A High-Powered Offense Keys Dodger Success

The Los Angeles Dodgers are an organization renowned for their pitching. The large confines of Dodger Stadium have made it an amenable working environment for pitchers and the best Los Angeles teams have thrived on pitching—from Don Sutton to Fernando Valenzuela to Orel Hershiser to Clayton Kershaw in our own day, along with All-Star Game starter Zack Greinke.

But it’s an offense that’s absolutely crushing the baseball that’s the biggest reason the Dodgers begin the second half with a 4 ½ game lead over the San Francisco Giants.

Los Angeles is fourth in the National League in runs scored. Two of the teams in front of them, Arizona and Colorado, play in hitter-friendly parks and the Dodgers are only 16 runs away from the top spot in the National League. It’s fair to say that 0.17 runs per game—or about one every five games is attributable to park effects and that Los Angeles is better than either of these two teams.

The other team in the mix, ironically, is San Francisco, also in a pitcher’s park. When I began putting this post together, I was originally thinking about making it a Dodgers-Giants offense combo piece, and asking whether this was analogous to the Yankees-Red Sox battles of several years ago—an ancient rivalry with some great hitters.

Meaning no disrespect to San Francisco’s offense, which has, after all, scored one more run than LA’s, I found the raw power numbers coming out of Los Angeles to be the more intriguing storyline.

The Dodgers lead the National League home runs, and fairly comfortably. They have 113 and the Rockies are next with 97. Do I need to reiterate the whole park effects theme again? It’s tough to get more dramatic than Dodger Stadium vis-à-vis Coors Field, so the practical edge for Los Angeles if all things were equal, is even higher.

Here’s the notable numbers…

*Joc Pederson is the kind of rookie this organization used to churn out regularly in the late 1970s and early 1980s when they seemed to have a young stud ready to come up at a moment’s notice. Pederson has hit 20 home runs and put on a show for the nation in the Home Run Derby when he appeared to poise to steal the title from Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier before the hometown third baseman rallied in the end.

*Adrian Gonzalez has 18 home runs. Gonzalez’s overall offensive game, with a .355 on-base percentage and .520 slugging percentage is the best since about the All-Star break in 2011. He was in Boston then, hurt his shoulder, and while he’s been effective since then, this is the first time we’ve really seen the MVP-like numbers he used to churn out in San Diego.

*Yasmani Grandal was given up the Padres and traded within the division, an unspeakable act of front-office foolishness. Grandal is slugging .526 with 14 home runs.

*A comeback season for Andre Ethier is in the works. Once one of the best outfielders in baseball, Ethier seemed to be settling into the role of the primary backup.  He’s stepped up and hit 10 home runs and is slugging .481.

*Alex Guerrero is a new face in the mix. He’s only had 156 at-bats, but has already popped ten home runs. Guerrero has to fight for playing time in an outfield that already has Pederson, Ethier, Yasiel Puig and eventually the oft-injured Carl Crawford (currently on rehab in Triple A) will be back. Guerrero is a one-dimensional offensive threat, who doesn’t get on base consistently. But the power is there.

Even more intriguing is that Los Angeles has enjoyed this power surge without a good year from Yasiel Puig. With only four home runs, a .261 batting average, and reports saying he’s fallen completely out of favor with the clubhouse, is it possible that his Dodger days are numbered? That’s a completely separate topic unto itself, but it’s a sign of how deep the Los Angeles roster is that they’re putting out this kind of production without him.

The Dodgers have their flaws as a team—the starting rotation and bullpen lack depth. But when you have Greinke and Kershaw at the top of your rotation and then start bashing the baseball the way they have this season, you have the formula for October success. We’ll see if this Los Angeles offense can finally muscle their way back to the World Series.