SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers hope Cincinnati Reds can provide some relief

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The Cincinnati Reds come into town for a four-game series with the Dodgers May 10 and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Dodgers, who have lost three games in a row and are now 15-20, nine games behind the Western Division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Dodgers are losing players almost as often as they lose games, with Clayton Kershaw going on the disabled list over the weekend for the fourth time in five years.

Although the Dodgers have suffered injuries the last two seasons, you almost have to wonder if the law of averages is working against the team. After five straight Western Division championships, it’s highly possible the Dodgers are not meant to win the division this year.

Arizona is certainly poised to wrest the title away from the Dodgers. The two teams already have met 11 times this year, with the Diamondbacks winning eight.

But on the heels of the Diamondbacks come the Reds, the team with the worst record in the National League and one of the worst in baseball.

That might be what the Dodgers need, but a similar series against the Miami Marlins didn’t go so well for the Dodgers, who lost two of three games to the dreadful Marlins.

Every team goes through injuries during the season, so that can’t be the Dodgers only excuse for the horrendous start. On the disabled list are three-fourths of the team’s starting infield: second baseman Logan Forsythe, shortstop Corey Seager and third baseman Justin Turner. Forsythe and Turner could be back next week. Seager is gone for the season.

Matt Kemp, who returned to the Dodgers this year after being traded after the 2014 season, has been one of the few bright spots for the team thus far. Kemp is hitting .353 with five home runs and 17 runs batted in. (Photo by Nick Koza)

Outfielder Yasiel Puig also is on the disabled list, but he wasn’t hitting anyway. Maybe the 10 days off will help him find his swing. No one expected Puig to be without a homer 10 days into May.

The injuries to Hyun-jin Ryu and Kershaw are the major blows. Ryu tore a groin muscle and will be out until after the all-star break. Next to Kershaw, he had been the Dodgers most consistent starter this year.

Kershaw wasn’t having a vintage Kershaw season but he was still pitching better than 95 percent of the pitchers in the major leagues when he went on the disabled list with bicep tendinitis.

The Dodgers are notorious for not giving time frames for players on the disabled list so we don’t know if Kershaw will miss one start or one month. Most likely it is somewhere in between.

Besides the injuries, the Dodgers are struggling for two key reasons: they aren’t getting timely hits and their bullpen isn’t locking opposing teams down like it did most of last season.

The return of Turner to the lineup could get the offense going in the right direction. Turner is not only the most consistent hitter on the team, his teammates seems to ride his coattails. If he gets hot, everyone might heat up at the same time.

The bullpen is more problematic. The Dodgers front office has a recent history of finding gems at low salaries to serve as set-up men, bridging the gap between the five or six innings most of their starters throw to Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning.

In 2016, it was Joe Blanton who developed into the set-up man manager Dave Roberts relied on. Blanton had a career revival as a relief pitcher, earned himself a big contract somewhere else and reverted to being Joe Blanton.

Last year, Brandon Morrow, after being injured most of his career, had a season like Blanton did in 2016. It earned him a contract to close games for the Chicago Cubs, where he has saved eight of nine games so far.

So far this year, no set-up man has emerged. The Dodgers were hoping it would be Tom Koehler, who they signed in the off-season. But Koehler developed a sore shoulder in spring training and hasn’t pitched since.

Tony Cingrani, who came over in a trade last summer from Cincinnati, has been erratic, and Scott Alexander couldn’t throw strikes and has been sent to Oklahoma City.

Pedro Baez continues to be Pedro Baez, effective in low-pressure situations, horrible when the heat is on. Yimi Garcia, back from Tommy John surgery two years ago, has the same problem.

The most consistent pitcher out of the bullpen has been J. T. Chargois, who was picked up off waivers from the Minnesota Twins in February. Josh Fields has had some good outings, but he also is susceptible to the home run.

The Dodgers’ starters could help out the bullpen by throwing longer than five innings, but management — from manager Dave Roberts to President Andrew Friedman — seems to be hell bent on not letting anyone other than Kershaw face the opposing team’s lineup a third time in any given game.

That puts additional stress on the bullpen.

The season hasn’t been a total washout. The injuries to Ryu and Kershaw have inserted Walker Buehler into the starting rotation. Once he has some experience, he will be the second-best pitcher in the rotation, assuming Kershaw gets healthy.

Matt Kemp has returned and is hitting like the Matt Kemp of 2011, although he has lost more than a step, which affects him more running the bases and playing the outfield than swinging a bat.

And Alex Verdugo might be able to provide more offense than Joc Pederson, although I would prefer to see Andrew Toles given another shot, once his hamstring has healed.

The baseball season is long and grueling. Dodger fans have been spoiled by five straight pennant-winning seasons. It had never happened before and it might not happen again.

After slow starts in 2013 and 2017, the Dodgers found a higher gear in July and August and ran away with division titles both times. It could happen again, although I wouldn’t bet on it.

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