The Dodgers Went From Worst to First in the First Half of the Season

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12: Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers points skyward after getting the final out during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on July 12, 2018 in San Diego, California. The Dodgers won 3-2. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12: Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers points skyward after getting the final out during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on July 12, 2018 in San Diego, California. The Dodgers won 3-2. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /
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Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present your National League West Division Leaders, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  That’s right, the Dodgers went into the All-Star break in sole possession of first place in the NL West.  How’s that for a turnaround?!

Just two short months ago, on May 16, the Dodgers hit their low point for the season.  They sat dead last in the NL West.  In fact, their 16 – 26 record had them tied for second worst in the entire League.  They were 10 games below .500. and moving in the wrong direction.  They had dropped nine of their last ten games, including their last six in a row.  Adding insult to injury (no pun intended!), the last six included a four-game sweep by the worst in the League Reds followed by dropping the first 2 games against the last-place Marlins.  The Dodger’s season was on the verge of collapse.

Fast forward two months and the Dodgers entered the all-star break in first place by a half game over the  Arizona Diamondbacks.  With Arizona dropping their last game to the Braves, the Dodgers needed to beat the cross-town rival Angels to take sole possession of first place.  Mission Accomplished!

Worst to First

Since that bleak night in mid-May, the Dodgers have the best record in the National League.  They’ve gone on a 37 – 17 tear, playing .685 baseball during that stretch.  The Dodgers now sit atop the NL West at 53 – 43.  They are the fastest team to go from 10 games below .500 to 10 games above .500 since the 1950’s.  Pulling that feat off on Friday the 13th, before splitting the last 2 games against the Angels, leaving them sitting at 10 games over at the half.  What an incredible run it’s been.  The Dodgers have now literally gone from worst to first in just 2 short months!  What’s more, they’ve managed to do it with a lot of their star power on the sidelines working through injuries.

Team Effort

Perhaps the best part of this turn-around is that it seems like the success is sustainable.  It’s not just 1 player going off on a crazy tear while you cross your fingers, hoping he avoids the inevitable reversion to the mean.  Everybody has had a hand in their success.  The starting rotation, the offense, the defense, the bullpen, the bench.  All have contributed.  And as we saw time and time again last season, the Dodgers were at their best when they all contributed and everyone passed the baton to the next player to do his part.  In some ways, the Dodger’s final game of the half was the perfect example of how they’ve gotten here.  The team was firing on all cylinders and everyone contributed.

Starting Pitching & Bullpen

In the last game of the first half, Kershaw had a solid if not spectacular start, scattering 6 hits and 4 walks while striking out 8 over 6.2 innings.  He overcame some first inning traffic before being touched for a 3-run homer in the top of the 4th inning.  Kershaw got himself into some additional trouble after a couple of questionable ball calls led to a Mike Trout walk with a runner on second and 2 outs in the top of the 7th.  Thankfully, the bullpen took over and was lights out.  Kenta Maeda came in and, after hitting Justin Upton with the first pitch, got Ian Kinsler to strike out to end the threat.

Scott Alexander did a fine job in the eighth, retiring all 3 hitters he faced, with 2 on strikeouts.  Kenley Jansen took care of the final 3 outs for his 27th save.  After a slow start, Jansen has turned things around and is now tied with Wade Davis for the league lead.  Overall, the starting pitching kept them in the game while the bullpen gave the offense a chance to win it.

Offense & Defense

The Dodgers offense and defense played their roles as well.  Yasmani Grandal’s bat continues to be hot, going 3 for 3 with a walk and a home run. Cody Bellinger and Andrew Toles added two hits each and both scored a run.  Max Muncy, while quiet at the plate today, had three defensive gems at third base.

Meanwhile, Kiké Hernandez, utility player extraordinaire, continued to demonstrate his value with both his bat and his incredibly versatile glove.  In addition to his early sacrifice fly, he crushed a line drive over the left field wall for the go-ahead home run in the seventh.  He also made two brilliant defensive plays at two different positions.  Early in the game, while playing second base, he raced out to right-center to rob Martin Maldonado of a hit on an over-the-shoulder sliding catch. Then, after a late defensive shift to right field, he came in for an incredible sliding catch to rob David Fletcher of a hit in the ninth.

Orel Hershiser and Joe Davis recently talked about people floating the possibility of a Gold Glove Award for utility players.  Allow me to say I fully support it and think Hernandez should be the first recipient of the award!

Looking Ahead to the Second Half

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Just a few short weeks ago, it looked like 2018 was shaping up to be a lost year for the Dodgers.  One-quarter of the way through the season, they were languishing at the bottom of the division and had a roster riddled with injured players.  Justin Turner, their all-star third baseman, and number three hitter hadn’t played a single game, and they had already lost their best every-day player, Corey Seager, to season-ending Tommy John surgery.  Not to mention having 4/5 of their starting rotation on the disabled list, including staff ace, Clayton Kershaw, not once, but twice!

Since that time, the Dodgers have gotten several players back from the DL and have turned things around.  They’ve played some great baseball and have managed to claw their way back to the top of the NL West.  But they can’t rest on their laurels now. They only lead Arizona by a half game, and the top four teams in the division are separated by a mere four games in total.  In many ways, the Dodger caught a break in the first half.  Had the D-Backs, Rockies, or even the Giants put together a respectable run, things could have looked much worst entering the break.  It seemed like the NL West was the division that no one wanted to win.  They can’t count on that happening in the second half.

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The Dodgers need to get the rest of their players healthy and back on the field.  They need to start hitting with runners in scoring position.  They also need to stop running into outs on the bases.  And the Front Office needs to step up to bolster the bullpen with Manny Machado prepared to ignite the offense.  With a little luck and a little help from the Front Office, there’s no reason the Dodgers can’t win their sixth division title in a row.