The old poet Jean Toomer once wrote, “Acceptance of prevailing standards often means we have no standards of our own.” Before this current season began, the prevailing thinking was that the Dodgers would be a team that may struggle to score runs but would excel in winning low-scoring games. After pruning away the bats of Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp and the speed of Dee Gordon expectations were low for a team that would be able to pack much punch offensively. With the arrival of Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal, and Howie Kendrick combined with the strong starting rotation, pundits began to see this as a team that would no longer win as many 8-6 games but instead begin winning more of the 2-1 and 3-2 variety.
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In a January story in the LA Times, Dylan Hernandez wrote that “[Don] Mattingly thinks the Dodgers have a team that can better compete in the kinds of low-scoring environments they will encounter in the playoffs.” That was the big concern during the off-season. The Dodgers won a ba-jillion games last year, but it meant little when they couldn’t grind out the pitching and defensive games most notable in October.
The shift in personnel over the off-season would make the difference. In 2015, the Dodgers would have a team that could nail down those low scoring games. Dodgers Nation ran a story prior to spring training postulating that “Until the offense gets clicking, the team figures to be in a lot of low-scoring games and that will put a huge burden on the relievers.”
May 11, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon (left) and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier before the game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
We are now 32 games into the 2015 Dodger season, and the pre-season prevailing standard of thinking has been completely forgotten (at least until now). Plenty of stories have been written about L.A.’s high powered offense. At the time of this writing they lead the National League in runs scored with 170, 12 runs more than the second place Nationals even while playing 2 fewer games to date.
Their offense hasn’t been that surprising to me. Hind-sight is 20/20, of course, but heading into the season I wasn’t the only one to recognize the fact that this team would be able to put out a very deep lineup every night (as long as Joc Pederson panned out – check- and Andre Ethier remained a team player – check- and utility fielders Scott Van Slyke and Justin Turner continued the promise they showed in 2014 – double check). The arrival of Alex Guerrero and the growing power of Grandal is just icing on the cake.
If there is a problem with this team so far, it would their inability to compete in the low-scoring games that everyone thought they would be such specialists in. Through their first 32 games, when the Dodgers score 5 runs or more, they are 19-0. When they score 4 runs or less, they are just 3-10. For comparison, the Cardinals have 10 wins when scoring 4 runs or fewer. This is even more surprising when you consider this is a Dodger team with the second best bullpen ERA in the league at just under 2.00, bested only by the Cardinals at an astounding 1.61.
So what we have is a team that’s unbeatable when their offense is clicking but struggles mightily when it’s not. Or it could be that the Dodgers score so many runs it simply overwhelms all those games when they didn’t actually need to do so (of those 19 wins, in 11 of them the opposition was held to 3 runs or less). I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, especially when the Dodgers have now won 22 of their first 32 games, but these numbers don’t bode well if the Dodgers find themselves in a pitching duel with the likes of a Max Scherzer, Michael Wacha, or Madison Bumgarner (a guy who has already bested Clayton Kershaw twice this season).
At some point I expect Kershaw to catch up with the gauntlet of excellence that’s been thrown down by Zack Greinke. I would love to see Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias continue their surprising mastery over opposition hitters. And I hope the heavily-used bullpen can continue to perform for another five months, but put hope in one and spit peanut shells in the other and see which one fills up first.
Call to the Pen
I am enjoying the fireworks for now. Who doesn’t love seeing 21 hits belted against the hapless Marlins? But there are still improvements I want to see with this team. There are some prevailing standards in baseball that remain immutable. One in particular is that in order to win a World Series (and that is everyone’s expectation this season) a team has to be able to consistently win low scoring games. There are no finished products in May, so the Dodgers still have time to prove themselves on this front. With match ups against both the Giants and the Cardinals before the month’s end, L.A. will certainly have their opportunities.