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Anaheim, CA- There were runners at the corners in the top of the ninth inning for Chris Taylor. A grand opportunity for these Dodgers who have made clutch hitting and coming back from insurmountable deficits seem almost routine.
But the look on Taylor’s face as he dug his cleats into face reliever Hansel Robles looked unfamiliar. A look of self-doubt. A dark and chilling exasperated even more when Corey Seager powered through third base, only to pivot and come away limping into the locker room. Seager after struggling for a month had finally found his swing and had 19 hits in the past 10 games before being knocked out by a badly strained hamstring.
No matter how many sunflower seed gardens Justin Turner plants on the dugout railing, the magic of baseball can be delicate and tenuous. In one moment the stadium can be rocking with the leftovers having witnessed a three run rally against one of the game’s best closers, and the next is watching Taylor grimacing in anger after a called third strike.
Now the Dodgers face their biggest challenge to their reign in the National League since 2016 when Clayton Kershaw suffered a herniated disk and missed two months of the season. In 2018 Seager missed major time due to Tommy John Surgery, but his void was filled by Manny Machado .
This time there aren’t any blockbuster trades the Dodgers can make to upgrade from Taylor (.218 batting average, 0.1 WAR) and Hernandez (.215 batting average 0.6 WAR). At 21 years old upcoming Double-A shortstop Gavin Lux might be a long shot even though he’s already tied his 11 home runs from last season in 53 games and hitting .303.
The problems with the Dodgers are symptomatic more of the arduous 162 game journey then it is one particular problem. Kenta Maeda had found his groove the last month before allowing home runs to fellow Japan countryman Shohei Otani and then a three run blast to first baseman Justin Bour. The bullpen in turn pitched 3 2/3 innings scoreless innings.
Injuries and stagnation are part of the major league season. In order to relieve any illness, the symptoms need to be discovered early. Leaving 15 runners on base is a recipe that left unchecked will spell disaster. Hernandez and Taylor need to rediscover their swing that brought them to the big leagues.
Written by Ethan Hanson