At 31-28, but only four games behind the San Francisco Giants for first place, the Los Angeles Dodgers have had a disappointing but not debilitating start to 2016. Coming into the season, the Dodgers were joint favorites with the Giants in the race for the NL West crown. Now that the season is well under way, the Giants look strong, but the Dodgers’ inconsistency has kept the team flying under the radar. Over half of the opening day lineup has been in a slump since the beginning of the season, the starting pitching has been significantly impacted by injuries, and the bullpen has been abhorrent. Yet somehow the Dodgers are still right around first place with the all-star break quickly approaching. Two full months are in the books for 2016 already and now is the time for the Dodgers to begin finding some consistency and close out the first half of the season on a high note.
Only five position players—Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Trayce Thompson, Chase Utley, and Joc Pederson—have been even marginally good so far this year. Out of those five, only Seager, Thompson, and to a lesser extent, Pederson and Utley, have been consistent at the plate. If I was told that over half the lineup from the Dodgers’ opening day game against the San Diego Padres was going to have an average OPS well under .700, I would expect the team to be significantly below the .500 mark at this point in the season. Somehow the Dodgers have been able to tread water through the struggles and are well within striking distance of the Giants. Plus, Yasmani Grandal and Kike Hernandez, two of the Dodgers’ most important players a season ago, have begun showing signs of life over the past week. It seems like only a matter of time before the Dodger bats start to get going, and when that happens, the Dodgers have the ability to reel off multiple wins in a row.
Unlike in years past where the Dodgers have beaten up on the weaker national league teams but struggled against the heavyweights, the Dodgers have actually won four and lost three in series against teams over .500. Additionally, the boys in blue have the fourth best run differential in the National League. All of these signs point to the Dodgers regressing to the mean. It is expected that virtually the entire Dodger roster besides Seager and Thompson will finally wakeup from their two-month long slumber and begin driving in runs. With the talent on the roster, at the very least the offense can surely not get worse. Plus, Brandon McCarthy looks to be returning in the next few weeks, Scott Kazmir appears to have figured out his control issues from the beginning of the season, and Julio Urias looks to be finding his footing in the big leagues. If everyday players like Justin Turner, Grandal, and Howie Kendrick can start producing a mere half of what they are capable of, and the starting rotation can stabilize with consistent quality outings, the Dodgers have scary potential.
Another consistent sore spot for the Dodgers has been the bullpen. However, things may be coming around as Pedro Baez has only given up one earned run since May 16th, Kenley Jansen continues to dominate, Louis Coleman and Joe Blanton continue their steady work, and Adam Liberatore has emerged as a viable option in lefty-on-lefty matchups. Not to mention, flamethrower Frankie Montas should be coming off the disabled list very soon, likely displacing the absolutely awful Chris Hatcher. The bullpen looks to be finding the consistency that has eluded them since the first part of last season, another potential game changer for the Dodgers.
Over the next two weeks, the Dodgers only have three games against a team over .500 and that is the Giants. Winners of the last three out of four, the Dodgers need to use this lull in the schedule to take advantage of the Giants having to finish their current series with the Boston Red Sox while also having to travel all the way to have to face the Tampa Bay Rays who are currently riding a four-game winning streak. If the Dodgers can build some momentum off the sweep of the Braves by finishing the next two games strong against Colorado before carrying this potential mini streak into play in San Francisco, the Dodgers may be able to continue closing the gap on the Giants. With a very weak schedule outside of the series this weekend and multiple catalysts beginning to emerge on the roster, the Dodgers need to use this opportunity to break out of the .500 range. The Giants may have already played their best baseball of the season (they won 16 of 18 over a three-week stretch in May) but the Dodgers have not even cracked the surface of what they are capable of. Things are beginning to look up just the slightest bit in Chavez Ravine and with the Giants beginning to cool off from their red-hot May, now is the time to make a run. If the Dodgers can go into the all-star break hot, they can carry the momentum into another strong second half. The Giants are a very good team that are not going to be easily overcome making this stretch of games potentially even more important than normal. The Dodgers have the roster to be successful, the team just needs to collectively wake up and everything could be looking a whole lot better a month from now.