You’re not going to believe this, but it’s hard to win the World Series. No, really, it is. There are 30 teams vying for the World Series every year, and every season only one team will lift the trophy. Being the resident Dodgers Digest shill, arguing for the Dodgers winning it all is naturally the angle I’m taking.
The Dodgers’ odds are a bit better than most other teams (1-in-8), and despite everything the team has been through this season with the injuries, there’s some cautious optimism surrounding this ball club as things have started to go their way.
The 2013 Dodgers were probably the most talented team on paper this organization has had in recent memory, but a faulty bullpen, Matt Kemp‘s destroyed ankle and a fastball that “got away” from Joe Kelly ended those World Series hopes. The 2014 Dodgers were still talented, but the bullpen was even faultier, Clayton Kershaw imploded and Hanley Ramirez wasn’t the same hitter. The 2015 Dodgers were done in, partially, by the bullpen and not being able to capitalize on Jacob deGrom‘s Game 5 struggles.
This year’s iteration of the Dodgers have a few things going for it that could carry them all the way to the World Series title.
Clayton Kershaw And Rich Hill Could Dominate
While we may not ever see a postseason like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling had in 2001, Kershaw and Hill might be able to come close (relative term) to the level of production in terms of rate stats. Johnson and Schilling combined for 89 2/3 innings in the 2001 postseason. That’s insane. Here’s how their rate stats played out:
- 1.30 ERA
- 0.71 WHIP
- 31.0 K%
- 4.2 BB%
OK, that might be a bit too presumptuous, right? Well, actualy … here are Kershaw’s and Hill’s combined numbers (Hill’s numbers just with LA):
- 1.72 ERA
- 0.74 WHIP
- 31.1 K%
- 2.3 BB%
The sample sizes and situations are obviously different, but Kershaw and Hill have the ability to dominate a series from the left side. The Dodgers thought they had this kind of setup the last three years with Kershaw and Zack Greinke, but they were never close to this level of dominance. That isn’t a slight toward Greinke, but he isn’t known as a strikeout pitcher.
While starting pitching isn’t as important as some would have you believe (it’s important, but it isn’t the be-all, end-all), if the Dodgers can get six elite innings out of each Kershaw and Hill every time they start, there’s a good chance the Dodgers win the game.
The Bullpen Is Really Good
The Dodgers’ bullpen certainly got a workout this season. It led all of baseball in innings pitched (590 2/3), ERA (3.35), and was second in batting average against (.218) and WHIP (1.16), third in K-BB% (17.7), and fourth in FIP (3.55) and strikeout percentage (26.1). Kenley Jansen plays a large role in this, but there are other guys to credit as well.
Joe Blanton has been excellent for the Dodgers this season, and his $4 million signing has been a bargain. He has exceeded expectations by pitching to a 2.48 ERA and 3.33 FIP while striking out a quarter (25.4 percent) of the hitters he faced and posted a sub-.200 BAA (.192). Pedro Baez, despite his struggles, was still somewhat valuable (3.04 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 28.1 K%, .192 BAA) out of the bullpen — and looks to play a role in October again … as long as he can command his fastball in the strike zone. Grant Dayton was a revelation. He was acquired for Chris Reed last year and all he did was strike out 38.6 percent of the hitters he faced in 26 1/3 innings. I wrote about Luis Avilan‘s usefulness yesterday and a guy like Ross Stripling could end up being a valuable piece in a long relief situation, as he has been everything the Dodgers have needed this season. If the Dodgers make the National League Championship Series, Alex Wood could be added to the roster. If that happens, he becomes quite the useful human as a reliever.
Just ask the Royals how much a strong bullpen can mean to a World Series-contending team.
The Wild Cards
No, not the wild card teams, the wild cards on the roster. The Dodgers have a number of wild cards on the roster due to having talented and useful depth. The Dodgers have gotten numerous contributions from their rookies this season, and there have definitely been other players who have over-performed.
Julio Urias is the first player who comes to mind. The 20-year-old might be the team’s fourth starter. Hell, he might be the third-best pitcher on the roster right now. There’s no way the team or we can expect Urias to be a 6- or 7-inning pitcher if he gets the ball in a postseason start. But if he can throw three or four strong innings and be backed up by a guy like Stripling to throw a couple, that’s two-thirds of the game covered, leaving the bullpen to pickup the final three innings.
Speaking of the bullpen, we’ve already covered Stripling, but a guy like Josh Fields could be a wild card. He certainly has the stuff to have success, but he doesn’t have the strongest or longest track record. Velocity tends to play up in the postseason, and Fields is one of the harder throwers (94.7 MPH) the Dodgers have available out of the ‘pen.
On offense, the bench is a little weaker than in recent years. We know who guys like Charlie Culberson, Andre Ethier and Howie Kendrick, but there are two guys — who play the same position — who could help against left-handed pitching.
Austin Barnes (surprisingly) and Carlos Ruiz (unsurprisingly) made the postseason roster. Barnes made it specifically so Ruiz could be freed up to pinch-hit against left-handed pitchers, a struggle we’ve written about ad nauseam. Enrique Hernandez was left off the initial postseason roster because he could not hit lefties, and so Barnes, who appeared in all of 21 games (37 plate appearances) with Los Angeles made it ahead of him. That should tell you what the decision-makers thought of Hernandez’s potential to turn things around.
Ruiz hit .271/.407/.386, 125 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season and owns a career triple slash of .276/.376/.436 and wRC+ of 117 against them. Having him available so the Dodgers wouldn’t have to rely on the likes of Kendrick (79 wRC+ vs. LHP) or one of the left-handed hitters in Ethier, Josh Reddick or Andrew Toles should help in late-game situations. Ruiz has also always excelled in the postseason — usually against the Dodgers — so it wouldn’t be a stretch that he could contribute greatly if he gets his shot.
Speaking of Toles, he’s another rookie who could easily be a wild card in the playoffs for the Dodgers. He possesses something no other Dodger on the roster does: speed. He’s fast and could be a late-inning option to run for a slower player in hopes of scoring from second base on a single or even *gasp* stealing a base. He also showed some decent on-base ability and pop in his 115 plate appearances, so he isn’t just a one-dimensional player. Oh, and he has a fantastic arm that, if the situation arose, could play a role in determining the outcome of a game. The Dodgers got him for nothing, but he can impact the game in so many ways it’s not hard to imagine him doing something big in a big moment.
The Dodgers have a 20.2 percent chance of winning the World Series in 2016, according to FanGraphs, which is probably exponentially greater than what most fans believe heading into the NLDS that starts on Friday against the Nationals. That’s especially true after watching what transpired last night between the Giants and Mets, but in spite of all the worrying, this Dodgers team truly does have a legitimate shot at the World Series in 2016.
Speaking of the negativity that emanated from last night, be sure to tune in to Dodgers Digest later today, where Chad will rain on the Dodgers’ parade.