The Los Angeles Dodgers have won eight of their last nine games and occupy first place for the first time since August 11, and the first time since August 8 they have held it to themselves. Things are trending upwards for a team that was left for dead (almost two weeks ago) after being swept by the St. Louis Cardinals and finding themselves 4.5 games back of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks. Since then, they have made up 5.5 games on the Diamondbacks and now sit half a game ahead of the Colorado Rockies.
They took advantage of a four-game homestand with the DBacks to help close the gap and overtake them and Colorado. And things are only looking brighter. Yes, 16 of their next 25 games are on the road, but their remaining strength of schedule is 25 games with teams with a combined .488 winning percentage.
The starting pitching has been the strength of the team all season but has recently taken it to another level. The Dodgers’ team ERA is 3.05 since July 26 and they have been the best rotation in baseball with a 3.15 ERA. Their current starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Alex Wood, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Rich Hill had a combined 2.26 ERA last month.
Kershaw has a 1.94 ERA, 0.826 WHIP, and opponent’s OPS of just .539 in 55.2 second-half innings. He has 11 straight starts of at least six innings, and in five of them, he’s gone at least seven innings, including four straight of at least seven (two of them he completed eight innings). He is regaining form and adjusting to his loss of velocity.
Buehler has cemented himself as the Dodgers’ number two starter and has finally filled the hole that Zack Greinke left with his departure. The talented rookie has a 2.52 ERA, 0.974 WHIP, and an opponent’s OPS of .555, with 115 strikeouts in 103.2 innings as a starter in 2018. And since July 31, the 24-year-old has a 1.48 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 51 strikeouts, an opponent’s OPS of .496, and a terrific wOBA allowed of .228 in seven starts. This stretch includes going seven innings thrice, and at least six innings two other times. For a rookie, going that deep consistently is impressive.
Ryu came off the DL in August and has a 2.38 ERA in four starts since. Wood has a 2.27 ERA in his last seven starts. Rich Hill has been serviceable and keeps the team in games. His best games are him pitching like a frontline starter, while his bad ones are ones where he won’t give up more than three or four runs over five-to-six innings. And considering he is one of the back-end starters right now, that is a luxury to have.
The offense, however, still must find its highest gear. It’s a deep lineup, but one that has been inconsistent. But, some of the critical bats have been playing well as of late. Justin Turner was arguably the best player in the National League during August when he hit .402/.491/.722 with six home runs. He is now hitting an elite .312/.408/.517 with 11 homers in 314 plate appearances on the season.
And although he went hitless in last three games, Manny Machado still has a .581 slugging over his last 15 games. And a healthy amount of his outs has come on hard lineouts, which is a promising sign. He is looking more comfortable and working into deep counts.
Max Muncy’s playing time has become sporadic and inconsistent, making us question Dave Roberts, because the 2018 breakout is starting to find his groove again. Over the last two weeks (39 plate appearances) the 28-year-old is hitting .273/.400/.727 with five home runs, including a clutch one Sunday afternoon.
Matt Kemp’s struggles since July 24 have been well-documented, but he has quietly been playing well as of late. He is hitting .298/.389/.468 over his last two weeks, or so, of games, and has a .855 OPS over the past week. But more importantly, Kemp helped the team overcome their struggles as arguably the worst clutch team in the MLB, having an eighth-inning go-ahead three-run home run Saturday night:
Matt Kemp with the MONSTER bomb and September baseball is here pic.twitter.com/KYlC0mUXDe
— Starting 9 (@Starting9) September 2, 2018
And a two-run walk-off double (just missed being another home run) Sunday afternoon:
MATT KEMP COMES UP BIG AGAIN 😳
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 2, 2018
Both came with the Dodgers down late in the game and against the second-best bullpen in the MLB. If this were just two weeks ago, they more-than-likely would have lost. They had lost the magic from last season, but this weekend may have helped the Dodgers regain it.
And not to be left out, the bullpen has turned a corner too. Outside of the Kenley Jansen, the bullpen has been shaky throughout the season. But, over the past two weeks-plus, they have been surprisingly really good and dependable for the most part. But most importantly, Kenley Jansen has thrown three straight scoreless innings, after allowing seven runs in four innings in his return from a two-week layoff due to a heart problem.
Things are starting to click, and once again, the Los Angeles Dodgers control their own destiny. At this point, it’s on LA not to give the lead away. They are an ultra-talented team that has not clicked fully yet. But you get the feeling that they are rounding into form once again and are about to go on a run over the last 25 games to close out the division.