The first half of the 2018 season is over , and the Dodgers have somehow found themselves in first place in the West. Of course, this is all what we expected from a team that was this close to winning the World Series last year. Yet, this season so far has been anything but what fans thought it might be.
Although we’ve all been watching, I think it’s important to realize what this team has been through. A simple recount of the major injuries the team has endured seems appropriate.
- Their All- Star third baseman Justin Turner started the year on the DL, thanks to a wrist injury incurred by a hit-by-pitch in a preseason game. Even when he returned to the lineup, JT was still not himself, and is now dealing with left adductor soreness.
- Their All-Star shortstop, former Rookie of the Year Corey Seager underwent Tommy John surgery and is out for the season and maybe part of next season.
- The ace of the team, Clayton Kershaw was out twice with injuries.
- In addition to Kershaw, every other starter has seen time on the DL except for Ross Stripling and Alex Wood—Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, and Walker Buehler dealt with various injuries and have now returned. Hyun-Jin Ryu is still on the DL dealing with a groin strain.
- Multiple relievers also spent time on the DL and/or being sent down to work issues out in Oklahoma City. Kenley Jansen started the season off not looking anything like his 2017 self. The Dodgers have moved on from numerous relievers already, either by DFA or trades.
On May 16, the Dodgers were 8-1/2 games behind Arizona and in last place in the NL West. Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger were no where near producing up to their 2017 standards. Critics wrote them off, saying Taylor was a flash in the pan, they couldn’t beat a surging Arizona, and that the season was over.
But there was also this guy called Matt Kemp, he who was a fan favorite turned villain who returned to his old team again. He who wasn’t even supposed to remain with the team, he who was just a part of a salary dump and was going to be shipped off again as soon as an eligible trade partner was found. Kemp ended up putting the team on his back and carrying them went the offense couldn’t quite get it going.
He was helped by this other guy, Max Muncy, who was recalled from Triple-A a few weeks into the season and made sure he wasn’t sent back down. Although Muncy was never called up in 2017, the front office told him they liked what they saw and to stick around with the team. He did, and now he’s heading to the All-Star game as part of the Home Run Derby, 12th in the majors with 22 homers.
Kemp will be starting the All-Star game in the outfield, taking his .310 BA and 15 homers to D.C, with him. Joining him will be Jansen and Stripling, who is having a banner year himself with a 8-2 record and 2.08 ERA. He’s been the one consistent pitcher on the staff through the first half, another thing that no one saw coming.
Slowly and steadily, the Dodgers worked their way from bottom to the top, even though they were the fastest team since the 1950s to go from 10 games under to 10 games over the .500 mark. Some fortuitous things have happened, like the Diamondbacks hitting a slide just as the Dodgers were getting hot. The rest of the teams in the NL West are not powerhouses at the moment. Overall, their schedule wasn’t that tough.
That all changes in the second half, when the Dodgers start out against the Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros—all first or second place teams that have better records than the Dodgers. It will be a test of whether they can hang with the best teams in the league. The club will also no doubt be bolstered by a few acquisitions leading up to the trade deadline. But, until then, we should take a moment to appreciate the fight this team has at the moment—led by the steadying presence of manager Dave Roberts.
Some Dodger fans are quick to jump on both Roberts and the front office crew, saying they haven’t done enough to field a team that can compete again for a World Series. That remains to be seen after the trade deadline and into the playoffs. But, to them, I ask: “What other team would be able to withstand the injuries and pressure of repeating as NL champs and not lose the clubhouse?” Not many, I would answer.
The first half was rough, and the Dodgers survived and succeeded. Reinforcements will be coming, either by trade or players finally being healthy. Staying slow and steady will see this team back to the playoffs, even if led by unlikely leaders. That makes it all the more sweet.