The Dodgers had a fantastic first half to the 2019 season and basically out-performed already high expectations. They currently have a comfortable 13.5 game lead in the division and also own the best record in baseball at 60-32.
If you’re a Dodger fan, it’ll be hard not to look too far ahead and ponder October baseball, especially given the growing anxiousness for a championship. However, the second half of the year still must be played and who knows what’s in store. Continued dominance? Perhaps a second half letdown? Major trades or acquisitions?
Below, I listed four bold predictions for the Dodgers second half of the year.
1. Cody Bellinger will play more first base
Earlier this year, Dave Roberts said that Bellinger would probably stay in right field and not play much first base going forward. But he also left the door open, saying “we’ll see how that goes as time goes by.” Well, time has gone by and moving Bellinger to first base is something that should probably be explored again, especially with the return of A.J Pollock.
When Pollock returns he’ll likely settle back into a full-time role in the outfield. They didn’t sign him to that contract this past off-season to be a platoon player. That means if the Dodgers want to keep Alex Verdugo in the lineup on a daily basis (and they should) Bellinger should move to first when the Dodgers face right-handed pitching.
The Joc Pederson experiment at first base will likely come to an end sometime soon. Perhaps continuing it through some of the second half isn’t so bad an idea, but I highly doubt we’ll see Pederson play any first base as games become more meaningful and the playoffs approach. And to be honest, we shouldn’t. Nonetheless, Pederson will still be in the lineup against right-handers, so the outfield is the best spot for him defensively. When he sits against lefties, Bellinger could move back to play right field and Verdugo/Pollock can man the other outfield spots.
I’ve heard the argument that Bellinger is the team’s best defensive outfielder and moving him would be a downgrade defensively. This is true, but he’s also the team’s best defensive first basemen, and the downgrade from Bellinger to Pederson at first base is a lot bigger than Bellinger to Verdugo in right field.
2. Julio Urias will move into the starting rotation at some point
The Dodgers moved Julio Urias to the bullpen this year for two main reasons. One, they had an abundance of starting pitchers and not enough spots in the rotation to go around. They didn’t need Urias in the rotation early on. More importantly, they wanted to limit Urias’ innings this year to ensure he’ll be available for the post season.
Now, neither of those factors seem to be reasons for keeping him in the bullpen.
With Rich Hill going down for a significant portion of the season, a spot in the rotation has opened up. Ross Stripling could certainly fill in for the short term, and has done so already. But if Hill happens to need more time or doesn’t make it back at all, Urias offers far more upside than Stripling and could be another ace in the rotation.
His innings limit is still a concern, but at only 51 innings right now, it can still be managed accordingly. Keeping him in the bullpen for a while longer would make sense but at some point this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Julio getting some starts.
Some might think that Urias is too valuable in the bullpen to move. And while he’s certainly shown his value there, it doesn’t mean that’s where he’s most valuable. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander could probably be 2-3 inning shut-down relievers too, but it doesn’t mean that’s where they’re best used. The Dodgers should give Urias an opportunity to start sometime this season and see if he can develop into the dominant starter that he’s projected to be.
3. The Dodgers bullpen will improve, with or without additions
Depending on how cynical you are, this could be an extremely bold take, or not very bold at all. On one hand, with how much the Dodgers bullpen has struggled so far, it may be expecting a lot for them to suddenly turn it around and start pitching well. On the other hand, they didn’t exactly set the bar very high in the first half, so improvement seems rather achievable.
The good: the #Dodgers bullpen was much better in the month of June. Their 3.26 bullpen ERA was 2nd in MLB
The bad: their inherited runner scored % has not improved and their 42.9 IRS% for the season is 3rd worst in MLB
— Rick Krajewski (@Rick_K21) July 2, 2019
The bullpen has been the one glaring weakness in an otherwise superb first half of the season for the Dodgers, and I fully expect them to address the issue in some way before the trading deadline. I’m not sure it will be a big splash trade, like a Felipe Vazquez or Brad Hand type acquisition. But even a smaller scale move could still be very beneficial. Players like Will Smith, Shane Greene, and Jake Diekman could all be viable options the Dodgers could pursue.
But let’s assume the worst case scenario for a moment. Let’s say Andrew Friedman drops his phone in the toilet 20 minutes before the trading deadline and can’t get any deals done to bolster the Dodgers’ pen. What then?
Even without any significant additions, I still think the Dodgers bullpen will improve on their first half performance. I’m not saying it’s an ideal situation, or that I’d be fine with it. I just believe that many of the Dodgers relievers have underachieved a bit this year, and it wouldn’t be out of the question to assume they can turn it around, albeit ever so slightly. Also, if Rich Hill does indeed come back healthy, it will allow the Dodgers to keep Urias in the bullpen and move Kenta Maeda there for the post season, adding more depth.
With all that said, please Dodgers… make a move for a reliever or two.
4. Will Smith will be the starting catcher by playoff time
This prediction is one that almost every Dodgers fan wants already and probably expect by year’s end. Smith has been very impressive this season, both in the minors and during his brief stints with the Dodgers. He’s assured to be called up again by the time rosters expand in September, so he’ll likely get even more time to impress.
However, despite his early success, there’s no guarantee the team will go with an inexperienced rookie catcher for the stretch run and into the playoffs. That is unless Smith really forces their hand.
Fans saw glimpses of why he’s the Dodgers #4 ranked prospect during his brief time with the club this year. The offensive potential is evident with Smith and he offers far more upside than either Austin Barnes or Russell Martin. Will that be enough to nudge him ahead on the depth chart?
I say yes. He’ll have to continue to produce well once he’s called up, but I believe Dave Roberts and the Dodgers front office will make the right call to go with the kid down the stretch.
These are my bold second half predictions for the Dodgers and you can take them to the bank! (But really, don’t take them to the bank.)