Plaschke: Right now, the best team in baseball history stinks

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Los Angeles Dodgers' Max Muncy, left, manager Dave Roberts, center, and Justin Turner watches during the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Dodgers' Max Muncy, left, manager Dave Roberts and Justin Turner watch during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday in Chicago. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

Corey Seager stinks.

He is a worthy World Series MVP, but right now, the Dodgers shortstop stinks, failing to catch groundballs in the hole, failing to accurately throw balls from the hole, barely there at the plate.

He’s in a contract year. Maybe he’s trying too hard. Or maybe he’s trying to play it too safe. Whatever he’s doing, he’s not getting it done.

Mookie Betts stinks.

He is one of the five best players in baseball, but right now, the Dodgers leadoff hitter stinks, chasing bad pitches, missing good ones, for a .248 average with three homers, six RBIs and not much of a clue.

He hasn’t been the same since being sidelined for a week with a back injury. Maybe that’s still hurting. Maybe he’s still adjusting. Whatever is happening, for him it’s not happening.

The bullpen construction stinks.

Several injuries to injury-prone players and converted starters have placed undue stress on inexperienced pitchers unprepared for the heat. Four of the Dodgers' last five losses were absorbed by Garrett Cleavinger, Alex Vesia and Edwin Uceta. If you've heard of any of those guys before now, raise that hand you’ve been shaking at your television.

Maybe the Dodgers are on the verge of acquiring a real live closer. Maybe they’re going to follow previous scripts and eventually stock the pen with proven veterans. Maybe they’ll find a loophole that can allow them to rescind that trade of Dylan Floro. Maybe not. Whatever they’re going to do, they might want to do it soon.

The best team in baseball history stinks.

That label appeared in this column before the season, and I still say the Dodgers remain a championship club that is far better than any other team in the major leagues. I’ll take the Dodgers and give you the field right now — name your price.

Catcher tagging out player at home plate
Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras tags out the Dodgers' Justin Turner during the 10th inning of Wednesday's game in Chicago. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

But early season games are all about establishing winning cultures, doing the little things that last all summer, and these Dodgers have yet to begin building a championship. During a time when they should be cruising into May, last year’s champs have suddenly, and strikingly, lost their way.

The best team in baseball history has played its last 17 games like the second-worst team in baseball.

Of those 17 games, they’ve won four. In their just-completed three-game series in Chicago against a Cubs team with the worst starting pitching in baseball, they won zero. In a seven-game trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, they won one.

Of 13 one-run games, they’ve won four. Of seven extra-inning games, they've won one. And they lost three extra-inning games on the recent trip despite being one out from victory in each of them.

“We’re way better than this, period,” Max Muncy said Wednesday night after their series-ending, 6-5, 11-inning loss to the Cubs.

Then he said it again, those exact words, and he’s exactly right. The Dodgers need to figure this out, period.

World Series hangover? Get over it.

Living off press clippings? That’ll teach you to read me.

Serious trouble? Whoa. Not yet. Remember, this is a team that is still 17-15 in a terrible National League with an MLB-leading plus-37 run differential. Remember, also, this is a team that advanced to the World Series in 2017 despite losing 16 of 17 late-season games.

When Cody Bellinger comes back and the bullpen gets settled and Seager and Betts start hitting again — and there’s no reason to think all three things won’t happen — everyone will probably forget about this early ugliness.

Probably. Maybe. But do the Dodgers really want to set this discordant tone? Do they really want to create an atmosphere where they seem to be waiting to lose instead of creating to win? Is any of this making them embarrassed or mad?

They say it is, and it better be.

“We understand it’s a long season, we can get it back rolling, but we can’t keep wasting time,” Betts said earlier this week. “It is a long season, but also you gotta be there for each and every game, and we haven’t been lately.”

In the eighth inning Wednesday, with the Dodgers clutching a 3-2 lead, Seager wasn’t there. He threw wildly to second base on a grounder that led to the tying run. His lack of defense also cost them runs Tuesday in Chicago and Saturday in Milwaukee. Right now, the World Series MVP is just not a very good shortstop.

“The bottom line is, the little things across the board, we’re just not finishing executing the way we’re capable of,” manager Dave Roberts said Wednesday.

Chicago Cubs players celebrating
The Chicago Cubs' Tony Wolters, left, congratulates teammate Anthony Rizzo, who drove in the winning run in the 11th inning of Wednesday's game against the Dodgers. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

In the 10th inning, with the Dodgers holding a 4-3 lead, Will Smith didn’t execute. The catcher failed to block a low pitch from Kenley Jansen that led to the Cubs advancing two runners and eventually scoring the tying run. On Tuesday night, with Austin Barnes catching, the Cubs scored two runs on essentially one wild pitch. Those are not championship "little things."

“Nobody feels sorry for us. [We] can’t take anything for granted, still have to show up and do all the little things and play the game the right way,” said Justin Turner, speaking generally earlier in the week. “The bottom line is we need to play better.”

Granted, there are certain pieces from the 2020 championship team the Dodgers will never get back. They miss Kiké Hernández's fielding. They miss Joc Pederson’s explosiveness, even if the new Cub did look silly Wednesday when he strutted toward first base on what he thought was a game-winning homer but was only a game-tying flyout. They also miss Floro and, heck, they may even miss Pedro Baez.

But, somewhere among the bad fielding and blown leads and botched at-bats, the heart of that defending world championship team is still in that dugout. They just have to find it.

Now might be a good time to start looking.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.