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The Los Angeles Dodgers have won their division for the third straight year. This is something the Dodgers, one of the great organizations in baseball’s history, had never done before. The problem for Dodgers fans is that their long-time rival, the San Francisco Giants, has won three World Series’ lately, included last year when they finished second in the regular season in the division to L.A., and that should nag at any Dodgers fan. The question is does the 2015 version of the Dodgers have the makeup to win a championship?
Beyond the number one and number two starters, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, respectively, the starting staff is a question mark. Left-hander Alex Wood is the presumptive number three. Wood came over from the Atlanta Braves in a mid-season trade. For the Dodgers, he has been inconsistent. In 11 starts with the team, Wood is 4-6 with a 4.55 ERA. His stats do not exactly bring relief to L.A. fans hoping for a better postseason result than they have gotten since 1988. Veteran lefty Brett Anderson is the fourth option at starter, but he has been only slightly better than Wood. Anderson is 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA on the season, but in his last two starts he has pitched 8 2/3 innings combined and given up 11 earned runs and struck out two.
The bullpen has been a bit better this year than last, but besides solid closer Kenley Jansen (2.36 ERA and good in 34 of 36 save opportunities) there has been inconsistency.
It is fun to look at the silly numbers of Kershaw and Greinke, however. On the season Kershaw is 16-7 with a 2.16 ERA and 294 strikeouts in 229 innings pitched with a WHIP of .89. In his last 15 starts though, he is 11-1 with a 1.25 ERA, a WHIP of .74 and 147 strikeouts in 115 innings. He has walked only 15 in that time. Greinke, the pitcher who should be the favorite to win the National League Cy Young Award because of his season-long totals and consistency, is 18-3 with a 1.68 ERA and a WHIP of .85 on the season.
Of course, it is true that Kershaw has not performed up to his lofty standards in the postseason. Last season’s numbers are a bit bloated, however. Through six innings Kershaw had a stellar ERA, but seemed to tire after that. Kershaw is too good of a pitcher to pitch poorly in every postseason, though.
If one looks at the stats leaders of the Dodgers, that person will basically see that Adrian Gonzalez leads in nearly every major category. Gonzalez is a good hitter, but not great. His numbers this season, .276 average, 28 home runs, 88 runs batted in with an on-base plus slugging of .840, easily lead the team. Jimmy Rollins who has had a very underwhelming season leads the team with 12 stolen bases. Mostly these numbers mean the Dodgers do not have any one hitter opposing teams need to fear.
Joc Pederson started the season strong, but he was simply awful in the second half. His slash line in July was .169/.229/.258 with one homer and 31 strikeouts. In August he slightly improved to the atrocious .120/.384/.260 with two homers and 21 strikeouts. So far in September: .205/.301/.301 with two homers and 22 strikeouts. Overall for the season, he has struck out 168 times. The issue for the Dodgers is that Pederson still ranks fifth in on-base percentage on the team for any player with more than 300 at-bats. This means that even though he has been not worth playing in the second half and has sat during a lot of games since July, they still have no player more worthy of being in the field most days.
On the bright side, shortstop/third baseman Corey Seager has been everything the Dodgers hoped he would be at the plate so far. Since his early September call-up, he is hitting .333 with an OBP of .423. He has not been a great fielder, but the Dodgers need his bat more than his glove. Even then, his Range Factor is better than Rollins, though it is a small sample size: 3.91 for Seager and 3.86 for Rollins.
The Dodgers are actually one of the better defensive teams in the majors by any measurement. The team’s fielding percentage, .988, currently tops all of baseball. Also, the Dodgers are tied with the Miami Marlins in fewest errors made, and rank sixth in Defensive Efficiency Ratio. The Dodgers will not lose many games due to defensive lapses.
As far as managers go, Don Mattingly does not get a lot of respect. He tends to make odd substitutions and pitching matchups. Still, it is difficult to argue he is a bad manager when he has led the Dodgers to three straight division titles. The problem might be that in the postseason he tends to leave Kershaw in too long. If the Dodgers want to make a run at the World Series this year, he might need to learn to rely more on the bullpen.
The answer to the question posed in the first paragraph of this article “Do the Dodgers have the makeup to win the championship in 2015?” should still be “no.” The Dodgers have been very successful in the regular season recently, but their key pieces tend to fade in the playoffs. Without a few consistently dangerous and timely hitters, and without a proven postseason ace that should be Kershaw, the Dodgers have not shown that they can win when it matters. The St. Louis Cardinals have. For the Dodgers to win a World Series, they most likely will need to beat the Cardinals, and a wise person would not expect that to happen.