While many fans of the Dodgers couldn’t be happier with the remarkable script of the first half of the season, there’s still plenty of baseball to be played in the second half — 72 games, to be exact. And as there are quite a few similarities between last year’s club and the 2017 version, there are indeed a handful of favorable differences which could eventually propel Los Angeles to an even more successful campaign by season’s end.
There’s no logical manner to venture a guess as to what will happen in the second half; however, if the current wave of momentum continues to flow in monumental fashion, 2017 may end up being a season that many will remember for countless years to come.
Here’s a quick list of some of the main variations between last year’s club and the 2017 edition:
An experienced skipper — There’s no question that Dave Roberts‘ rookie managerial campaign for Los Angeles exceeded expectations of most, if not all, of the people close to the club. After all, in 2016 he became the first Dodgers manager to win National League Manager of the Year since Tommy Lasorda in 1988 — the last year the Dodgers appeared in the World Series. Roberts had never managed at any level prior to arriving in Los Angeles, yet his masterful manipulation of the daily lineups, careful handling of the bullpen, and his unbelievably close bonds with his players were several of the key reasons the Dodgers rolled on to their fourth consecutive NL West title. Now with 1-1/2 seasons of experience under his belt, there’s no telling how far his leadership will guide the club into the future.
Alex Wood — The stats alone indicate how much Alex Wood has meant to the success of the Dodgers. After making 10 starts in all of 2016, the southpaw has already posted a 10-0 record with an incredible 1.67 ERA this season. Two more wins, and he’ll tie his mark for most personal victories in a single season. To boot, his arsenal continues to become more deadly, especially with a +4 MPH increase on his fastball velocity over past seasons. With the way he’s performing at the moment, he’d probably be considered an ace on many other clubs across the league.
Success vs. southpaw pitching — Against left-handed pitching, the 2016 Dodger bats struggled mightily to the tune of a .213/.290/.332 slash line — a mark that saw them in the basement of baseball’s worst performers. This season, though, the club has improved to slash .262/.348/.471, which is best in the National League and second in the bigs only to the Indians. Credit needs to be given to executive management, the coaching staff, and the players for making a concerted effort in improving such a dreadful discrepancy. Plus, there’s now one less Achilles heel for other teams to target as a strategical approach.
Chris Taylor — Despite a slight decline in numbers in recent weeks, the contributions which Chris Taylor has made to the 2017 Dodgers are nothing short of outstanding. His slash line of .285/.365/.480 doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Most importantly, he has seemingly come up big in the clutch all season long. With the bases loaded this year, he’s 4-for-5 with three walks and 17 RBI, including three grand slams. Throw in 10 long balls, 18 doubles, 11 stolen bases and the ability to play more than a handful of defensive positions on the diamond, and Taylor would arguably finish in the Top 5 for the Dodgers’ first-half MVP.
A healthy Clayton Kershaw — 2017 has seen resident ace Clayton Kershaw amass an astonishing 14-2 record, the first Dodger to collect 14 wins in the first half of a season since the great Sandy Koufax in 1963. His 159 strikeouts, 2.18 ERA and 0.877 WHIP over 132-1/3 innings pitched already have him atop the leaderboards for the NL Cy Young race. While his first-half figures last season could probably be considered better than that of 2017, the fact that he’s healthy headed into the second stanza this year could be the biggest difference maker of all. Kersh was absent for all of July and August of 2016 with a back ailment, but his presence heading into this season’s fall months may inspire the Dodgers to steamroll through the NL West.
Cody Bellinger — Just about everything that can be said regarding Cody Bellinger‘s spectacular first-half has certainly already been mentioned by scores of outlets across the baseball blogosphere. He’s the youngest position player to make the All-Star Game in franchise history. At 21 years of age, he leads the team with 58 RBI, 25 home runs and a .619 slugging percentage. If anything, the Dodgers now have a very legitimate, bonafide, power threat smack dab in the middle of their batting order — something they were sorely lacking over the entirety of the 2016 campaign.
The taste of defeat — Perhaps the biggest difference of all is reflecting on the experience of being so close to continuing onto a World Series. The players watched their counterparts from the Cubs celebrate with unbounded emotion when Chicago captured last year’s NLCS crown, and those images will no way be forgotten until the Dodgers themselves celebrate in the exact same fashion. The most encouraging thing about the NLCS defeat was how every single member of the squad had his head up in the locker room and was visibly excited for the 2017 campaign to begin immediately — something that’s not often seen. At that particular moment, it almost appeared as if the players knew they were among something special moving forward.
Of course, there are many other factors that have contributed to a successful first half in 2017. An unstoppable Kenley Jansen. A hitting machine that is called Justin Turner. The emergence of Austin Barnes as a legitimate big league catcher. Yasiel Puig proving that he belongs. And the list goes on and on. In the end, this year’s crew could be one of the most cohesive units that the city has seen in recent history, which is most definitely indicated by their 61-29 record.
2017 has truly been a special season so far, and for the sake of the players, the coaches, the management crew and the fans, hopefully the current wave of success rolls right into the first week of November.
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