The Dodgers are on the road to their fourth consecutive playoff appearance and perhaps their fourth consecutive NL West title. Since a change of ownership before the 2012 season the Dodgers have made the playoffs in all but the first season, combining for a record of 431- 337 (.561).
A surging second half has the Dodgers poised for a deeper postseason run compared to past seasons. The past two seasons, the Dodgers have failed to get through the NL Division Series, losing to the Cardinals in 2014 and the Mets last season. The club’s recent play has me and several others believing this year can be the season the Dodgers make a deep run in the postseason.
First off, our team is far from perfect. Injuries and inconsistencies have plagued the Dodgers all season long. Yet they still find themselves contending for a division title without their best player. The truth is — a perfect, sexy roster isn’t the answer to winning a World Series. The Dodgers had that roster back in 2013 and came up short. This year’s Dodgers have a new look, a spread out lineup matched with a solid bullpen. A similar roster construction to teams like the 2014 Giants, 2013 Cardinals and defending champions Royals (2 teams which won the World Series that year). The Dodgers on paper may lack that star-studded firepower, but on the field their team is proving to be one of the best in baseball.
To the delight of all Dodgers fans, the bullpen this season has been a pleasant surprise. I remember deliberately criticizing Friedman’s offseason moves when he seemingly did nothing to address the bullpen issues that single handedly eliminated us last season. But I’ll admit when I was wrong and signing Blanton this offseason has been huge. Blanton is leading the team in appearances, innings and WAR this season. Not to mention his ability to be the bullpen bridge to Jansen for most of the season, he’s been great. The Dodgers ‘pen is second in the league in bullpen era (3.17) and top three overall with a 5.1 WAR. Perhaps the most important bullpen stat is their 76.8% stranded runners rate, that’s good enough for top 5 in the MLB and huge upgrade from last season’s 18th ranked strand rate.
The bullpens’ second half performance may have fans not so optimistic about their performance. Though the bullpen has seen some second half regression with a 3.99 era, it just goes to show how much more impressive our bullpen was during the first have to still be atop the league in the major categories. It’s no doubt in my mind that the bullpen is suffering from fatigue at this point, leading the league in appearances and innings pitched would have that effect on your staff. The starters need to find some consistency and pitch deeper in the game as none of our active starters are averaging close to 6 innings pitched. As another one of our editor, Christiaan pointed out runs are at a premium in the postseason, especially coming from the bullpen.
Bottomline: The Dodgers have put together a strong bullpen with power arms and platoon effective left-handers to have held off all their starting pitching woes. Dodgers fans can feel confident the game is in good hands if the starter can manage to pitch into the 7th. The bullpen has embraced the next man up mentality and is constantly rotating new arms in the pen to fight off the heavy workload they’ve had this season. Perhaps Urias can come get some work out of the pen and provide 1-2 innings in the postseason to bridge to Libertore, Blanton and Jansen.
Clubhouse Chemistry = Hot Offense
The issue in the past postseason runs was the lack of lineup production, which in my opinion was because of a weak clubhouse connection. Too many superstars trying to do too much and not making the correct baseball play.
This year the team has found a unique bond between veterans and our up and coming rookies. The offensive responsibilities are spread out throughout the lineup and the Dodgers aren’t solely relying on one super star bat to produce all their runs. We have shifted toward a safe lineup that is having our hitters, 1-8 have productive at-bats, even if it means grounding out. Seager and Utley provided most of this production early on, but as the season progressed the veteran bats (Gonzalez, Kendrick, Grandal and Turner) have really got it going and now the offense is clicking on all cylinders. The Dodgers have finally found what they’ve been long looking for, a balanced lineup that could be turned around at any inning.
Bottomline: It’s difficult to say whether it took the veterans willing to accept a smaller role or the team stepping up to face their first encounter with adversity with all these injuries. Whatever the case is, the Dodgers have been the best offense in the NL since the All-Star break, leading the league in batting average (.278), slugging percentage (.472), and runs per game (5.52). Adversity could do many things for a club, it seems like adversity gave the Dodgers all the motivation they would need to turn their season around.
Rested/Healthy Clayton Kershaw
There is no fall back without Kershaw, right? Most would say there’s no reason to entertain a World Series possibility without him. Well, for the sake of argument we won’t read into any of those comments or any of the success the Dodgers have had since Kershaw went down. Instead, we optimistically look into when Kershaw does come back.
As I mentioned in an article earlier in the year when Kershaw went down, this DL stint may have been a blessing in disguise for Kershaw. While I did not expect nor anticipate Kershaw’s injury to be this severe, the team rallied and played well now they’re sitting atop the NL West. Meaning this may very well be a blessing in disguise. When Kershaw comes back this will be the lowest innings pitched Kershaw has ever come into a postseason having accumulated. When Kershaw is pitching healthy he’s without a question the best pitcher in baseball. If you’d ask me I’d still make the case for Kershaw being the frontrunner for the CY Young this year even after missing time on the DL.
Bottomline: Should Kershaw come back by September to get a few starts under his belt before the postseason the Dodgers are in prime position to make a run at the World Series. You’re telling me we would get a rested, healthy, motivated Clayton Kershaw to lead our rotation after battling back from an injury stint which has been the longest of his career? I’d lock in a game 1 win for the Dodgers.
Last words: This season has been a season of ups and downs. No Dodger team in the past 5 years has compared to the amount of adversity this team has faced. The bright side is the club has risen to the challenge and continued to play better as the injuries piled up. This Dodgers season has the signs of one of the greatest seasons in MLB history. Quite frankly, why wouldn’t it be – this is Vin’s final season.