Richard Mackson/USA Today

Los Angeles Dodgers Key All-Star Break Storylines

The Dodgers finish the first "half" at 51-40. Here are the key storylines for what's happened and what awaits them in the second half.

The Dodgers closed out the official first half of the season by leaning on their pitching, and miraculously that pitching made it to the turn.   The Padres, who have so generously dropped all nine games to the Giants this year, went down to the Dodgers in the last three of their four game set.  The Dodgers head into the All-Star Break with a 51-40 record.  Not bad for the team with the most disabled list days by far in the Major Leagues.

So where does this ragtag, well-financed yet scrappy band of blue brothers go from here?  Here are the five major storylines for the Dodgers at the “midpoint” of the season.

 

  1. The Offense Must Improve- The Dodgers sit ninth in the NL in runs scored, and this is the biggest on-field reason they find themselves seven loss column games behind San Francisco in the NL West. The Giants have significantly outperformed the Dodgers with the bats. The Dodgers have shown some offensive improvement, but its been sporadic and rarely sustained for a stretch of games.  Case in point:  They scored 10 against San Diego on Friday night, then mustered only four and three in the final two games of the series. The Dodgers .246 average with runners in scoring position was 9th in the NL and behind the Giants’ .265 mark.  However, what really killed the Dodgers was the failure to produce runners in scoring position.  The Giants have had 947 plate appearances with RISP, third best in the National League.  The Dodgers have mustered only 791.  The Giants’ total is 3rd best in the NL, the Dodgers’ total is 12th. The team needs to find a maintain a much better and disciplined approach if they hope to overtake San Francisco.

  2. Injured Pitchers X Infiniti- The offensive struggles notwithstanding, for the Dodgers to be 11 games above .500 with the breadth and depth of the injuries they’ve sustained is nothing short of pheomenal.  Remember this the next time you hear anybody criticize Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers’ brain trust.  These dudes built a roster that essentially saw them relegated to pitching Numbers 6-11 on the organizational depth chart behind Clayton Kershaw for essentially the entire first half.  Injuries to Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alex Wood, and now Kershaw (already certain to miss at least one turn through the post-ASG rotation) have put a huge strain on the Dodger bullpen.  Maeda’s seven innings in the final game before the break was the first time a non-Kershaw Dodger starter had gone seven innings in nearly two months.   Moving forward, the Dodgers desperately need to establish a solid starting rotation that can pitch deeper into games.

  3. Don’t Hate on the Bullpen- The Dodger bullpen had a 3.55 FIP, second best in the National League, coming into play today. Their LOB% is 79%, second best in the NL behind the Mets. On the 10-game homestand that brought the Dodgers to the break, they pitched a whopping 46 innings and held up to the tune of a 1.57 ERA. Yes, there have been some high leverage struggles, but Kenley Jansen has been his usual amazing self, and Joe Blanton, Louis Coleman, Casey Fien, and Adam Liberatore (who set a Dodger-record with a still active 24-straight scoreless appearance streak) have all done great work.  There is no question the Dodgers would be buried were it not for such a strong effort from a group not expected to be the strength of the team.

  4. Andre Ethier’s Injury- The veteran’s absence has been rarely lamented, but it still stands as one of the major turning points of the season, ironic because it happened before the season actually started. Few may remember that Manager Dave Roberts thought enough of ‘Dre to strongly consider him as the regular leadoff hitter (at least against righties).  Instead of having Ethier’s career .304/.383/.502 line against RHP’s at his disposal, Roberts was forced to serve up the Carl Crawford Experience with sides of Enrique Hernandez, Trayce Thompson, Howie Kendrick, and Scott Van Slyke.  That stew hit righties at a .211/.276/.335 clip.  All together, Dodger leftfielders hit .213 against right-handed pitching, second worst in the NL. Their wRC+ is 68, 12th in the league, and their .277 on-base percentage was second worst.  Leftfield was an unmitigated disaster, and for a team who struggled to score, getting so little from a corner defensive position was especially crushing. Ethier hopes to be back in August, and if he is able to come anywhere near approximating his career numbers against righties, the Dodger offense gets a major, major boost.

  5. #PuigOurFriend?- Since returning from the disabled list, we’ve seen a much improved and far more disciplined Yasiel Puig.  His strikeout rate has plummeted from 21% to 14%, and even his walk rate has risen above league average to 10%.  Overall he’s produced a slash line of .321/.412/.483 since his June 21 return.  His 146 wRC+ is bested by only seven players in the league for a full season.  It’s a big if, because we have seen streaks from Puig that eventually succumb to the same bad habits, but IF he’s truly turned a corner, the Dodgers are going to be very difficult for the Giants to hold down.  Roberts noted a marked improvement in the quality of his at bats since he got healthy.  Put simply, no other single Dodger besides #22 has the chance to impact the team’s fortunes in the second half.

The Giants’ relentless excellence cannot be dismissed this deep into the season, and the Dodgers are certainly grateful at this point for the existence of the Wild Cards.  However, given all they’ve had to overcome, they should feel optimistic about where they are.  At some point the Giants should come back to the pack a bit, and it would be nice if at that same point the Dodgers had the chance to go after them at near full strength.  19 Dodgers have accrued a staggering 1,043 days on the disabled list.  The Giants?  399 days spread over 12 players. The Dodgers have missed 265 days more than the next-most injured team (Angels). If the Dodgers improve the things within their control (offense, starting pitching) and get some luck with that which is out of their control (health), there will be a race in the NL West, one I still expect the Dodgers to win.


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