Although the All-Star Game is still more than a week away, the Dodgers are now exactly half way through the 2017 season. Entering play Friday, their record stands at 53-28, good for 1st place in the NL West, and the 2nd best mark in baseball. Below, we break down their first half of the year, and assign the team grades in each major area (Spoiler alert: they pass.)
Through the half way mark of the season, the Dodgers offense has put up some really good numbers. They’re 3rd in the NL in runs scored, and tied for 2nd in OPS. They have the league leader in homeruns (Cody Bellinger, 24) and Avg (Justin Turner, .381) on their team. Also, remember last year’s struggles against left-handed pitching? Well, this year, the Dodgers have the 3rd highest OPS in the league vs LHP and have hit more homeruns against them than any other NL team (32.)
As expected, the Dodgers have got major contributions from stars like Corey Seager and Justin Turner this year. But they’ve also received a huge boost from unexpected players like Chris Taylor, who went from being a minor leaguer and possible role player, to an everyday cog in the Dodgers’ lineup. Players like Yasiel Puig and Yasmani Grandal have also made some good strides in improving their offense game, and have been key contributors. Since returning from his DL stint, Joc Pederson has looked a lot better at the plate as well.
Then, of course, there’s Cody Bellinger, who’s probably hit two homeruns since you started reading this article. The kid is the story of 2017 so far, and for good reason. He’s putting up ridiculous numbers during his first year, and continues to break records and mash baseballs on a daily basis. Bellinger has given the team a legitimate middle-of-the order power presence, and to say that the young Dodgers prospect looks like the real deal would be just a bit of an understatement.
The offensive success this year comes despite the Dodgers facing their share of adversity. Injuries have hit multiple key players throughout the season. Andrew Toles was lost for the year. Turner missed significant time. Adrian Gonzalez is still recovering from his ailments. Logan Forsythe and Joc Pederson have also spent time on the DL. Somehow, the Dodgers have managed to withstand those injuries and still produce one of the better offenses in the league. Playing half their games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, they’re still averaging 5.16 runs per game, 3rd best in the NL.
Any individual struggles during the first half of this year (Gonzalez, Forsythe, ect) have been overshadowed by great overall team offense. Any time one player starts slumping a bit, another player seems to catch fire and pick them up. It’s been a real team effort thus far, and it’s a big reason why the Dodgers have been one of the best offenses in the game during the first half of the year.
With the new 10-day DL this year, the Dodgers have employed a strategy of basically rotating their starters on and off of the DL, using it almost as a rest period. The idea is to keep their pitchers fresh throughout the year, and well into the playoffs. So far, every starter not named Kershaw has been put on the disabled list at some point this year. But thus far, that hasn’t affected the rotation negatively.
The Dodgers starting pitching has the best ERA in the league at 3.43. They’re also 1st n BAA (.232), 2nd in FIP (3.69) and have a combined WAR of 9.1, good for 3nd in MLB.
It all starts with Clayton Kershaw. The best pitcher in the game over the last 6-7 years continues to dominate. Of course, given the outlandish standards Kershaw has set for himself, one could say he’s actually “struggling” this year. His ERA has “ballooned” to 2.32. His WHIP has “sky-rocketed” all the way up to 0.911. And his K/BB has “diminished” to 6.75. Simply unacceptable, right?
In all seriousness, when comparing his stats to previous years, Kershaw is down a bit, and he’s allowing an awful lot of homeruns so far this season. Still though, the guy is 12-2, leads MLB in innings pitched, and is 3rd in strikeouts. Not too shabby.
One of the biggest surprises this year has to be the emergence of Alex Wood, who has pitched like an ace ever since being placed in the starting rotation. He’s been absolutely fantastic in the first half, sporting a nice 1.83 ERA. Coupled with Kershaw, they give the Dodgers one of the best 1-2 punches in the game right now.
Brandon McCarthy has been another pleasant surprise this year, putting up solid numbers in the first half. However, Dodgers fans have to be crossing their fingers after his last start, where it looked like his battle with the yips last year may have resurfaced. He was placed on the DL Monday with knee soreness, and I’m sure the Dodgers will be watching cautiously when he returns.
The rest of the rotation hasn’t been particularly remarkable, but it’s been adequate enough. With the exception of his blister problems, Rich Hill hasn’t looked like his 2016 self, although his last couple of starts have been much better. Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu have had some bright spots this year, but also some struggles. Both have been shuffled back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, as the Dodgers try to experiment with what works best. Julio Urias was expected to play a big role in the Dodgers plans this year, but unfortunately, his season-ending injury will put him on the shelf until next season.
The Dodgers have a formidable group, and if they stay consistent, they should propel the Dodgers in the second half of the year.
Last year, one of the Dodgers biggest strengths was their bullpen. Coming into this season, the team had some new faces and different roles established for their relievers, but that hasn’t seemed to bother the group too much. The Dodgers bullpen has again been one of the best in the game. At the half way mark of 2017, their 2.89 ERA and .214 BAA are tops in the league. They also boast an NL leading 10.35 K/9 rate and a league low 2.75 BB/9 ratio.
Much of the credit has to go to Kenley Jansen, who you could easily argue is the best closer in baseball right now. He’s yet to blow a save this year, and continues to be lights out when he comes in the game. Jansen’s ERA stands at 0.79, his WHIP is 0.529, and it took him almost 3 months before he walked his first batter this year. Incredible stuff.
Sergio Romo was signed this past off-season to fill the Joe Blanton/8th inning role, however, he hasn’t pitched very well in the first half, leaving the door open for other options. Pedro Baez seems to have seized that opportunity, and he’s developed into a solid set-up guy after seeing a vast improvement to his ability to limit hard contact. Guys like Ross Stripling and Josh Fields have also provided quality relief at times throughout the season. And then there’s Chris Hatcher, who’s great to use in blow-out games.
You may have heard this before, but depth is an attribute the Dodgers love. It’s been one of the pillars on which the organization wants to build their franchise. This year, as expected, the club has utilized their depth as much as possible, allowing an abundance of players an opportunity to help the team. Role players like Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes have provided key contributions. After struggling mightily the first month of the season, 38-year old Chase Utley has again showed his value as a veteran on the club.
On a team that loves to mix and match lineups and move guys around the field, a strong bench will always be beneficial. The Dodgers will surely continue to rely on that for the 2nd half of the year.
Coming off his rookie campaign, in which he won Manger of the Year honors, Dave Roberts seems to be nice and settled in as the Dodgers skipper. He appears to have a great relationship with the players, and his infectious character serves as a guide for the entire team. Although in-game decision-making will always be questioned for any manager, Roberts hasn’t made any outrageous miscues that have considerably hurt the team. On the contrary, he’s pushed the right buttons and made enough correct calls to have a 1st place team.
Sure, some may question his bullpen management at times. Others might say he took a little too long to get Chris Taylor daily at-bats, or didn’t like seeing Scott Van Slyke in the lineup as often as he was (that was me.) But overall, Roberts has done a fine job of getting the Dodgers where they are today. A manager’s job isn’t solely filling out a lineup card and making pitching changes. A big part of it is garnering the team’s trust and respect while getting buy-in from the players. And in that regard, so far, so good.
Through the first half of the season, it’d be hard to expect anything more from the Dodgers. They have the best record in the National League. Their .654 win percentage would be higher than what the World Champion Chicago Cubs finished at last year. They called up a 21-year old kid who has taking the league by storm, and will probably earn another Dodgers ROY award. They arguably have the best starting pitcher/closer combo in baseball, and also employ one of the deepest rosters in baseball.
Are there improvements that could be made? Sure, there always are. But so far, in a year where expectations were already sky high, the Dodgers are exceeding them.