Before the 2021 MLB trade deadline is upon us, before the issues with the starting rotation sort themselves out, let’s take a look back at what was the first half of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ season.
No doubt the Dodgers are not where they thought they’d be when the year began. Once envied for their pitching depth, the Boys in Blue find themselves with just two of their five starters active on the roster. World Series MVP Corey Seager has been missing from the roster for much of the first half. And more players than not have spent at least some time on the injured list.
The Dodgers find themselves in second place in the NL West, 2.0 games behind the San Francisco Giants, who are maybe the biggest surprise of all. Talking heads and fans alike thought the race for the NL West would be between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. The Giants have found a resurgence of sorts, led by very good starting pitching, and the Padres have also been susceptible to injuries, finding themselves 6.0 games out of first.
Los Angeles is 56-35, 21 games above .500, and have an MLB best +142 run differential. Overall, not bad for a team with just two starting pitchers and who had their core group of players, Mookie Betts, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Corey Seager, in the lineup together only three times.
Manager Dave Roberts had this to say about his team’s first half: “I think good, not great. The hitting at times has been going good, and at times not good. So that’s been inconsistent. We need to cleanup the defense. That’s been the most glaring.”
The Dodgers were also 2-25 when trailing after the seventh inning. They also are 8-16 in one run games, lacking that clutch gene the team seemed to have in the past few seasons. Muncy winning the last game of the first half with the team’s first walk-off of the season was a step in the right direction.
There have been a few surprises this season, none more so than the addition of Albert Pujols to the team. The future Hall of Famer was DFA’d by the Los Angeles Angels, and soon after joined the Dodgers. Pujols has become a clutch pinch hitter, as well as the greatest hugger the Dodgers might have ever seen. Tío Albert, as he’s become known in the clubhouse and throughout social media, gives every player a huge hug after they’ve homered. And since being with the Dodgers, he’s slugged eight homers of his own.
The relief pitching crew has seen the resurgence of both Joe Kelly and Kenley Jansen. Now both healthy, they have put in much time and effort to returning to if not their best, very close to their best forms. Jansen has a 1.24 ERA, 21 saves and 41 strikeouts over 36.1 innings pitched. Phil Bickford has been a welcome addition to the bullpen, with a 2.11 ERA and 29 strikeouts over 21.1 innings pitched.
Turner is fifth in the National League in batting with a .305 average. Muncy is seventh in the league in home runs with 19, leads the majors in on base percentage, and is tied for first in walks. Julio Urías is tied for the most wins in the majors with 11. Jansen is third in save opportunities in the majors.
But we all know individual stats don’t matter if the team isn’t going far into the playoffs in October.
“We held serve, and now it’s our service,” said Roberts. “This is where the really good teams start to ascend.”
To do so, the Dodgers will need to figure out their starting rotation issues. Clayton Kershaw needs to return to the rotation healthy, and David Price and Tony Gonsolin will need to continue to work on getting their pitch count increased. The Dodgers will most likely also have to trade for another starter to replace Trevor Bauer, who may not be back with the team this season because of his pending sexual assault case.
They will also need Betts to return to his “serviceable” 2020 form. Betts has called his first half “bad,” but the last few games have seen Mookie hitting the ball better and farther. Seager will need to return fully healthy, and Bellinger will need to get himself right at the plate also. If most of the these things happen, the Dodgers will be unstoppable in the second half.