There’s a curious dichotomy over how the Los Angeles Dodgers are perceived and how they’ve performed on the field. Public perception—as measured by betting odds—says they’re the best team in baseball, a 5-1 favorite to win the World Series. The results on the field say they’re narrowly trailing the San Francisco Giants in the NL West, and are one of four teams tied in the loss column for two wild-card spots. Which is reality?
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ANALYSIS & HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE FROM AROUND THE SPORTS WORLD
Maybe asking which is reality is the wrong way to approach this—after all, we have played over 100 games and we’re at a point in the season where the adage of former NFL head coach Bill Parcells applies—you are what your record says you are. I will say this—I at least understand why public perception and the betting markets seem to think the Dodgers will eventually prevail.
Los Angeles is third in the National League in runs scored, in spite of being in a pitcher’s park. They’ve done it with good balance, ranking third in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The Dodgers are getting another solid year from shortstop Hanley Ramirez (.372/.463) and an MVP-caliber season from Yasiel Puig, at .398/.519 and a cannon for an arm in right field.
Nor is this lineup top-heavy in its reliance on stars. From catcher A.J. Ellis to second baseman Dee Gordon to third baseman Juan Uribe, the Dodgers have contributors who quietly play good supporting roles.
There’s also Matt Kemp (.333/.422) in centerfield and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.321/.439) who are capable of substantially lifting their games.
Los Angeles also has a superb starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw has added a no-hitter to his growing Hall of Fame resume, and has won 11 games with a 1.92 ERA. While it annoys me that the media ignores Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto and to a lesser extent, St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright in Cy Young conversation, there’s no doubt that Kershaw is an ace of the first rank.
Zack Greinke is as good a #2 starter as there is, Hyun-Jin Ru is a solid #3 and Josh Beckett is off the disabled list and resuming a comeback year that his him at 9-6, a 2.52 ERA and a no-hitter of his own.
The Dodger bullpen is second in the National League in save percentage, anchored by Kenley Jansen and his 29 saves.
Thus, we have a lineup that’s already producing and could do more. We have a top-of-the-line starting rotation with one of the game’s best pitchers going every fifth day. We have a bullpen efficiently closing out save opportunities.
So yes, you add all that up, and I can see why people see the Los Angels Dodgers as the betting favorite to win the World Series. What’s harder to see is why, over 100 games into the schedule, they’re right on the borderline of even making the playoffs.
The big wart on this team statistically is the bullpen ERA. While the save percentage is high, the Dodgers relievers are 12th in the NL in ERA as a group. Brian Wilson and Chris Perez, both former closers, have had their ups and downs and Jamey Wright has been inconsistent.
Brandon League and J.P. Howell are the only relievers who’ve really been consistent. Even Jansen’s 3.32 ERA is high for an elite closer, and if this team does make the playoffs, relievers are expected to come into tie games more frequently. It’s the kind of flaw that might not show in the regular season, when closers pile up saves by getting three outs with multi-run leads. It’s more likely to show up in October when the game’s best closers may have to match zeroes for an inning or two.
But that’s about handicapping a playoff series. It still doesn’t really explain why Los Angeles isn’t at least in first place or pulling away from the wild-card field or both. That’s where you go to the issue of this team’s intangibles, their execution of the “little things” and their winning cache, for lack of a better term.
I don’t watch the Dodgers on a daily basis, so I don’t know, but the notion that Los Angeles is the proto-type of a talented team that won’t quite get it done is hardly a novel one. Puig, with his propensity for fundamental foul-ups, is seen as the poster child for this team’s alleged high-ceiling, but often-frustrating mindset.
I do expect the Dodgers to win the NL West, but these concerns are why I didn’t pick them to win the World Series—or even the NL pennant—in March, and I haven’t changed my mind.