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Dodgers mailbag: Looking ahead to the trade deadline, offensive struggles and more

The Dodgers mailbag is back. All it took was a slow start to June, the ace going down with a flexor strain in his right elbow, the leadoff hitter and MVP candidate breaking a rib and the manager publicly calling out the offensive group’s mindset.

They’re still in first place, but you all still see plenty of question marks. Might as well get to ’em in part one of this week’s mailbag.

Note: Questions have been edited lightly for clarity.

Is it more likely that the Dodgers add a bat rather than a starting pitcher given the offensive struggles? — Mike W.

This is a cop-out, but I think the Dodgers pursue both.

They’re at least a starter short of where they’d like to be with Walker Buehler’s injury. While Dustin May is expected back this year and will face hitters soon, his return probably won’t be until August if all goes well. (The indication is that May will be back before Buehler, for what it’s worth.) The question: Is there an attainable starter the Dodgers feel more confident about than they do in some of their depth group in Mitch White, Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove? And is it worth the prospect haul? The type of starter I could see them pursuing, based on last year, is already on their roster: Tyler Anderson, who was essentially a league-average starter (97 ERA+) for the Pirates last season before getting traded at the deadline. José Quintana, for one, is off to a solid start in Pittsburgh and is a rental like Anderson was. Chad Kuhl and Zach Davies fit the bill, though I’d imagine Colorado and Arizona wouldn’t move them within the division.

I also don’t see Trayce Thompson being the biggest offensive addition the Dodgers trade for this deadline period. The need for a right-handed-hitting outfield bat, like Kevin Pillar, still makes sense. Maybe someone like Chad Pinder or Tommy Pham could be available at the right price? Someone like Dylan Moore might cost more from the Dodgers’ farm system, but his positional versatility is intriguing.

What is the team’s long-term plan with Mitch White? It seems like all they do is toy around with him, and I would like to think that if given the runway he would pitch well and be a capable 4/5 starter. — David L.

Dave Roberts has made an emphasis the last couple of weeks of bringing up White’s name and praising him. Their usage of him has been a lot of maximizing roster space, just as it was last year — it’s clearly not fair to the player’s performance (the limit on options helps a player like White, but he’s technically been optioned only one time this year) but it fits how the Dodgers go about building out their roster.

He’s pitched well, for sure, with a 3.86 ERA in 25 2/3 innings as a starter and reliever (with strong underlying stats). While he lacks some consistency with execution, his four-pitch mix is good enough to get big leaguers out. In a different rotation, he’s likely at least given a run as a back-end starter. I’ve largely viewed him as something of a Ross Stripling type with how the Dodgers have used him, utilizing his versatility and maximizing his performance, but the usage will be inconsistent and there will be some toying around. While he’s cheap and optionable, the Dodgers will value him.

I was initially forgiving of Dave Roberts for leaving the lineup largely the same throughout the season because the team was winning. But given the lack of production from the middle of the lineup, plus the recent struggles getting runs across, would it make sense to bump Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Will Smith down while elevating players like Gavin Lux? — Matt H.

It seems like the Dodgers really like the components Gavin Lux brings at the bottom of the order, notably giving them another guy to have on base for their most productive hitters in Mookie Betts (when healthy), Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner. It also takes away at-bats from one of their most consistent hitters this year, which is a problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just keep him there, since he isn’t necessarily a middle-of-the-order guy and would be third in the pecking order of potential leadoff guys behind Betts and Turner.

We’ve seen some toying around with the middle of the order, though. Moving Chris Taylor up full time makes sense — and if you want to keep breaking up lefties and righties at the bottom, as Roberts has, you can slot Justin Turner lower. He’s tried that of late. Max Muncy probably shouldn’t still be hitting cleanup, even if you want to slot a left-handed hitter in that spot.

But when Roberts has been asked, he’s made it clear he’s going to have a longer leash for guys with track records like Muncy and Turner. Given that it’s June and that leash is still there, it’s fair to ask how much longer that will continue.

What do you think is the reason for the offensive struggles? The fact that there are so many runners left on base lately has to be a major concern. Is this just the June swoon or do you think this is going to be an issue for the rest of the season? — Erik L.

It feels more like a June swoon, but the weaknesses on display certainly harken back to previous October backfires. Having someone like Freeman, whose performance with runners on seems to track well with his offensive profile, should help address this, even if the struggles are continuing with him in the lineup.

But the Dodgers were the second-best team in baseball with runners in scoring position in April and May, logging a 136 wRC+. Entering Tuesday, they were second worst in those spots in June (73 wRC+); of note, that’s a spike from a 17.7 percent strikeout rate in April and May to more than 30 percent in June. I don’t think they’ll be this putrid in those spots come October, largely because it’s hard to foresee this many hitters all simultaneously running cold.

Why do the Dodgers as a team strike out so much? — Joseph M.

They really don’t, at least in the context of the modern game. They entered Tuesday with the 12th-lowest strikeout rate in the game, better than league average and slightly less often than the Yankees, who have the best offense in baseball. They’re in the same ballpark as the Blue Jays, who have a great offense.

And three of the offenses that strike out less often than the Dodgers — the Rockies, Royals and Nationals — have graded out as below average. So strikeouts and good offense aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

That being said, it is notable that the Dodgers have two of the 10 worst in baseball in terms of strikeout rate in Taylor (third, 33.8 percent) and Cody Bellinger (ninth, 30.2 percent). Both have made good contact to compensate, with Taylor entering Tuesday hitting 16 percent better than average and Bellinger just 9 percent below league average, to make it relatively work.

It does show those two can improve if they do a better job making contact in general. Taylor, for example, has the second-lowest contact rate in baseball (61.7 percent) — while he’s not a super-high-contact guy in general, that’s a steep drop from recent seasons. If he turns that around, and keeps hitting the ball hard, he could be primed for a big second half.

I have always felt that Trea Turner was better to have leading off, with Mookie Betts hitting third. Now that we’re getting a taste of Trea at the top, is there a chance of that when Mookie returns? — Elliot P.

I don’t think so, and while some quick metrics perhaps suggest it being a smart move: Turner has gotten on base slightly more, while Betts has slugged more. Turner is a faster base runner, and Betts has good bat-to-ball skills.

But it’s a matter of comfort for the two. Betts has stated multiple times how he feels more comfortable as a leadoff hitter (and his career splits back this). Turner has said he’s indifferent where he hits. So once Betts is healthy in a few weeks, I’d imagine he slots right back into the leadoff spot.

(Photo: David Kohl / USA Today)

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