If the season were to end today, the Dodgers would not make the playoffs. The Nationals have gotten most of the attention as the super team that’s failed to live up to expectations, but if the Dodgers were to entirely miss out on October, it would be unfathomable. PECOTA projected the reigning NL champs to have the best projected record in their league before the season started, and they acquired the best player at the deadline.
They’ve had their share of injuries and disappointments, but at the same time, they’ve been able to replace those players with someone as good or better. When Clayton Kershaw went on the disabled list, Ross Stripling pitched like Kershaw. After Corey Seager underwent Tommy John, they eventually replaced him with Manny Machado. If Austin Barnes isn’t hitting, Yasmani Grandal is and vice versa. Though Chris Taylor has hit more like one would expect Chris Taylor to hit before 2017, Matt Kemp became a starting All-Star. Cody Bellinger is having a “sophomore slump” (his wRC+ is 118) but guess what, Max Muncy is now an unstoppable killing machine.
Their roster is like a shark’s mouth. When a tooth gets knocked out, another just takes its place. For everything that hasn’t gone their way, they’ve had an answer to it whether that’s come from their organizational philosophy of depth and development or a happy accident (Matt Kemp). It doesn’t make sense that they’ve performed this poorly.
Both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus are still fairly certain they still will make the playoffs. Fangraphs had them at 74.9 percent and even though their odds have dropped 24 percent over the last week, Baseball Prospectus had them at 61.1 before play on Friday. No matter if you look at first, second, or third win order, they’re first in the NL West. The only thing they’re not first in is actual winning percentage in which they are third. Of course, actual winning percentage is the only thing that matters.
It doesn’t matter that their 93-run differential is better than every National League team except for the Braves. They need to turn these games into actual wins. They can’t count on Kemp to keep producing—he has a 50 wRC+ since the All-Star break—but they shouldn’t need to. Any value they got from Kemp was essentially a gift and they still have an outfield of Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, and Yasiel Puig.
The Dodgers should be better than they have been. In the NL, they’re first in wRC+, third in position player fWAR, and first in starter ERA and FIP. One of the only areas they don’t shine is their defense and DRS says they’re still good even if UZR disagrees. The other is of course their bullpen.
Things looked a lot better for the Dodgers a week ago, but that was before Kenley Jansen was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. Clearly, Jansen’s health is of larger concern than what the Dodgers do in games of baseball, but the Dodgers haven’t had an answer for his absence.
The Dodger bullpen blew five straight games against division rivals this week including two walk-offs against the Rockies. Even in Wednesday’s win against the Giants, Caleb Ferguson gave up a game-tying, three-run dinger in the eighth inning. Aside from Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers have eschewed spending on bullpen arms because expensive relievers often turn into ineffective relievers (see: Mark Melancon in San Francisco, Greg Holland in St. Louis and now Washington, everyone in the Colorado bullpen not named Adam Ottavino.)
This year, they haven’t gotten the surprise seasons like they did with Brandon Morrow and Joe Blanton. JT Chargois has shown flashes of his upside (high velocity, swing-and-miss stuff) but just as much of his downside (no idea where the ball is going). Scott Alexander’s less than stellar peripherals have caught up to him.
The good news is that with Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu coming back from the disabled list, Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda can move to the bullpen. Both are probably more valuable as a starter but they’re still better than the Dodgers’ current options Maeda’s own meltdown on Tuesday notwithstanding.
The projections and underlying statistics all agree that the Dodgers are still one of the three best teams in the NL. They’re only two games back of Arizona in the NL West and two and a half back of the second Wild Card, but there are currently two teams between them and the second Wild Card spot. All it would take is for Arizona and two of Milwaukie, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Colorado to hold pace with them and Los Angeles could find themselves on the outside looking in come October.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.