The Los Angeles Dodgers lead a National League West race they've quickly taken control of thanks in large part to a strong offensive attack. And it's been in spite of a pitching staff that's largely been struggling (specifically the bullpen).
That makes it all the more important that the lineup maintains this identity for the better part of 2023.
As of play through Wednesday, the Dodgers have bashed the second most home runs in baseball, lead the way in walks, and have the third-best team slugging percentage. Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy have been the primary catalysts.
Muncy has been particularly good. After slashing .196/.329/.384 and recording only 21 home runs last season, he’s improved to a .241/.407/.632 slash line this season while currently leading the majors with 12 long balls.
On the pitching side of things, Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw and Dustin May have been about as good as both fans and critics expected. But the bottom of the rotation and majority of the bullpen remains a weakness.
It's not realistic to think that Noah Syndergaard or Michael Grove (who is currently on the 15-day injured list with a groin strain) will consistently go deep into ball games and fortuitously set up relievers like Brudsar Graterol, Shelby Miller or Evan Phillips. Further, some members of the 'pen like Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia, who was recently optioned, have struggled massively, which is a major cause for concern.
Before entering play on Wednesday, the Dodgers held a 4.30 team ERA and a less-than-stellar 4.07 FIP. That's not going to cut it in the postseason, or even down the stretch.
These circumstances make it necessary for the offense to be elite. The bounce back from Muncy was a bet the Dodgers placed that's indicative what the team needs in 2023 alongside stalwarts like Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and Will Smith.
Rookie James Outman has joined the party and could be an All-Star mainstay as well. He slashed .292/.376/.615 with seven home runs and three triples in April en route to winning National League rookie of the month.
Players such as Trayce Thompson and JD Martinez will have to have similar stretches this season to help pick up the slack when others inevitably go cold for a period of time. Thompson gave the Dodgers some critical play last year and saved the Dodgers down the stretch when they were injured. Martinez, while currently on the 10-day IL, has recorded four home runs and 15 RBI thus far, but fans know his prowess as a DH throughout his career cannot be ignored.
It’s fully possible that the boys in blue will end up putting together a dominant rotation and bullpen as they get healthier, introduce some top prospects, and make additions at the trade deadline. But it's more likely the Dodgers will have to play elite offense and regularly place their pitchers in advantageous positions in order to keep pace in a competitive NL West.