The All-star Break hasn’t slowed down the best team in baseball, as the Dodgers continue to pull away from their NL West rivals, increasing their division lead to 9.5 games tonight with a 7-1 win over the Marlins.
Alex Wood continued his incredible season, working through six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and issuing one walk. He struck out four as he improved his record to 11-0 and lowered his ERA to just 1.56. The bullpen, lead by 25-year-old Brock Stewart who pitched two scoreless innings, comfortably held the lead which was set up earlier by a huge night from Cody Bellinger who became the first Dodgers rookie in history to hit for the cycle on his way to a 4-for-5, three RBI night. Bellinger’s two-out, two-run homer off Jose Urena in the third inning sparked a vicious rally which Yasmani Grandal capped off with a three-run shot down the right field line. From there, the Dodgers went into cruise mode. The win, their eight consecutive, improved the team’s record to an MLB-best 63-29 and there doesn’t appear to be any slowing down any time soon.
Offensively, the Dodgers are stacked, with Justin Turner (.370/.466/.570), Corey Seager (.296/.394/.505), and Chris Taylor (.291/.371/.488) forming one of the most offensively potent infield trios in all of baseball. Taylor’s improvement in particular has been noteworthy, hitting 30 points higher than his career mark and adding to that a previously unseen level of power. His 29 extra-base hits (including 10 home runs) from 254 at bats in 2017 is a dramatic rise from his 16 in previous 291 at bats since debuting in 2014. Add to that a career-high 11 stolen bases and he has quickly established himself as being a very important cog in the Dodgers machine. The impressive offensive returns of the infield is matched by an outfield full of power, lead by Bellinger who shares the National League home run lead with Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins) and Joey Votto (Reds) with 26. The resurgent Yasiel Puig has 18, while Joc Pederson (9), Kike Hernandez (8), and Andrew Toles (5) have also contributed to the Dodgers’ 132 home runs on the season when given the opportunity. Sharing the duties behind the dish, Yasmani Grandal (.267/.319/.474) and Austin Barnes (.283/.397/.538) are also adding strength to a line up which can mash 1 through 8.
Adding to the hype of the current line up is the relatively young age of many of the stars, with Seager (23), Pederson (25), Hernandez (25), Toles (25), Puig (26), and Taylor (26) all within a three year bracket and set to be in LA for a while longer. Are we witnessing the making of yet another successful era of Dodgers baseball?
On the flipside, the rotation comprises wise heads full of experience and is arguably the best in baseball right now. Combined, Wood, Clayton Kershaw (14-2, 2.18 ERA), Brandon McCarthy (6-3, 3.38 ERA), Rich Hill (5-4, 3.69 ERA), and Kenta Maeda (7-4, 4.38 ERA) own a 43-13 record and are pitching to a collective 2.88 ERA. Hyun-Jin Ryu (3-6, 4.21 ERA), who is currently rehabbing from a left foot contusion, will soon be another option available for Dave Roberts as he looks to determine the rotation’s best four-man compilation ahead of the playoffs come fall. Like the rotation, the bullpen has performed remarkably well too, lead by closer Kenley Jansen who has 22 saves from 22 opportunities thus far. His 0.93 ERA and 0.54 WHIP combination is the best in baseball, and he’s been well supported by Pedro Baez (1.64 ERA, 38.1 IP), Brandon Morrow (1.80 ERA, 15 IP), and Josh Fields (2.84 ERA, 31.2 IP) in particular. Combined, the bullpen owns a 2.95 ERA – the best in the National League.
With the division title seemingly a formality, the Dodgers also appear likely to head into the playoffs with the National League’s best record as they pull away from fellow division leaders, the Nationals and Brewers. While the wildcard race is still wide open, fellow NL West rivals the Diamondbacks and Rockies currently hold the two berths, and the Dodgers would strongly back themselves against either of these two teams in an NLDS match-up. Sure, it would be foolish to write-off the reigning world champion Cubs, however they’re just not the same team they were in 2016, with the pitching simply not being as dominant, allowing almost one run more per game this year. As such, the only team which may prevent the Dodgers progressing all the way through to the World Series for the first time in 29 years is the Nationals, in what would be a spectacular NLCS.
As it stands, the Dodgers have the most balanced roster in baseball with very few obvious flaws. As the trade deadline approaches, it would be best not to tinker with the team too much and jeopardize losing the incredible clubhouse chemistry currently present under Roberts’ watchful eye. Speaking earlier this month, Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman noted, “We feel really good about the dynamic within our group and the depth that we have. We won’t do something just to rearrange the deck chairs, so to speak.” These comments, measured and self-assured, accurately reflect how this team is playing and until there comes a cause for concern, the Dodgers are best to let things remain as they are. Formidable, exciting, determined, and full of talent, the Dodgers are well placed to see themselves crowed kings of baseball in 2017.