Dodgers’ lackluster performance vs. Phillies provides sobering reminder they’re no longer NL favorites

With a sweep of L.A., Philadelphia showed that there's a legitimate gap between these playoff contenders

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Roberts did not hang his head.

Nor did the Dodgers manager punch the air or show any other signs of frustration. Once catcher Will Smith flew out to the warning track in right field to seal the club’s fate on Wednesday, Roberts calmly gathered his laminated game notes from the dugout railing and shuffled past a gaggle of players toward the clubhouse steps.

The Dodgers had fallen to the MLB-best Philadelphia Phillies, this time by a score of 4-3. The game was tight, interesting, competitive and witnessed by yet another rowdy, sold-out Citizens Bank Park crowd. Philadelphia pushed enough runs across in a flukey, fifth-inning rally that included a flyball lost forever in the lights and a pair of doinky infield hits. Despite a few well-struck balls, the Dodgers couldn’t land the return blow against a formidable bullpen.

That night, the night before and the night after, the team predicted to win the National League lost to the team with baseball’s best record.

“Yeah, this was a frustrating one,” Roberts admitted to reporters after Wednesday's game.

No regular-season game or series should be taken as conclusive. There is too much randomness, too much volatility over a 162-game season for any three-game stretch to matter that significantly. Teams — playoff teams especially — change so dramatically over the course of a season due to injuries or roster fluctuations or trades. A July showdown between quality teams is not an October preview.

Yet the Phillies’ sweep of the Dodgers this week in a matchup of World Series hopefuls carried enough heft that ESPN flexed the matchup into a broadcast spot. It’s impossible to watch the Dodgers play the Phillies and not think about autumn. These are two teams not hoping but expecting to be playing baseball when the weather grows cold.

But on a disgustingly humid July night in Pennsylvania, only one team truly looked up to that task.

The reality is that the 2024 Los Angeles Dodgers have, to this point in the season, underwhelmed. They entered the year with a star-studded roster and supersonic expectations. Shohei Ohtani represented the most significant free-agent addition in MLB history. The payroll reached outlandish heights. It was, yet again, World Series or bust for the Dodgers. As it should be.

But now there is frustration. A barrage of injuries have stymied this group. Mookie Betts, one of the five best players on Earth, remains sidelined by a broken hand. Max Muncy hasn’t played since May 15 due to a debilitating oblique issue and has no timetable for return.

The starting rotation is in even more dire straits. Tyler Glasnow, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Clayton Kershaw, Emmett Sheehan, Dustin May and the pitching side of Shohei Ohtani are all on the injured list. The current starting quartet consists of veteran southpaw James Paxton and three rookies: Gavin Stone, Landon Knack and Justin Wrobleski.

There’s still ample runway for the Dodgers to iron out the wrinkles. This team will get better and healthier as the season rolls on. Elite players will heal and return. Glasnow and Yamamoto are likely to be in the playoff rotation. Kershaw might join them. Andrew Friedman will make additions at the deadline. The 26 men who lost three games this week in Philadelphia will not be the 26 men on the playoff roster.

When the dust settles, the Dodgers will win the NL West again. And the success or failure of this operation will come down to a short playoff series against a theoretically inferior team. Time, as always, will be the true arbiter.

But it is an unavoidable fact that this club — which had light-hitting shortstop Miguel Rojas batting fifth Wednesday — has real flaws. The lack of offensive punch beyond Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, Betts, Smith and Teoscar Hernández and the dearth of healthy, reliable hurlers are legitimate concerns that could sink this team.

They entered the season as the NL favorites, a potentially historic juggernaut. But at the halfway point, the 2024 Dodgers are just another good team. This sweep at the hands of Philadelphia was a sobering reminder that Los Angeles can no longer be considered the class of the National League.

Whether that makes any difference in October remains to be seen.