When your tenure in academia is spent with your own father as your principal, you acquire certain skills that prove useful at any given moment. Like, for instance, the ability to explain why some grades are the way they are. (As well as the skill to be invited to parties after convincing everyone you aren’t an undercover student looking to bust kids on the weekends.)
Using one or more of these skills, I’ve prepared a mid-season report card to summarize the Dodgers’ performance at this point of the year. Let’s see how well the Dodgers have done in different aspects of the game and see where they need to improve before going into the pennant race.
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That’s right. I am giving the Dodgers’ bullpen a superior grade because they have simply been superior when considering all expectations. For the last three or four seasons, Dodgers fans have seen their bullpen give away games in the late innings after the L.A. starters did an excellent job putting the team in a position to win. Every writer in the baseball zeitgeist knew that the Dodgers relief staff would be their undoing.
As of this very moment, however, the Dodgers have the single best bullpen in the league. That’s right! The Dodgers pen owns the league’s lowest ERA in almost 300 IP so far. The Dodgers boast a 2.83 ERA, which is even better than the 2015 World Champions Kansas City Royals bullpens’ ERA of 2.92. The Dodgers also have the lowest opponent batting average of .195, which makes them the only MLB team to keep their opponents batting below the Mendoza Line.
I also give the Dodgers bullpen an A+ due to their ability to answer the bell in recent weeks. With Kershaw sidelined with lower back pain, the rest of the Dodgers’ starting rotation have not done well enough to get their team into late innings with a chance to win. This has forced Manager Dave Roberts and Pitching Coach Rick Honeycutt to ride the bullpen like Zorro in effort to earn the win on most nights. Instead of having the bullpen stumble as they have done so many times before, in 2016, they have flourished.
One of the standout arms has to be Adam Liberatore. He now currently holds a Dodger record of 20-something scoreless appearances and has only surrendered two runs all year. With a microscopic ERA of 0.61, he has really stepped up and is serving as one of the best 8th-inning relief men in the league.
Joe Blanton has also proved to be a vital part of the Dodgers’ late-inning plans. In his 47.1 IP, he has kept his WHIP to a very petite 0.736, second only to Closer Kenley Jansen.
STARTING PITCHING: B
I was originally going to give the starting staff at ‘B-‘ until I looked at their actual numbers on the year. When Kershaw went down with back problems, it was difficult to imagine how the rest of the staff would do without him. Props to the Dodger front office for responding so quickly by acquiring hard-throwing righty Bud Norris from the cellar-dwelling Atlanta Braves. The simple fact, however, is that the Dodgers staters sans Kershaw have difficulty getting past four and five innings in their starts and puts an incredible amount of stress on the bullpen. (And coaching staff.) That being said, they are 5th in the MLB with an ERA of 3.77 and 3rd in opponent batting average with an average of .234. The numbers are alright, they just need to find a way to get deeper into the games… and maybe buy Kershaw some dinner every now and then.
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With every player seemingly okay with playing where they are asked to play, this level of uncertainty has not affected their performance at the plate for the most part. The Dodgers have a pretty young core and they have risen to the occasion.
Trayce Thompson was acquired during the offseason and has already made a case for himself as one of the premiere rookie ballplayers in the league. The brother of Golden State Warrior Klay Thompson has smashed 13 homers and chased in 32 RBIs. His batting average has dipped in recent weeks, falling to .225 on the year, but remains one of the Dodgers best options off the bench.
In his sophomore season, Joc Pederson has posted similar numbers to last year. He has matched Thompson’s 13 home runs, but his wild, untamed swing has only been good for a .236 average at the dish.
Easily the most exciting player in the Dodgers’ lineup is rookie shortstop Corey Seager whose first half has earned him a place on the N.L. All-Star roster and the 8th seed in the 2016 Home Run Derby. Corey has tore up the league, batting .297 and smashing 17 home runs as he appears to be the runaway favorite for National League Rookie of the Year.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Dodgers lineup though. One obvious absence is the power from the big first basemen Adrian Gonzalez. While he has pulled his average from as low as .260 to it’s current status of .291, he has only been able to muster seven homers so far on the campaign. With everyone else pitching in, I believe the shortcomings of Gonzalez have done enough to show that this lineup will always have trouble functioning when his bat is absent.
Well, the Dodgers have no problem flashing the leather out there on the field. Their team fielding percentage of .988 is good enough to make them the second-best defensive team in the N.L. Their effort on the diamond is highlighted by some of the impressive plays being made by outfielder Yasiel Puig.
The polarizing Puig is still at the center of some trade talks, per Ken Rosenthal, his glove has done a lot to make up for his shortcomings at the plate. He leads the Dodger outfielders with six assists and has made one diving play after another. When considering his glove, I would go as far to say that his struggles at the plate are a bit overstated. He still has 7 home runs while batting .256. The offensive numbers aren’t anything to brag about, but Puig as an all-around player is something to be valued at the deadline, should he be traded or not.
Let’s face it. Going into this season, the Dodgers’ managerial vacancy was tempting to only a few candidates in the league. It required the diplomatic skills to handle some pretty big personalities in the locker room and the thick skin to handle the amount of scrutiny that comes with managing in a giant market like L.A. Dave Roberts has done pretty well, in my opinion. I think his ability to speak towards his guys as a manager AND as a former player is, above all else, his best trait. When things began spiraling out of control during a series in San Francisco in which the Dodgers lost two very close games, he gathered his troops and the Dodgers (players and coaches alike) all banded together for a self-examination. What followed was a return home and a sweep of a buff Washington Nationals lineup. Some of his decisions late in games have been criticized, but I think Roberts is still an improvement in the managerial department. I say he has done very well.
I would encourage fans to not look at the standings for a while because the Dodgers are playing excellent baseball. 11 games over .500 is an awesome place for most teams to be and would put them atop most divisions in baseball. The Giants are simply playing baseball on a whole other level. My mind races for the last time I’ve ever seen a Dodgers team play this well and still end up between 6 and 7 games out of first place. Although, the Dodgers have pretty good traction when it comes to the wild card race. While the thought of a $200M wild card team may leave some Dodger fans with a horrible taste in their mouth, I think it’s worth considering that the Giants haven’t won the division in years. The entire league knows what a simple wild card spot has earned the Giants “every even year.”
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