How the Dodgers Defied Logic (and ESPN) to Come Back in the NL West

Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Dodgers

The San Francisco Giants had one of the hotter starts in recent memory to this season, going 41-21 and outright dominating their National League West division. At that point, several ESPN writers (including one on ESPN Insider entitled “Calling NL West for S.F.) wrote off the Dodgers, who were in a distant 2nd place and were 9.5 games behind the Giants on June 7, 2014:

NL West June 7 2014

The network’s LA Dodgers writer, Mark Saxon, wrote an article with the title, “Dodgers missing too many pieces to roll” on June 12. One of the most interesting quotes was from starting pitcher Zach Greinke, who said:

“We’ll go on a streak, but we’ll probably go on another bad streak, too, before the season’s over.”

Did Greinke envision this run? Probably not.

Another piece on ESPN.com, a special by Anthony Witrado, said consistency is lacking for a Dodgers team that was gearing up to make a run at the Giants and first place in the division.

Now? The Giants have “stumbled” to a 47-38 record with a 2-8 record the last ten games, while the Dodgers are in 1st place by only a half game with a 49-39 record and have gone 7-3 in the past ten games. Here are the standings as of July 4, 2014:

NL West July 4 2014

What happened?

The LA Dodgers have caught fire and got healthy as of late, while the Giants have seen players go to the disabled list (DL). Pitchers Ryu and Kershaw have come off the DL for the Dodgers, which was a big boost for the team in their comeback bid to try to win the NL West pennant.

And, the Dodgers pitching staff is lights-out. Their starting pitchers are Zach Greinke (11-4, 2.66 ERA), Clayton Kershaw (9-2, 2.04 ERA), Korean phenom Hyun-Jin Ryu (9-4, 3.08 ERA), Josh Beckett (5-5, 2.37 ERA) and the serviceable Dan Haren (8-4, 3.57 ERA). That is a really good line-up, even with Beckett and Haren anchoring the back end of the rotation.

The Dodgers have the 7th-best on-base percentage in the NL, 10th-best team batting average at 0.257 and have 81 stolen bases as a team (with Dee Gordon stealing 40 of those).  It also helps to have explosive players like Yasiel Puig, who can throw out anyone from anywhere on the field, like this one from last season:

The Giants have only 33 stolen bases to go, where Angel Pagan has the most with 11, along with their 24th-place on-base percentage and 19th-place batting average at 0.246. The Dodgers have hit less home runs with 72 while the Giants have hit 78. The Giants have struck out 678 times and the Dodgers only 663, and the Giants have driven in 331 runs and the Dodgers 350 runs. An astounding difference is how the Dodgers have drawn 298 walks while the Giants have 235.

And the Giants pitching staff is good, but not like the Dodgers. The oldest pitcher on the Giants, Tim Hudson, is the only pitcher with a sub-3.00 ERA at 2.59, while Tim Lincecum sports the largest ERA on the starting staff with a 4.06 ERA.

But, in the end, the Giants have blown one of the larger pennant leads in recent memory.

As a USA Today article noted, “Once the majors’ leading team at 42-21, the Giants (46-35) have lost 15 of their last 19 to fall into a virtual tie for first place with the Dodgers (47-37).” The Giants have lost too many games and their bullpen has been atrocious, primarily recently-benched closer Sergio Romo. As the same USA Today article said:

Bochy deposed Sergio Romo as closer after blowing his fifth save – and third in his last five chances – Saturday night. With Romo’s once-trusted slider faltering, opposing teams have been battering him and his ERA has shot up to 5.17. It was 2.54 and 1.79, respectively, in the last two seasons, when Romo collected a combined 52 saves.

It’s not just Romo, though. In three of the four games against Cincinnati, a bullpen that had been sturdy all season failed to keep tied or one-run games within reach. And with the offense missing sparkplug Angel Pagan (back) and power-hitting first baseman Brandon Belt (thumb), San Francisco has been unable to play catch up.

It is inexcusable when your closer sees his ERA balloon from 1.79 last season to an astronomical 5.17. It reminds me of the retired closer Brad Lidge, who just started to blow saves left and right after having a couple great seasons as a member of the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies. Lidge was lights-out during those teams’ World Series runs, with seasons of 29 and 42 saves and 1.90 and 2.29 ERA with the Astros in 2004-2005 and 1.95 ERA and 41 saves with the Phillies in 2008. He had a couple good seasons after that, but in his last few years, Lidge only had 3 saves in 26 games with the Phillies and Nationals. Will Romo follow the same path?

But, their hitting has always been subpar or average, even when they won their recent World Series titles.

2010 World Series team: Hit 0.265, 55 stolen bases

2012 World Series team: Hit 0.278, 118 stolen bases

This year, the Giants can hit here and there, but are lacking in drawing walks and getting on base. In the end, it killed their chances to run away with the pennant. But the season is close to its halfway mark, so there’s a lot of baseball to go.

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About Spencer Irvine

Fun loving, D.C. area sports fan, which means I'm frustrated and still can't get a grip on what a win truly means (or a championship for that matter).

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