A Look at How the Dodgers Have Weathered the First-Half Injury Storm

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A few weeks ago, when the Dodgers looked like they were at rock bottom, I went through and looked at the upcoming schedule, and what the Dodgers would have to do to climb back to .500 and back to the top of the division. An off day today was a good time to take stock of what has transpired over the first two and a half months of the season.

It’s been seven series and 28 games since the series in Miami with the Marlins and the Dodgers have done pretty well. They’ve gone 22-6 in that time, not losing any series, although they spilt a four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies. The offense has come alive, and they’ve swept two then-first place teams in the Colorado Rockies and Washington Nationals, and most recently, took two of three from the now first Atlanta Braves.

The Dodgers now sit at 33-32, tied for second in the NL West with San Francisco, 2.5 games back. The incredible thing is they’ve done it without Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, along the way losing Kenta Maeda, Chase Utley and Dennis Santana, and have had very limited playing time from Justin Turner, who is still recovering from his broken wrist.

This is one of the strangest seasons that anyone of us has seen in a long time. Injuries are just decimating the team, inhibiting them from running away with the NL West for the sixth straight year. This leads to some guys being leaders who we just didn’t anticipate.

First, there’s Matt Kemp. A guy no one thought would be in Dodger Blue again, until the front office got him back in a salary dumping trade with the Braves. He’s currently third in voting for outfielders for the All-Star game, third in the NL in batting average at .338, has 10 homers and 16 doubles, and is doing pretty decent defensively.

They’ve also been led offensively by a guy named Max Muncy, who half the fans didn’t even know that he was in Oklahoma City last season. He’s got a slash line of .272/.395/.616/1.011, plays multiple infield positions, and is tied for the team lead in home runs. He has the same amount of homers as Cody Bellinger—think about that for a minute! He’s also got an epic, Yasmani Grandal level bat drop when he hits those homers.

One simply cannot say enough about Ross Stripling and the way he has stepped up and plain dominated all of his starts. In his last five starts, he is 5-0, with. 1.15 ERA, 41 strikeouts and only two walks. His only blemishes Sunday were two solo home runs. He went seven innings when the tired bullpen needed some rest. He has been the rock star of the pitching staff.

On the flip side, they’ve endured not having Turner’s bat in the lineup for a great percentage of the season, and weathered a huge slump from the reigning NL Rookie of the Year in Bellinger. Grandal and Yasiel Puig have been streaky, Forsythe has been offensively sub-par, and Chris Taylor is not at the level he was last year.

As previously mentioned, the pitching staff is utterly decimated. Four of the intended starters are currently on the disabled list. The bullpen, much maligned at the beginning of the season, has had to carry way more than its weight, and done surprisingly well. The defense has also been lacking. But still, they keep hanging around.

It’s true that they are only a game above .500. It’s true that the NL West is one of the weakest divisions in the Majors. But I dare you to find another team that could lose four of its starters, it’s All-Star shortstop for the entire season, it’s All-Star third baseman for the majority of the season up until now, and still keep themselves afloat.

A former Dodger, Paul LoDuca said on the radio the other day that the reason the Dodgers aren’t doing better is lack of leadership. There have been many rumbling among fans known as Fraudman Twitter (for their lack of faith in the front office) that Dave Roberts is just not suited to be the Dodgers’ manager. I propose the exact opposite—there is no way that this team would be where it is without great leadership, both from the managerial staff and its players.

It would have been incredibly easy to write this year off. It’s only the middle of June and so much has happened already. The loses to the pitching staff and key players could’ve been incredibly demoralizing. There’s a bunch of big names on this team and they could have all tried to pull rank. Kemp could’ve come back and not wanted to be a team player. Any number of other things could go wrong. But they have banded together and pulled their way out of the mess and while they are not completely back on top, they are a heck of a lot better than they were.

I joked on twitter that because all the pitchers were injured in the first half of the season, they’ll all be healthy and there will be too many healthy pitchers in the second half. I know better than to tempt the baseball gods like that. But Maeda is looking to come back this week, maybe Hill next week, and maybe Kershaw after that. As long as the Dodgers can keep doing a great job of treading water like they have been the last few weeks, they will be well primed to take it to the next level at the end of the season, when it really counts.

 

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