It was 22 days ago the Dodgers dropped an extra-inning game against the A’s after the bullpen blew a 3-run lead in the eighth inning. Clayton Kershaw said he hoped the team was “panicking.” They lost the next day, which would be the second of five consecutive losses to start that road trip (including Mike Fiers‘ no-hitter).
The Dodgers then proceeded to sweep the Reds in Cincinnati, sweep the Giants in Los Angeles, take two of three from the Cubs (no thanks to a Jake Arrieta no-hitter), an almost-sweep of the Padres and take the first two from the Angels.
After getting swept by the Astros, the Dodgers were 67-56 and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Giants in the National League West. Since that time, they’re 13-2 and have increased their division lead by seven games.
The narrative is Clayton Kershaw sparked the Dodgers’ with his panic/urgent quote, but that was just a conveniently timed statement. The fact is, the Dodgers have been playing better — and different — baseball since that time.
In the last two weeks, their Base Runs mark is tied for second-best in baseball. This is after playing a majority of the season near or at the bottom of the league. They’re still at -16.3 (28th in baseball), but it’s improving.
Chase Utley‘s acquisition, while not the sexiest-looking on the field, has been pretty solid on paper. He has a 123 wRC+ with the Dodgers and he has stabilized second base since Howie Kendrick went on the disabled list. In the last two weeks, he has been the Dodgers’ best player not named Justin Ruggiano (who as I mentioned last night is an all-time Dodger great). In the last two weeks, he has been worth nearly a win (0.7 WAR) and looks like the Utley of yesteryear.
And yes, promoting Corey Seager was absolutely the right move. It’s a small sample size numbers-wise (183 wRC+ in six games), but he looks awfully comfortable at the plate. He’s patient, hitting the ball hard and looks like a veteran at the plate. While the league will eventually adjust to him, he’s probably here to stay. Sure, he made a couple errors last night, but that’s to be expected by a 21-year-old who is in his first week in the majors and isn’t a prototypical shortstop. I’m not saying he’s going to make the postseason roster, but don’t be surprised if he does.
The Dodgers did start running more of late. In the last two weeks, they lead MLB in stolen bases with 19. Their walk and strikeout rates have held steady during this time, but their power has declined a bit. They have just 13 home runs and a .139 ISO. Their wRC+ is right at 100, so the fact they’re playing more small ball and hitting fewer home runs hasn’t really been as productive when they were hitting the ball over the fence.
This has to do with Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner slumping. Gonzalez has a 66 wRC+ in the last couple weeks, Grandal -22 and Turner 73. Gonzalez playing nearly 93 percent of the games at first base at age-33 could explain some of his late-season struggles, Grandal is in the middle of a terrible slump due to a bum shoulder and Turner, coming off a MRSA infection, has yet to recapture his early season form.
The Dodgers are really deep, as they’re performing well with guys like Kendrick, Enrique Hernandez and Yasiel Puig sidelined with hamstring injuries. This is why they’re able to be at least average offensively while some of the bigger producers are out.
The defense has been good all season, but it has been middle-of-the-pack lately. What has also contributed to the Dodgers’ success is the pitching. The staff as a whole has an MLB-best 2.42 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 3.24 xFIP, 26.3 K%, 19.5 K%-BB% and .213 batting average against. It is also second-best in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.5. This is the staff as a whole — including that God-awful (some would say) bullpen.
We all know about the successes of Kershaw and Zack Greinke. We’ve spilled much virtual ink lauding them. Brett Anderson and Alex Wood have solidified their spots in the rotation as the Nos. 3 and 4 starters. Anderson’s ERA (2.08) is far out-performing his FIP (3.89), but he’s also getting a ton of ground balls (69.1 percent). That’s his MO. Wood is in a similar boat (1.38 ERA, 3.84 FIP), and he’s doing it on the strength of an insane 96.2 LOB percentage.
And about that bullpen … Chris Hatcher has been good, aside from the walks. He is probably the primary setup guy at this point. He still struggles against left-handed hitters, but if he can be more consistent with his split-finger fastball, he’d be in good shape. Luis Avilan might usurp J.P. Howell as the first lefty out of the bullpen and Kenley Jansen is Kenley Jansen.
The Dodgers are playing a better all-around game since Kershaw’s comments. There’s no denying that. But to say his comments sparked this hot streak is a bit presumptuous (and not at all surprising because the media love their narratives). They’ve won some close games — playoff-like games. That’s good. And before anyone says anything — no, they’re not peaking too soon. There’s no such thing. That’s the silliest narrative out there. It’s much better to see them playing well than not, but they aren’t “using up their wins” this month.
It’s amazing what can happen in three weeks. Baseball is a 6-month grind with lots of ups and downs. It’d be best if folks followed the game as such.