As of this writing, it’s June 12, the Dodgers are 33-32, and have positioned themselves three games back of the National League West-leading Diamondbacks. A lot has changed to get here.
One of the last pieces I wrote about the Dodgers outlined how (and why) they’re utterly average. I don’t know that it’s necessary to go back on that assertion yet. What I do know is that they’re playing leaps and bounds better than they were at that time, and how it may be the case that I’ve underestimated this team.
Let’s go back one month to the day. Exactly a month ago (May 11), the Dodgers had a +7.0 run differential – not bad, but not great. That was a figure that was good enough for 14th place in all of baseball – a truly average spot to be in. With that said, they were still six runs ahead of the team who was in 15th place at that time, the Seattle Mariners.
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Up to that point in the season, the Dodgers run differential didn’t do much to suggest that the team was much more than average. It did suggest that they were underperforming (because they were slipping well under .500 and farther back of the division leader). Fortunately for Los Angeles, the rest of the West has been so-so, too, so they aren’t being devastated in terms of standings. In fact, around the rest of the league, teams with similar records to the Dodgers have fallen back by as many as 7.5 games. True, early on the Dodgers were 9.0 games back because of Arizona’s hot start, but of course, the Diamondbacks haven’t kept up that pace. That has allowed the Dodgers to stay competitive. That, and the fact that the Dodgers are now outscoring their opponents at a much higher clip.
If you recall, that May 11 cutoff date is the beginning of what looked like could be the downfall of the 2018 Dodgers. They had just lost the first game of a four-game set at home to the Cincinnati Reds. They would go on to lose six straight during that stretch, including all four against the Reds, then two in Miami against the Marlins. On that day (May 16), the Dodgers run differential slipped all the way to -3.0, which as exactly middle-of-the-pack compared to the rest of baseball, making them empirically average.
That’s when things changed.
Fast forward to present day and the Dodgers have pulled that -3.0 run differential and expanded it to +48.0, which puts them at 7th in all of baseball, sandwiched between the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers, both division leaders. Since losing to Miami on May 16, the Dodgers are 17-6, including a sweep of the Nationals in D.C.
If you like to consider things like Baseball-Reference’s Pythagorean W-L total, the Dodgers should technically be 37-28, which (you guessed it) would put them in first place. It also just so happens that the Diamondbacks are playing almost exactly as what’s been expected thus far. Also, the Giants and Rockies are outperforming their expected wins and loss totals. What all this is about is essentially a long-winded way of saying, the Diamondbacks are what we think they are, while the Dodgers have been underperforming for most of the season (until recently).
Congratulations, Los Angeles, the Dodgers are still the best team in the National League West – perhaps marginally (for now), but the best, nonetheless.