With 91 games in the books, the Los Angeles Dodgers found themselves in an interesting predicament at the All-Star break this week.
On one hand, they’re 5.5 games behind the dreaded San Francisco Giants (and almost 10 games clear of everyone else in the division) — and on the other hand, the Dodgers are 2.5 games up for the top Wild Card spot in the National League.
At 52-40, the Dodgers hold the fourth-best record in the NL and the eighth-best record in all of baseball. And yet, 2016 still seems like a disappointment in a number of ways.
So what can we expect in the final 70 games of the season? Here are five predictions…
1) Andre Ethier (or an outfielder acquired via trade) will help lift the Dodger offense
Despite a relatively solid lineup top-to-bottom, the Dodger offense has been the most disappointing aspect of the team thus far. Currently, the team ranks 19th in runs, 22nd in on-base percentage, 28th in slugging and 18th in home runs.
For a lineup that features Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Chase Utley and others, that’s unacceptable.
But, the good news is that help will be on the way — in the form of Ethier (hopefully) or via trade. Although the latest bone scan wasn’t encouraging, Ethier’s expected return, whenever it may be, will be a massive boost — especially with Trayce Thompson sputtering after his hot start and now dealing with a back injury.
After struggling in 2014, Ethier rebounded wonderfully last season and posted his second-highest on-base percentage since 2008 and high highest slugging percentage since 2010. It’s safe to say the Dodgers could use that kind of jolt.
Should Ethier’s injury continue to persist, or early August looks unlikely, I’d be surprised if the club didn’t go out and get some help in the outfield.
2) The Dodgers bullpen will continue to be a strong point
At the beginning of the season, I was optimistic about the bullpen. The truth was, they got a bad rap because of some bad luck last season, and despite few “splashy” signings, I honestly believed this group would be fine this season.
And then, they sputtered out of the gate. Well, it was primarily Chris Hatcher who sputtered, but I digress. Flying in the face of a small sample size, through 91 games, the Dodgers’ bullpen boasts the best ERA in all of baseball.
So, is it sustainable? Probably. Or, better yet, ‘mostly.’
This group has benefited from a .237 BABIP — the lowest mark in all of baseball —- which means they’re probably due for some regression. On the flip side, now that the bullpen has clearly defined roles, there should be more consistency.
So while I wouldn’t bet on them finishing with the best ERA in the league, a top-five ERA is a safe guess.
3) There will definitely be some tension within the starting rotation
With Clayton Kershaw expected back shortly after the break, and with Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu seemingly healthy, things are about to get interesting. Oh, and Alex Wood and Brett Anderson are both expected to return at some point in August.
For those keeping score at home, that would leave the Dodgers with Kershaw, McCarthy, Ryu, Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, Wood, Anderson and Bud Norris.
Those are eight names for five spots — and it’s not like the Dodgers have room to throw a couple of them in the bullpen either.
It’s one thing to have six pitchers and to assume, ‘Well, surely, one of these guys will be hurt before August,’ but three of them? The time will come for Roberts to put his ‘clubhouse guy’ reputation to work.
4) There will be a trade (but it won’t be the big one you’re probably hoping for)
I kind of hinted at this in No. 1, but even with the Norris trade having already been completed, I think there’s more action up ahead.
That said, I can’t imagine it being a significant move. As noted above, the Dodgers already have eight starting pitchers — all of whom are average to above average — and so unless one (or two) of them are shipped out, it’s difficult to imagine the team bringing in another starter.
If a move is made, I’d guess bullpen or on offense. The problem with the bullpen is, well, all those starters. To me, offense makes the most sense.
It’s a unit desperate for help (see above) and one with obvious holes (outfield). So how big a name are we talking?
I believe Jay Bruce is kind of the ceiling. No way the Dodgers sell off a major prospect, so it would have to be a veteran on a short-term deal or someone with an ugly contract.
Will the trade be the difference maker? We’ll see.
5) The Dodgers will win the NL West
Saving the best for last here, but I honestly think this team has what it takes to beat the Giants.
On paper (which, admittedly doesn’t really matter), the Dodgers are far better. Making up a 6.5-game deficit with 71 games to go is manageable.
Last year at the All-Star break, the Dodgers were 51-39 (a half-game better than this year). They finished the season with a 40-31 record in the second half — moving their divisional lead from 4.5 games to eight games.
In 2014, the Dodgers owned the best record in baseball at 53-43 at the break, though a worse win percentage than they currently have. Los Angeles finished the season 41-25 — increasing their divisional lead from half-a-game to six games.
Simply put, the Dodgers have proven to be a better team in the second half of the season. That should hold true as the pitching staff (and offense) gets healthier and healthier.
The Giants currently hold the best record in baseball, but is it sustainable? We’ll see. But my money is on ‘no,’ and an improved win percentage for the Dodgers.