The Dodgers Are the New Cubs

Over the weekend, the Rockies came to LA to show everyone that the NL West was really going to be a fight, that this wasn’t just the Dodgers’ division to run away with. At 47-28, the Rockies were just behind the 48-26 Dodgers, and with a successful weekend in LA, they could even retake the division lead.

It didn’t go well. They Dodgers won 6-1 on Friday, 4-0 on Saturday, and 12-6 on Sunday, outscoring the Rockies 22-7 on the weekend. The Rockies are now 4.5 games back in the NL West race. Their chances of winning the division, which we had at 9.0% on June 20th, are now 1.3% on June 26th. And it’s not like the Rockies have fallen apart; the Dodgers are just proving to be an absolute behemoth.

LA’s sweep of Colorado pushed their current win streak to 10 games. Prior to losing a game against Cleveland on June 15th, they’d won six straight, so they’ve now taken 16 of their last 17 contests. They’re just a game behind the Astros for the best record in baseball, and right now, they look like the 2017 version of what the Cubs were last year.

Despite lacking a classic superstar slugger, this team can really hit. Their position players have combined for a 117 wRC+, third best in baseball, led by Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner. A rookie, a shortstop, and a third baseman with five home runs might not be your normal middle of the order, but these three have combined to hit .317/.405/.575 this year, good for a 158 wRC+ between them. Over the last two weeks, when the team has been basically unbeatable, those three have hit .393/.475/.807, good for a 229 wRC+. Right now, the middle of the Dodgers’ batting order is basically hitting like Peak Babe Ruth.

But what really makes the Dodgers offense scary is their depth. Their less-good regular hitters — Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig — are all above-average hitters, and then they’ve gotten high-end production from role players like Austin Barnes (144 wRC+), Kik√© Hernandez (113 wRC+), and Chris Taylor (133 wRC+). They have so many guys worth playing that notable offseason acquisition Logan Forsythe has been turned into something of a utility player, as they don’t have the at-bats to give one of the better-hitting second baseman in baseball a full-time job at the position.

Guys like Barnes and Taylor will inevitably cool off, and even Bellinger isn’t going to keep hitting bombs at this rate, but this is a really good offensive team, and if they upgrade over Adrian Gonzalez at first base before the trade deadline — which they could do by acquiring a first baseman or outfielder, given Bellinger’s flexibility — it might be the best offense in baseball.

Unlike the Astros and Nationals, the other two teams hitting at this level, the Dodgers aren’t really sacrificing defense to get elite bats in the lineup. They currently rank 12th in UZR and 7th in DRS, and that’s despite experimenting with guys like Bellinger and Taylor in center field at times. The Dodgers aren’t the best defensive team in baseball, but they’re probably the best defensive group of the teams that can really hit. So, naturally, they currently lead MLB in position player WAR (+16.2).

And then there’s the pitching. Clayton Kershaw has already set a career-high with 17 home runs allowed, Rich Hill has thrown 40 low-quality innings while struggling with blisters and command issues, Julio Urias struggled before they found out his shoulder was shot, Kenta Maeda lost his rotation spot, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is giving up nearly two home runs per nine innings pitched… and yet they still lead the majors in pitching WAR (+12.7). There’s an incredible disconnect between their overall results and the number of things that have gone wrong for LA’s pitching staff; if I read you the list of issues their pitchers have faced in the first half, you’d probably think it was the collective reason the team was playing .500 ball.

Clayton Kershaw has already allowed a career-high total of homers. It hasn’t really mattered.
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

But regardless of what kind of pitching metric you use, Dodgers pitchers have been near the top of the league this season. Alex Wood’s revitalization has helped a lot, and Brandon McCarthy has stabilized the back end of the rotation even as everyone else has struggled, while Kenley Jansen is currently having one of the great relief seasons of all time. Again, the team’s decision to stockpile depth has paid off, as they’re getting carried by some unexpected pitchers while many of the team’s best arms from last year struggle.

This is the truly scary part of the Dodgers current run; there still looks to be significant room for improvement. They’ve won 16 of 17 during a stretch in which Kershaw has allowed six homers in 26 innings pitched and has allowed a higher wOBA than Dinelson Lamet. During this run, Rich Hill has a 5.79 ERA, while opposing batters are hitting .328/.377/.684 off Ryu.

The Dodgers are steamrolling the National League while their rotation is struggling, and based on track record, these guys probably won’t keep struggling. Or if they do, they’ll get replaced by one of the hundred other arms the team has floating around. And, again, they could easily make a midseason trade, perhaps swapping Ryu’s cheap controllable years for someone who offered a bit more short-term stability.

Because it’s baseball, no one is ever unbeatable. The Dodgers will have to go through several other excellent teams in the postseason just to get to the World Series, and there is still plenty of time for things to go wrong in the second half of the season.

But right now, the Dodgers look about as formidable as baseball teams get. They hit, they field, they pitch, they have depth behind their stars, and they have a loaded farm system capable of facilitating talent acquisitions at the deadline if they choose to load up even more for a postseason run.

No team is ever perfect. The Dodgers have their flaws. But this team is really good at basically everything. They’re talented, young, deep, and have the closest thing to unlimited resources in baseball. Best of luck to the NL teams who have to take on this juggernaut for years to come. The Dodgers have reached the point where they aren’t just good; they’re scary.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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5 years ago

This narrative has been around ever since the new ownership group take over. They’ve won four straight divisional titles. The Dodgers are the new nothing, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past four years.

5 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

The Dodgers have not had the best record in baseball since new ownership, and they currently have the best Baseruns and run differential. They will have to finish only 44-41 to exceed the best record they have had since new ownership.

I think the narrative you’re thinking of has more to do with the general situation of the team. Their money in combination with the strength of their farm (which has a lot to do with their money) and their “brain-trust” front office (used elsewhere disparagingly but here endearingly) causes people to remark that the Dodgers “will be” tough for the foreseeable future, but to this point their present team has never looked as strong as it does now.

5 years ago
Reply to  Bip

I actually think at some point in 2012 the Dodgers had the best record. That team over achieved the first 2 1/2 months of the season

5 years ago
Reply to  Bip

Weren’t the Dodgers tops in player WAR last year… or something like that?

5 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

Hey, I disagree with this comment too but that’s a lot of downvotes. A little surprised by the uniformity of the response.

5 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think it’s the tone of the last sentence.