At the conclusion of Thursday night’s game, the Dodgers are officially half way through the 2017 season. At 53-28, they have the best record in the National League, and sit atop the N.L West division by 2.5 games.
It’s hard to picture them doing any better than they have done thus far.
After coming up just two wins shy of the World Series last year, the Dodgers already had pretty high expectations coming into 2017. Over the off-season, they were able to bring back all of their top free agents in Justin Tuner, Kenley Jansen, and Rich Hill. They also acquired Logan Forsythe from the Tampa Bay Rays to sure up their struggles against left-handed pitching. Many experts and analysts had them ranked as one of the top teams in baseball coming into this year. Dodgers fans sure had to be excited about their chances.
Still, even the most optimistic fans probably didn’t see a first half like the one the Dodgers just completed. Their .654 win percentage is currently higher than what the World Champion Chicago Cubs finished at last year.
Their first half success has been multi-faceted. By far, the most talked about story this year for the Dodgers has to be the emergence of Cody Bellinger. The prized rookie got the call up to the Bigs back in late April, and has taken the league by storm. He tied an MLB record for the fastest player to hit 21 homeruns (in only 51 games) and is the first rookie ever to hit 10 homeruns in a 10 game span. He also leads the league in that category, with 24 homeruns on the year. Only Aaron Judge has more (27) but he also has 72 more PA than Bellinger.
Bellinger has given the Dodgers the biggest power threat they’ve had in their lineup in a long time. And he hasn’t been the only one to provide the team with unexpected production. Chris Taylor got an opportunity to play due to various injuries on the team, and he caught fire early on. He forced his way into the starting lineup on a daily basis and has been a key contributor all year. The Dodgers also still have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Corey Seager (.294/.397/.498, 12 HRs), and Justin Turner (.381/.466/.535, 5 HRs), both whom continue to put up very good numbers. Guys like Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, and Joc Pederson have also seen advances in their game, showcasing an overall well-balanced lineup for the Dodgers.
Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball over the last 6-7 years, and has continued to show why this season. Although he’s allowing more homeruns than he ever has before, Kershaw still stands at 12-2, leads the league in innings pitched, and is 3rd in strikeouts. His 2.32 ERA is currently 2nd in the league, and that would be his highest mark since 2012, when he finished at 2.53. Think about that for a moment. An ERA that would be a career year for most pitchers would be Kershaw’s worst mark in six years. In short, he’s still very good.
The biggest surprise in the rotation this year has undoubtedly been Alex Wood. After starting the year in the bullpen, Wood claimed a starting spot after pitching brilliantly early on this season, and he hasn’t looked back, posting a superb 1.86 ERA and 0.92 WHIP on the year.
The rest of the Dodger’s rotation has been a revolving door between Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, all of which has spent some time on the DL this year. The Dodgers’ depth has allowed them to utilize the new 10-day DL to their advantage, and they’ve practically used it as a means to just rest some of their pitchers throughout the season. The intent is to hopefully keep them all fresh for the stretch run and into the playoffs. So far, the back-end of the rotation has held their own, providing the Dodgers with multiple quality options.
Another aspect of their success this year has been the Dodgers bullpen. After having one of the best relief groups in baseball last season, this year’s Dodgers bullpen has picked up right where they left off. They’re tops in the league with a 2.89 ERA, .214 BAA, and 10.35 K/9. They also have arguably the best closer in the game right now in Kenley Jansen, who has been lights out and yet to blow a Save this season. If the Dodgers are going to continue their success in the 2nd half, their bullpen will continue to be a crucial part.
Since the new Dodgers front office took over a few years back, a couple of things they’ve stressed are roster depth and versatility. Those attributes have certainly been factors in the Dodgers success thus far this season. They have multiple players who can play various positions, and they have stocked their minor league system with guys who can contribute at the major league level. They also have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and with the trade deadline coming up soon, the Dodgers are well-positioned to make a move if they feel the right deal presents itself.
A lot can occur between now and the end of the year. Injuries can happen. Teams can start to struggle. With that said, the Dodgers have positioned themselves in a very good situation after their great first half, and their confidence right now has to be sky high.