The Los Angeles Dodgers are fantastic. They’re a juggernaut. They’re horrifying. They are everything a team could hope to be.
But, despite all that, as our own Henry Druschel points out, the Dodgers are not invincible. The Dodger are on their way towards being one of the best regular season teams of all time, yet that distinction means little once the 162-game regular season is replaced by five- or seven-game sets against playoff opponents.
Of course, just because variance swamps everything in the playoffs doesn’t negate what the Dodgers are accomplishing and how they are accomplishing it. There’s nothing fluky about this Dodgers team having the best record in MLB, and while that guarantees them nothing except home field advantage in the NLDS, it does make them the toughest out of the playoff field.
However, the Dodgers, as great as they are, are not perfect. While the Dodger dreadnought looks formidable right now, perhaps we can identify which crack in the hull could be the one to bring the whole ship down. Let’s run through some possibilities.
Here is the primary lineup the Dodgers use, insofar as a team with the positional flexibility of the Dodgers uses a primary lineup:
Chris Taylor — RH
Corey Seager — LH
Justin Turner — RH
Cody Bellinger — LH
Yasmani Grandal — S
Logan Forsythe — RH
Joc Pederson — LH
Yasiel Puig — RH
Of course, the Dodgers can do a lot of mixing and matching, with Enrique Hernandez receiving starts in center field against lefties and Chase Utley getting starts at second base against righties.
On the surface it would seem like lefties could still give this team a problem. Two of their three best hitters bat left-handed, as does their primary center fielder. Against lefties, the Dodgers are relying on Hernandez, who is currently running a 104 wRC+ after posting a 68 last season, Forsythe, who a .090 ISO, and Puig, who is having a nice season but is no one’s model of consistency.
Of course, this is the Dodgers, which means the numbers don’t necessarily bear out any reason to worry about their success against left-handed pitching. The Dodgers are third in baseball with a 116 wRC+ against lefties and their everyday lefties hit lefties well: Seager has a career 129 wRC+ against lefties, Bellinger a “career” 124 wRC+.
Still, those numbers encapsulate all lefties the team has faced. Perhaps an opponent with a sting of tough lefties in their rotation could give the team problems in a short series.
The issue with that, however, is that the only team with such a rotation is… the Dodgers themselves (more on that in a second). The only other National League team that comes close to the Dodgers in terms of quality lefty starters is the Chicago Cubs, who could use John Lester and Jose Quintana two times each in a series against the Dodgers. A potential World Series matchup against the Boston Red Sox could create an issue, as they can run out Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Drew Pomeranz. But ultimately, the Dodgers lefty leaning lineup is not a huge concern.
Here is how the Dodgers will likely line up their rotation in a playoff series:
Clayton Kershaw — LH
Yu Darvish — RH
Alex Wood — LH
Rich Hill — LH
The Dodgers could use Kenta Maeda or Brandon McCarthy to make a start, but those two are clearly sub-optimal options compared to the four above (and for the purposes of this article let’s assume Kershaw will be healthy in October).
Kershaw, Wood, and Hill are all excellent, but a team with primarily right-handed hitters would have a leg up on teams primarily featuring left-handed starters.
The first thing that jumps out here is a team that would be a bit hamstrung by facing so many elite lefties: the Washington Nationals. Their two best hitters, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, both bat left-handed, and while they are elite against all pitching regardless of handedness, the fact that the Dodgers can run out so many good lefty starters may swing the odds slightly more in their favor in a series against the Nationals.
One potentially tough matchup in this respect would be a healthy Houston Astros, who could run out a lineup with a slew of lefty-mashers, especially if they play Evan Gattis over Brian McCann behind the plate. But overall, much like their lefty-leaning lineup, the lefty-leaning rotation is no reason to fret, at least right now.
The Non-Kenley Jansen relievers
The Dodgers appear to have decided that they weren’t going to trade top prospects Alex Verdugo and Walker Buehler at the trade deadline for what would ultimately amount to marginal upgrades. That being the case, they chose to spend the bulk of their available prospect resources on acquiring Yu Darvish at the trade deadline, opting for lesser relief options Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani rather than paying the freight for Brad Hand or Zach Britton. It is a defensible decision considering Clayton Kershaw’s precarious health, but it does create the potential for a repeat of last postseason, when manager Dave Roberts was reluctant to use anyone not named Jansen out of the bullpen.
Yes, the Dodgers bullpen isn’t outright bad, but as far as cracks in the hull go, it certainly qualifies. Watson and Cingrani have been bad this year, and Luis Avilan’s 4.22 walks per nine innings don’t inspire a lot of confidence. Pedro Baez and Josh Fields are fine, but their respective ERAs and FIPs peg them as question marks rather than answers. Fellow Beyond the Box Score-er colleague Ryan Schultz detailed how Brandon Morrow could be a relief weapon, but his health history makes him far from a guarantee. The team will benefit from adding Hyun-Jin Ryu, Maeda, and/or McCarthy to the bullpen, but none of those three guys have the kind of stuff that makes you think they can shift to the bullpen and dominate in short stints.
As far as weaknesses go, middle relief is not the worst one to have. And this is all relative; compared to the rest of the club the bullpen doesn’t look as strong, but it’s far from a disaster. But as far as weaknesses go, this one may be the one Dodger opponents are able to exploit this October.
No team, even one as good as the Dodgers, is perfect. Whether it’s the left-handed lineup, left-handed rotation, bullpen, or some other currently unrealized weakness, the Dodgers are not guaranteed to stay afloat against the whipping whirlwind of variance.
All stats current as of August 10, 2017.
Jeremy Klein is a writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @papabearjere.