The Dodgers are NL West champions for the third straight year. Los Angeles beat the Giants in San Francisco on Tuesday night (LA 8, SF 0) to clinch their third straight division title. Believe it or not, this is the first time the Dodgers have ever won three straight division titles, either in Brooklyn or Los Angeles.
It was only three years ago that the Dodgers were bankrupt, having been run into the ground by previous owner Frank McCourt. Guggenheim Baseball Management, fronted by Magic Johnson, purchased the franchise in March 2012 and upped payroll significantly. The team is pushing a $300 million payroll in 2015.
The Dodgers have been ousted from the postseason by the Cardinals in each of the last two seasons. They were knocked out in the NLCS in 2013 and then in the NLDS in 2014. Needless to say, the Dodgers are looking to get over the hump in 2015. That $300 million payroll comes with World Series expectations.
It has been a foregone conclusion the Dodgers would clinch the NL West for a few weeks now. They’ve been in sole possession of first place since May 29, and were able to stretch the lead to 8 1/2 games at one point. The Dodgers are averaging 4.12 runs per game in 2015, which is almost exactly league average. The pitching has been exceptional — their team 3.49 ERA is the fifth lowest in baseball.
The rotation front two of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke is the best one-two punch in the game. They’re both legitimate Cy Young candidates. Greinke is 18-3 with a 1.68 ERA this season, and Kershaw improved to 16-7 with a 2.16 ERA with Tuesday’s one-hitter against the Giants. He struck out 13. Those two have been manager Don Mattingly’s rocks. They give him peace of mind twice every five days.
The starting staff aside from Kershaw and Greinke has been hit or miss. Sixteen different pitchers have started a game for Los Angeles this year, the most in baseball, and the best of the rest have been Brett Anderson and Mike Bolsinger. Alex Wood has been up and down since coming over from the Braves at the trade deadline.
Closer Kenley Jansen headlines an improved but not necessarily overwhelming bullpen. The relief crew has a 3.93 ERA this season, which isn’t great, but pieces like Juan Nicasio, Pedro Baez and Chris Hatcher are a bit more reliable than the guys they had in front of Jansen last year, namely Brandon League and Brian Wilson.
The Los Angeles offense is anchored by Adrian Gonzalez, an old school RBI machine, as well as Justin Turner and Andre Ethier, among others. Corey Seager has forced his way into the shortstop job this month and looks poised to play every day in October. Howie Kendrick has been solid, and although Joc Pederson has slumped big time in the second half, he still provides power and defense.
The Dodgers are not fully healthy, of course. Yasiel Puig is currently on the DL and has been limited to 77 games this season due to ongoing hamstring problems. Brandon McCarthy blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery just four starts into the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu has not pitched at all in 2015 due to shoulder surgery. Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, Carl Crawford and Hatcher have all been hurt at times too.
That $300 million payroll helps cover for injuries though. The new front office, led by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi, focused on building depth both last season and at the trade deadline. They were extremely active on waivers and made every possible upgrade it seemed, no matter how small. That’s the approach the team lacked under former GM Ned Colletti, who is now a special advisor to team president Stan Kasten.
In all likelihood the Dodgers will play the Mets in the NLDS beginning next week. The Mets have a one-game lead on Los Angeles for home field advantage in the NLDS and hold the tiebreaker. The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs have also clinched postseason spots, so the NL playoff field set. It’s just a matter of finalizing the seeding now.