The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs were the National League favorite when the 2017 season began.
Then the Colorado Rockies and Washington Nationals stole the show in April and May.
As the All-Star Game looms, it’s now the Los Angeles Dodgers standing tall in the NL.
The Dodgers aren’t running away with their division, unlike other powerhouse teams such as the Houston Astros and the Nats. Nevertheless, they’re playing better ball than anyone else right now, going 20-4 in their last 24 contests. With that success, they’re an excellent choice in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests.
Dave Roberts is managing a squad that has the best team ERA in the majors at 3.22, holding the opposition to a .225 average and striking out 816 batters. The rotation ranks first, ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The bullpen is second only to the Cleveland Indians.
At the dish, L.A. ranked fifth in runs during June. The Dodgers are fourth overall and second in the NL behind the Nationals.
Maybe there is some East Coast bias at play, but it seems the Dodgers—even with their astronomical payroll—are still an underrated team.
To that point, the Dodgers only had four All-Stars announced on Sunday: Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Cody Bellinger. Justin Turner and Alex Wood were early snubs. Turner looks like he will get in on the fan vote, though. Meanwhile, Wood may replace Kershaw, who is scheduled to start on Sunday.
While Turner and Wood may ultimately make it to Miami, it’s still quite amazing that a .382 hitter and a hurler with a 9-0 record and 1.83 ERA were left off of the initial list. Turner has the best OPS on the Dodgers at 1.042. He’s behind a slew of players in home runs but has a .472 OBP. Meanwhile, Wood doesn’t have the innings of Kershaw, but he does have the superior FIP and strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio.
On paper, the Dodgers certainly look like the most complete team in the league. They have a strong bullpen, unlike the Nationals. Their rotation has depth, unlike the Rockies. And, their offense is amongst the best in baseball, unlike the Cubs.
Most impressive has been the team’s success despite Adrian Gonzalez—the former centerpiece of the lineup—being sidelined much of the year and not being the offensive force that he has been throughout his career. First baseman Bellinger leads the league in home runs with 24 and slugging percentage at .620. While Logan Forsythe is batting just .247, Chase Utley and Chris Taylor have added to the depth in the middle of the field.
Last year, the Dodgers couldn’t score against southpaws. What was once the team’s Achilles’ heel is now another strength. They’re second in runs scored against left-handers and have a .818 team OPS, the best mark in baseball. Turner is batting .423 against southpaws, and Forsythe is hitting .380. Taylor and Seager are also hitting well over .300, while Enrique Hernandez has slammed seven of his eight homers against lefties.
On the mound, the Dodgers have seen numerous injuries, but Kershaw has been healthy and pitching like the best hurler in the game. The three-time Cy Young Award winner and four-time ERA champion is 13-2 with a 2.19 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. Behind him, Wood has arguably been better since getting a chance in the rotation—certainly good enough for All-Star consideration.
The rest of the starters have been a bit of a revolving door, but Rich Hill is pitching better even with the shorter outings. Kenta Maeda has allowed just 15 earned runs in his last 54 innings, good for a 2.50 ERA. And, once healthy, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu are at least average pitchers according to ERA+.
In the pen, there is no better closer than Jansen. He’s 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA and 19 saves in 19 chances. He has a 0.577 WHIP and has walked only two batters in 34.2 innings while striking out 54.
Pedro Baez, Josh Fields, Luis Avilan, Grant Dayton and Brandon Morrow have all thrown the ball very well, too. Fields, Avilan and Morrow all have strikeout rates over 10 per nine innings, while Baez has a 1.26 ERA in 35.2 innings.
The Rockies and New York Yankees have been the most recent teams to stumble after a strong start, but the Dodgers are better positioned to avoid such a fate because both of those squads were shallow in starting pitching.
It’s clear that Los Angeles is the most dangerous team in the NL as we approached the Mid-Summer Classic.