MIAMI — Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts leaned back in his chair and it did not collapse, which is surprising given the way the season has gone.
The defending NL champions had just endured their fifth defeat in a row, all against last-place teams. The latest loss came in Miami, and Roberts contemplated his team’s place in the universe, including a mere one-game lead over the Marlins, baseball’s perennial punch line.
"I need a Presidente," he said, before pausing to reconsider. "I need more than one."
Here’s a toast to one of the most surprising teams in the majors, although not in a good way. The Dodgers began the season with expectations to match their high payroll, but they’ve been bad and getting worse. Since May 5, they are 0-7 against the Marlins, Reds and Padres, the NL’s cellar-dwellers.
On Tuesday the Dodgers failed to score against Miami starter Wei-Yin Chen, who entered with a 10.22 ERA. The 4-2 defeat left them at 16-25, putting Roberts’ team on pace for 99 losses.
"This is testing every bit of fight you have," he said. "This is a stretch I’m sure a lot of these guys haven’t gone through."
Actually, the Dodgers had an awful stretch just last summer, when they lost 16 of 17. But that felt different because they were 91-36 when the swoon began.
They regrouped to reach Game 7 of the World Series, and with most of their roster back, expected to be one win better in 2018. Instead, too many injuries and sickly swings threaten to derail the season.
Offence is the biggest disappointment. Yasiel Puig hit his first home run Sunday after clubbing 28 last year. Cody Bellinger has six homers after hitting 39 in 2017. Leadoff batter Chris Taylor’s average has fallen to .234 from .288 a year ago.
Against the Reds last week, the Dodgers totalled nine runs while being swept in a four-game series at home. Clutch hits have proved elusive and the bullpen has been wobbly, which explains why Los Angeles is 4-13 in games decided by one or two runs.
The Dodgers are accustomed to coming up short — they haven’t won the World Series since 1988. But sub-.500 is something different for a franchise that has won five consecutive NL West titles.
"It’s baseball; it’s a tough game," All-Star third baseman Justin Turner said. "It doesn’t matter what it says on paper. You’ve got to show up and play nine innings and 27 outs, and anything can happen. Any team on any given day can go out and win a game. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not the NBA, where the best team on paper wins all the games."
Turner returned this week after breaking his left wrist during spring training. But two-time All-Star shortstop Corey Seager is out for the season with an elbow injury, and three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw likely will be sidelined until at least June with biceps tendinitis.
Kershaw is 1-4 with a 2.86 ERA. Left-hander Alex Wood fell to 0-4 Tuesday despite a 3.35 ERA.
"We just haven’t gotten any momentum or started clicking," Wood said. "We feel it; everyone does. Everybody is grinding hard, and we’re trying to figure it out and get on the right track."
The only Los Angeles Dodgers team to start worse was the first one, in 1958. That club had Walter Alston, Johnny Roseboro, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Pee Wee Reese, Frank Howard, Johnny Podres, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe and Roger Craig, and they finished seventh anyway.
Thanks to realignment, the worst the 2018 Dodgers can do is fifth. But if they can’t beat teams in last place, they might wind up there themselves.