For Dodgers, losing Betts and Yamamoto hurts. But getting them back for October is what matters

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Mookie Betts (50) reacts after being hit by pitch from Kansas City Royals pitcher Dan Altavilla (54) during the seventh inning Sunday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

On a day that dealt a blow to his franchise’s rotation, lineup and veneer of invincibility, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made two points that demonstrated why the organization’s expectations will not change.

“It’s not season-ending,” Roberts said regarding Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s strained right rotator cuff.


“No surgery,” Roberts said regarding Mookie Betts’ fractured left hand. He used the same phrase to describe Betts’ injury: “Not season-ending.”

It is hard to find silver linings when you put $690 million worth of baseball talent on the injured list, a reality the Dodgers confronted on Sunday. In the morning, the team shelved Yamamoto, who was only able to pitch two innings on Saturday before reporting soreness in his triceps. The team will soon make a similar move with Betts, who was hit by a 97.9 mph fastball from Kansas City Royals reliever Dan Altavilla in the seventh inning of a 3-0 Royals victory on Sunday.

Losing your MVP candidate infielder and your budding 25-year-old ace on the same weekend? Seems bad. At the very least, the Dodgers can point to the calendar. This news is hard to stomach on June 16. It would have been much more devastating on Sept. 16.

For a franchise that has reached the postseason in 11 consecutive postseasons but captured only one championship, all that matters is October. That target will not change, in part because Betts and Yamamoto are expected to return, in part because even in their absence the team possesses enough talent to capture yet another National League West title, in part because the offseason acquisition of Shohei Ohtani has reduced this season to a binary proposition: Either the Dodgers win it all, or the year is a failure.

Ohtani could step into the breach as the team’s leadoff hitter. While the offense will miss Betts’ bat, the collective force supplied by Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Teoscar Hernández should keep the group afloat. The front office’s quest to refurbish the last third of the lineup figures to continue as the trade deadline approaches; the club already pounced on utility player Cavan Biggio after Toronto cut the former top prospect loose last week.

As for the rotation, the team plans to welcome back Bobby Miller from the injured list later this week. Tyler Glasnow strung together another strong outing on Sunday with seven scoreless innings against Kansas City. Gavin Stone has been a welcome surprise. But with Yamamoto down, there will be even more attention paid to the two most decorated members of the starting rotation: Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw.

Buehler is still finding his footing as he returns from a second Tommy John surgery. Kershaw will make his first rehab start this week on his road back from shoulder surgery. In 2020, the Dodgers utilized Buehler and Kershaw as the top two starters on a championship team. In 2024, they looked more like luxury insurance options for a rotation fronted by Yamamoto and Glasnow.

“We’re going to be fine,” Roberts said. “We have really good players.”

Indeed. And they have a different standard than their peers. The Dodgers also hold an eight-game lead over San Diego in the West. Neither the Padres nor the Giants nor the Diamondbacks look likely to make an assault on the division’s summit; you generally need to get above .500 to do that, and none of those teams are.

The Dodgers are on pace for 98 wins, which would be their weakest regular season showing since 2018.

If you want to see how much that would matter to the fans, walk the concourse at Chavez Ravine and ask folks for their fondest memories of 2019 (106 wins, lost in the National League Division Series), 2021 (106 wins, lost in the National League Championship Series), 2022 (111 wins, lost in the NLDS to San Diego), and 2023 (100 wins, swept in the NLDS by Arizona).

No, it’s all about October. The Dodgers will be there once more this year. Based on the preliminary medical reports, so will Betts and Yamamoto. What counts now is each man returning in time to flourish in the season’s final stage. The team cannot afford Betts to re-enact his past two postseasons, in which he amassed only two hits combined. And the team cannot afford Yamamoto to stunt the progress he made in the past six weeks. After a shaky April, Yamamoto had turned in eight starts with a 2.54 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning — the exact sort of player the Dodgers could trust in a postseason series.

The regular season is not even halfway complete.

The runway for a return remains lengthy. So Betts’ season has not ended. Neither has Yamamoto’s. What matters is what they will be able to do for the Dodgers at the end of this season.

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