Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today

The Dodgers Are Winning With More Than Money

The Dodgers are on the ascent, and there's more than their payroll propelling them back onto a 93-win pace.

Things are looking good around Chavez Ravine these days. Last night the Dodgers staged a ninth-inning rally and ultimately beat the struggling Pirates to clinch the series and their ninth win in eleven games. They currently reside just one loss column game back of the Rockies for first place in the NL West. They’ve got six viable starting pitchers they can use and they are one of only three teams to score ten runs three times already this season.

That’s not to say that all has gone perfectly so far this year. Despite sitting at 19-14, the Dodgers have lost four of seven to their decrepit arch-rival San Francisco Giants.  They apparently love getting thrown out on the bases by Buster Posey, Adrian Gonzalez looked like a player in full decline before going on the disabled list, and Clayton Kershaw has had the gall to not be utterly dominant in a couple of his starts this year.

The Dodgers last year managed to win the NL West for the fourth straight season despite a nearly unprecedented amount of player games lost to the disabled list.  This season, they’ve had their undisputed number two pitcher go down as well as their starting second baseman and now their starting first baseman. And still they rise.

It would be easy to dismiss the Dodgers’ ability to absorb injury misfortune by pointing to their gargantuan payroll and that is absolutely a factor in what they are doing.  However, a glance at last night’s game reveals that Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi have done far more than simply go on a Real Housewives of Beverly HIlls-style spending spree.

Last night Chris Taylor started for the Dodgers at second base in the stead of the injured Logan Forsythe.  All Taylor is doing so far this year is posting an OPS of 1.142 and a wRC+ of 204, the latter of which would place him fifth in the baseball were he to have the requisite plate  appearances to qualify.  Yes, he’s riding the powerful wave of a .464 BABIP, and no, he will not remain one of the top five hitters in baseball through the season. However, he worked hard to revamp his swing and his approach, and his walk rate is up significantly in addition to the newfound pop in his bat.  He can play at least three of the four infield positions as well as the outfield in a pinch. His utility is significant and he’s making $535,000 this year for the Dodgers.

That’s the league minimum.

The winning run last night was knocked in by Austin Barnes and it was scored by Ross Stripling (a pitcher), both of whom are making just north of the league minimum. Before he got hurt, Andrew Toles was starting in leftfield for the Dodgers. Toles was a baseball afterthought before last year.  He was literally bagging groceries and struggling with anxiety issues, but Andrew Friedman remembered him from his time in Tampa Bay. Last year, Toles was starting playoff games for the Dodgers and this season despite a slow start he’s posted a 108 wRC+.

Barnes is a player the Dodgers have long valued because of...wait for it...his versatility.  They’ve put him through the Craig Biggio paces of learning both catcher and second base. Stripling is a pitcher the Dodgers really like, but because of the logjam in the starting rotation, he’s emerged as an effective reliever. All he’s done in 11 appearances so far is pitch to a 1.12 FIP and a 2.43 xFIP while striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings.  And he’s scored twice as a pinch runner!! #Versatility.

BUT PLAYOFFS.  Yes, the Dodgers’ 28-year World Series drought remains a conspicuous blight on their overall performance, but Dodger fans can focus on that come October. Were it not for their inability to win a single pennant since the Reagan Administration, Dodger fans would be hailing this for what it is:  the dawn of a golden age in Los Angeles. The Dodger farm system has emerged as perennially one of the best in baseball.  They have established themselves as a major force in the international search for talent, they’ve won four straight divisions, they are getting younger at the major league level with no drop-off in performance, and they are run by very intelligent, committed, and baseball-savvy people willing to make the financial commitment necessary to win. Oh, and they still play in the masterpiece that is Dodger Stadium, the Camelot of the MLB.

Nothing should crystallize the state of the Dodgers more than the fact that 750+ words into this article I’ve not even mentioned Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, or Julio Urias (who started last night’s game and without his best command took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.) The Dodgers’ cup runneth over, and it’s far more than the product of financial largesse.  There is a plan in place, and right now the Dodgers are executing it almost flawlessly.  

Baseball is a hard, brutal, soul-crushing game.  So many times you can do everything right and have nothing to show for it.  The best hope you have to sustain success is to have a design that accounts for the unexpected.  The Dodgers are not invulnerable, but they have put themselves in a position where they can overcome many of the failings and pitfalls of the 1-6-2.  There aren’t many other franchises right now who can make that same claim.

Nerds, indeed.

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