There’s no rest to be had in the West. This past weekend was a show of mettle and a show of might for Los Angeles, beating the Padres three distinctly different ways as the series moved along. Friday night saw Julio Urias pitch 7 brilliant innings, bailing out a relatively quiet Dodgers offense en route to a 3-0 win. Saturday, a clutch home run by Mookie Betts put the Dodgers in front, only for San Diego to roar back against usually reliable relievers before Kenley Jansen shut the door. Sunday was a breeze by comparison – an 8-0 win brought about by a flurry of home runs and aided by an early injury to Blake Snell – and a historic afternoon for Max Scherzer on the mound.
Although all three games followed different scripts, they had one thing in common: tremendous starting pitching from the Dodgers.
Over the course of three games, Dodgers’ starters combined to pitch 22 innings while only allowing 2 runs. While Julio Urias and Walker Buehler were each dominant in their own right, it was Max Scherzer’s Sunday start that would take it to another level. As you may have already heard, Scherzer’s Sunday was one to remember – an immaculate second inning (9 pitches, 9 strikes, 3 strikeouts – with every pitch swung at) was only the precursor to his eventual 3,000th strikeout of Eric Hosmer in the 5th inning and an afternoon that saw him take a perfect game bid into the 8th. With plenty of run support to go around, it made for a stress-free and celebrational afternoon in the Dodger dugout.
Despite a dominant weekend by the Dodgers to remind San Diego where they stand in the pecking order of Southern California baseball, the team from Northern California hasn’t given any ground. It was difficult to imagine the Cubs giving Los Angeles much help this weekend, given their stripped-down roster; still, a single win along the way for the Cubbies over the Giants would have gone a long way. Instead, it was a second consecutive road sweep for San Francisco.
The Giants have now won 7 in a row, making it somewhat remarkable that the Dodgers have maintained the position they have to this point on the schedule (2.5 games back). I’ve seen Dodgers’ fans’ repeated comparisons of this 2021 season to 2018 when the Dodgers would tie Colorado for the division title before winning a one-game playoff to avoid the Wild Card game. While circumstantially similar in that neither season allowed for any feeling of September security, I’d make the argument the similarities end right there.
2018’s Dodgers finished 91-71 heading into the extra game after starting the season 16-26 – a clear, legitimate hangover that followed their first World Series appearance in 29 years. This season’s Dodgers arrived at 91 wins yesterday (September 12), with only 53 losses to their name. While the 2018 Dodgers were notably unlucky when viewed through Pythagorean record (proj. 100-62 based on +193 run differential, 3rd highest in baseball), they finished 77 runs behind the Astros and 69 runs behind the Red Sox by those same measures; upstart Colorado, meanwhile, managed to tie the Dodgers while posting a remarkably low run differential of +25. This season, Los Angeles has been a completely different level of dominant than in 2018 – their +234 run differential (proj. 99-45 by Pythagorean expectation, 7.5 games better than San Francisco) is clear of the entire field by 56 runs as of today.
Run differential, and Pythagorean records for that matter, obviously don’t tell the whole story. If you don’t play well in one run games or in extra innings, an excellent run differential can quickly look more like a mirage than a true indicator of a successful ball club. The Dodgers have certainly struggled in those areas in ‘21 (22-24 in one-run games, 4-13 in extra innings), and as such haven’t run away with the game’s best record by any means. Still, a 9-9 finish would net Los Angeles 100 wins – and chances are they’ll eclipse that number by a few games.
While expectations were sky high for the Dodgers heading into ‘21, I’d argue vehemently against the idea that any 100+ win season is a “disappointment”. Passing that threshold is something I’ll always caution against taking for granted, and will usually net any team a division title with relative ease. Unlike the plucky Colorado Rockies of 2018, these San Francisco Giants are just… really good. As MLB.com’s Andrew Simon pointed out on Twitter over the weekend, the numbers were staggering entering yesterday for San Francisco:
- Overall Win %: .645
- Home: .662
- Road: .630
- 1st Half: .640
- 2nd Half: .654
- Every single month over .600
- 1-run games: .634
- Blowouts: .763
- Interleague: 650
- Vs. NL West: .683
These San Francisco Giants haven’t been excessively lucky, either – their 91-52 Pythagorean record is only 2 games apart from their actual mark of 93-50 – they’ve just won. Over and over, in every circumstance. They’ve squeezed the absolute most out of veterans the league had left for dead, fleeced teams in trades for young talent (see: trading Shaun Anderson to Minnesota for LaMonte Wade Jr.), and signed savvy one-year deals, betting on guys like Kevin Gausman, Alex Wood, and Anthony DeSclafani to figure it out all at once. They have. They’ve also hit 213 home runs this season, second in the National League and only 1 behind Atlanta, while playing in a notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark with swirling winds. The disturbing reality for Dodger fans is that Farhan Zaidi has developed a legitimate 100+ game winner out of thin air, and they’re not likely going to fall apart over their final 19 games.
After watching the Dodgers win 8 consecutive division titles, fans in Los Angeles find themselves on unfamiliar ground this season. While it’s easy to feel as if the Dodgers have left meat on the bone in 2021 or that they’ve underachieved – and both are true, to varying extents – 100+ wins year in and year out will usually get it done. This time around, LA has company in that stratosphere – and it’s a race to the finish. Opportunity knocks once again with lowly Arizona coming to town. The Dodgers ought to answer the door ready for a fight.