mlb

Can the Dodgers solve their RISP problem?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Arash Markazi wonders how far the Dodgers can go if they continue to strand runners on base.

PITTSBURGH – It’s still June but it felt like the last couple of Octobers for the Dodgers during their mostly forgettable trip to Pittsburgh.

It was yet another reminder that as good as the Dodgers have looked this season – and they have looked historically good at times – it could all come crashing down early in the NL Division Series if the Dodgers go up against a team with great pitching and they fail to hit with runners in scoring position.

It’s an issue that has plagued the Dodgers stretching back to 2021 against the San Francisco Giants. Despite beating the Giants in a grueling five-game NLDS, the Dodgers left 32 men on base and hit just .200 with runners in scoring position against the Giants before batting .250 with RISP in losing to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.

They were bounced by the San Diego Padres in the 2022 NLDS in four games after hitting 5 for 34 with RISP and going 0 for 17 with RISP in Games 2 and 3. Their struggles continued last season when they were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2023 NLDS, going 2 for 12 with RISP through the first two games at home.

It’s a staggering and frustrating stretch for a team that became the first in MLB history to win at least 100 games in four straight non-shortened seasons. The problem is when you get past the regular season and are in a five-game series, anything can happen when you face stellar pitching and can’t bring runners home.

That was on display in Pittsburgh this week as the Dodgers faced a below .500 team that was in last place in their division entering the series but looked like a contender against the Dodgers in their first two games against Los Angeles. Then again, they usually have during this historical stretch for the Dodgers as the Pirates are the only National League team with a winning record against the Dodgers since 2022.

They even left 10 runners on base and went 6 for 15 with RISP in Thursday night’s 11-7 victory over the Pirates.

Despite sitting comfortably atop the NL West by seven games and second in the National League, the Dodgers were 12-12 over their previous 24 games after dropping back-to-back games to Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Dodgers’ struggles stemmed from a familiar trend in the fall. The Dodgers went 0 for 22 with RISP and 1 for 30 dating back to Saturday during this stretch.

The Dodgers are the most talented team in baseball with the highest payroll in league history but it could all come to an end quicker than a fastball from Jared Jones or Paul Skenes in a five-game series in October if they can’t reverse what has become an alarming fall tradition for a team with World Series aspirations. The Pirates’ pair of 22-year-old pitching phenoms both hail from Southern California with Jones going to La Mirada High School in La Mirada, Calif. and Skenes attending El Toro High School in Lake Forrest, Calif.

They both talked about going up against their hometown team. If they felt any nerves, it certainly didn’t show as they both walked away with a win.

The Dodgers’ issues with runners in scoring position is something most of the players in the Dodgers’ clubhouse are used to talking about and chalk up to the fact that “baseball is hard” and “that’s baseball.” Those cliches aren’t going to cut it in October.

“You get a guy on second base a couple times and we couldn’t move him over to create that run-scoring situation,” manager Dave Roberts said. “When you’re playing in tight ballgames, those things come to light.”

They have come to light over this recent 24-game stretch where the Dodgers have gone 12-12 and hit 4 for 36 with RISP since May 29 and 27 for 147 since May 15.  

“I mean, there’s been a couple games where we have a lot of guys on base and we hit the ball right at people,” outfielder Teoscar Hernandez said. “But it’s part of the season, it’s going happen.

“It’s happening for us the last week and a half. We just have to keep going, keep working hard.”

The Dodgers will continue working hard and will likely figure things out (at least momentarily) this summer when they hit their stride as they have the past three years on their way to at least 100 regular season wins. The Dodgers, however, have to hope this roller coaster ride of a problem with runners in scoring position doesn’t resurface in October when they won’t have time figure things out and keep going.