no chance of even making the postseason.


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Here we are almost a quarter into the season, so it seems a good time to get a different perspective on the Dodgers.

I reached out to my colleague, our Dodgers beat writer Jack Harris, who answered some questions while on a plane from Toronto to Phoenix. It’s always good to get some alternate viewpoints, and there are few better than Jack. Any numbers or rankings mentioned are through Sunday’s games.

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Q. Here we are 31 games into the season. What would you say is the biggest strength and biggest weakness on this team?

Harris: The Dodgers’ biggest strength? There are four of them: Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith.

No other team in baseball has a better quartet topping their lineup. No other club has had a group nearly as productive through the first month of the season.

Through Sunday, Betts leads MLB in hitting, just ahead of Smith. Betts also leads in OPS, with Ohtani ranking fourth. Freeman is off to the slowest start, and he is batting .306.

Of course, winning games, especially come fall, requires much more than four star hitters.

But possessing such firepower is a prerequisite for success. And just as the club hoped, their group is living up to — and probably surpassing — expectations so far.

As for a weakness: The depth of the pitching staff, rotation-wise and in the bullpen.

Tyler Glasnow has been great. Evan Phillips too. Yoshinobu Yamamoto is perhaps turning a corner, as well.

But the Dodgers’ pitching depth drops off quickly behind them — especially given the team’s mounting number of pitcher injuries.

Q. Betts hasn’t missed a beat on offense since moving to shortstop. How would you say he has done defensively? And would you say the Dodgers are content with him at short all season?

Harris: I’d say he’s been fine, given the circumstances.

His four errors are fourth most among MLB shortstops. While he can make spectacular plays, he makes routine blunders too.

Still, for a player new to the position at this level (or any level past high school), he is holding his own — and actually ranks third among MLB shortstops in defensive runs saved.

As for the future, I think the club still wants a larger sample before deciding how to proceed. It’s possible Betts stays there all year. It’s also possible Andrew Friedman explores shortstops at the deadline. With time, more clarity should come.

Q. If you don’t mind, three injury updates and when you think they will be back: Jason Heyward, Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen.

Harris: Blake Treinen is closest to returning, but it likely won’t be this week, Dave Roberts said. While Treinen has giving up runs in all three of his rehab appearances, the team has gotten positive reports on how he is progressing. His next outing will be Wednesday.

Jason Heyward seemed to be progressing last week, but then was paused from baseball activities again because of continued discomfort in his back. Roberts said he is “still a ways away,” and acknowledged Heyward’s recovery is taking “longer than we all anticipated.”

Brusdar Graterol’s return date is even more uncertain. He tried to start a throwing program, then got shut down again because of soreness. The team is still fully expecting Graterol back at some point, but Roberts said it will be a “long program” before he returns to action.

Q.Chris Taylor has been responsible for some great moments in Dodgers history. No one can ever take that away from him. But he is struggling big time right now. How long do the Dodgers stick with him?

Harris: The quick context on Taylor: He attempted a swing change this offseason, trying to return to the “feels” he used when he first joined the Dodgers.

But it’s already clear it didn’t work, and now he’s trying to adjust on the fly.

Because of that, the Dodgers could give him some runway to figure things out — especially with Heyward’s return still not imminent.

The team likes his versatility, and hasn’t given up hope he can resurrect his swing. Still, his leash isn’t infinite. And the longer this rut continues, the harder it will be for the Dodgers to justify giving him regular — if any — playing time.

Q. What have you learned or have been surprised by about Shohei Ohtani while watching him play every day. I’ve watched baseball for more than 40 years and when he connects solidly, the ball sounds different off his bat than for anyone else.

Harris: The exit velos are impressive (even after covering the 2021 Angels, it’s not something you ever quite get used to) but I’ve also noticed how he seems to revel in big moments.

Facing Clayton Kershaw in the first at-bat of an All-Star game? How about a big first-pitch swing.

Pitching to Mike Trout in the last at-bat of the WBC? A swing-and-miss slider to clinch a Japanese championship.

The latest example came this weekend, when Ohtani responded to boos in Toronto with his team-leading seventh home run of the season.

Granted, there are still key situations where he struggles (such as his six-for-34 mark with runners in scoring position). And thanks to the Angels’ struggles while he was in Anaheim, his MLB career hasn’t included many high-leverage moments.

But in a small sample, he hasn’t shied away from the spotlight. And on a Dodgers team with World Series aspirations, the club will need that to translate in clutch spots later this season.

The bottom of the lineup

We’ll keep track of this throughout the season, because I have a feeling this is going to be crucial when the postseason comes around. Here are the best and worst team batting averages for the Nos. 7-9 spots in the batting order:

1. Angels, .298
2. Atlanta, .282
3. Milwaukee, .279
4. NY Mets, .276
5. NY Yankees, .272

The Angels have been terrible this season, but they have the best bottom of the lineup so far. Of course, on Sunday they started a guy hitting .140 in the cleanup spot and the No. 5 batter was hitting .155.

26. Chicago White Sox, .196
27. St. Louis, .196
28. Dodgers, .189
29. Miami, .181
30. Oakland, .166

The Dodgers are 18-12. The other four teams listed above are a combined 40 games below .500. It’s like the old game, “Which of these things is not like the other?”

Let’s look at the Dodgers in the Nos. 7-9 spots individually:

No. 7 (mainly James Outman): .157/.224/.217
No. 8 (Lux, Taylor and Rojas): .198/.244/.297
No. 9 (Lux, Barnes and Rojas): .215/.276/.308
Combined: .189/.247/.273
Don Drysdale, career as a batter: .186/.228/.295

Up next

Tuesday: Dodgers (Landon Knack, 1-1, 3.27 ERA) at Arizona (*Jordan Montgomery, 1-1, 2.77 ERA), 6:40 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570, 1020 KTNQ

Wednesday: Dodgers (Yoshinobu Yamamoto, 2-1, 3.54 ERA) at Arizona (TBD), 6:40 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570, 1020 KTNQ


In case you missed it

How Freddie Freeman — now back on a hitting streak — worked through early-season slump

Shaikin: Risk and reward: This ex-Dodger used to throw 91 mph. Now he throws 97

MLB ghost kitchens to whip up ballpark food for delivery and pickup, courtesy of IHOP

‘He’s gonna be a Blue Jay.’ Inside the day Shohei Ohtani did not fly to Toronto

Oldest living MLB player turns 100, vividly recalls facing Dodgers in 1953 World Series

How athletes and entertainers like Shohei Ohtani get financially duped by those they trust

How better plate discipline has helped Shohei Ohtani become more dangerous for the Dodgers

Comic Elayne Boosler can’t talk her way out of handbag at Dodger Stadium. She was handcuffed

And finally

Sal Maglie and Duke Snider appear on “What’s My Line?” Watch and listen here.

Until next time…

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at [email protected], and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.

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