How Will the Dodgers Win Today?

dodgers_aug13The list at right, grabbed from the ESPN Dodgers page, shows the team’s August so far. That’s 13 wins in 14 August games, 32 of 39 since the beginning of July, and 40 out of 48 since this absurd run began in late June. They win against bad teams in the Cubs and Mets; they win against excellent teams in the Cardinals and Rays. They win at home; they win on the road. They win with Hanley Ramirez, and they win without him. They win against Matt Harvey, David Price, & Adam Wainwright; they win against Carlos Martinez, Dillon Gee, & Chris Rusin.

They just win, and they win so much that despite the continual heroics by the second-place Diamondbacks — who, incredibly, walked off against Baltimore for the third day in a row — it doesn’t seem to matter what the competition does. Arizona has gained zero games in those three days, and they’ve in fact lost four games in the standings just since August 1.

On a late Wednesday night, they won because Yasiel Puig has a ridiculous throwing arm and takes extra bases on plays he has no business being able to do so on. They won because Jerry Hairston hit Mets closer LaTroy Hawkins in the most unfortunate of areas, and then being fortunate enough to have Mets manager Terry Collins decide to leave Hawkins in despite post-game quotes that included “I feel like I got kicked by a mule, and it hurts. … I can walk a little bit now. But at first I couldn’t walk at all. … When I lift my leg, I can feel my balls in my throat, but I thought I could get through it.”

They won because the bullpen, that glorious bullpen, kicked in seven scoreless innings after Chris Capuano was ineffective, and they won because Andre Ethier came off the bench to be the hero, smashing a pinch-hit two-run game-tying homer off Hawkins immediately after the Hairston play. They won because Adrian Gonzalez, the man under the most pressure of anyone to make the Boston trade look good, because all of the effort and dollars and prospects were specifically to get him, continued what’s been a very good season by contributing three hits, including the game-winner.

They won because they’re the Dodgers, and this Dodger team never, ever loses. And so I ask, how are they going to win today? Who will be the hero? The mere fact that there isn’t actually a game on the schedule today as the team heads east to Philadelphia and then Miami seems to be splitting hairs, because even that doesn’t seem to be enough to stop this team right now. Your 2013 Dodgers, friends: making possible that which just shouldn’t be possible.

Anatomy of an Unbelievable Run

You all remember how hot the Dodgers were to start 2012, right? That was in large part due to the presence of a world-destroying Matt Kemp, one we haven’t seen in some time, but it was also because every night balls were dropping in, making a hero out of some unexpected fill-in. One night it would be Juan Rivera; the next it would be Ivan De Jesus. Or Tony Gwynn. Or Adam Kennedy. Or even Matt Treanor. Or on the pitching side, that guys like Ted Lilly were magically making sure that all their pitches found gloves. It didn’t last; it couldn’t last.

The point here is not to draw a parallel between that streak and this one, or to suggest that the obscene run we’re watching is merely due to luck. It’s not. It’s because Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, and Kenley Jansen are superstars. It’s because second-level guys like Mark Ellis, J.P. Howell, and Paco Rodriguez have been excellent, as has been noted both at FanGraphs and Grantland in the last 24 hours. It’s because this team has the most money and the most talent, and because they’re (mostly) getting healthy at the same time.

But let’s be honest here, too: it’s also because winning breeds luck. Whether that’s Colby Rasmus forgetting how to play defense with two outs in the ninth inning or the usually sound Rays deciding that Dodger Stadium was a good place to implode, this streak has been full of the kind of things that just don’t happen on a regular basis.

For example, here’s the Dodger hitters over the last 30 days, sorted by BABIP:

dodger_offense_babip_2013-08-13

I’ve inserted that red line to show that the hitters who are showing a BABIP above league average, which is .296. In many cases, it’s considerably above average, and I think we should probably prepare ourselves that Mark Ellis isn’t going to hit .351/.378/.506 for the rest of the season.

It’s not quite so pronounced on the pitching side, though if you look closely…

dodger_pitcher_babip_2013-08-13

…you’ll see that three of the guys on the high end (Carlos Marmol, Stephen Fife, & Jose Dominguez) have barely pitched at all. The bullpen as a whole has a .221 BABIP over the last month, as opposed to the .389 the Rays have had to put up with.

I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck, and that’s what’s driving this streak — skill & talent, not just batted-ball magic. Still, at some point the balls are going to stop falling in for the offense, and they’re going to start falling in for the defense. That’s the point where the 2012 team fell apart completely, and that’s where we’ll see what this team is really made of. It probably won’t surprise you too much when I say that I’m probably not all that worried about what happens when that day comes: this team just seems to be able to withstand anything.

On the Road to 100 Dodger Wins

celebrate_2013-07-28Back on June 22, I wrote an article showing that the Dodgers were on pace to be the worst team the franchise had seen since moving to Los Angeles. Since then, they’ve won 36 of 44 games, and here I am about to write with a straight face about if the team can win 100 games and challenge some of the organization’s records for best seasonal marks. (I can only assume they all saw my post that day and decided it was time to turn it around.)

No matter how many times we dissect it, I’m still not sure there’s any way to truly appreciate what we’ve seen over the last two months… except to realize if they had played that way since April 1, they’d be on pace to win something like 749 games this season. Oh, and they’ve taken two of three from one of the better teams in the American League, and have Clayton Kershaw on the mound tonight.

Anyway, let’s do some math. The Dodgers have played 116 games, and so they have 46 remaining. If they were to finish at their current .569 winning percentage, they’d end up at 92-70. But of course, that pace includes all of those dark times early on in the season when everybody was hurt and they had to bring back Jason Phillips and Chad Fonville. (Probably.)

So how about if they keep playing the way they’ve played over the last 44 games over the remaining 46? 36-8 is good for a .818 winning percentage, and that pace would give them a 38-8 record over the final 46, taking some rounding into account. Add 38 more wins to the 66 they already have, and that gets you a 104-58 record.

Dating back to 1884, the franchise has won 100 games five times, most recently when the 1974 team won 102 on their way to losing to Oakland in the World Series. That 102 represents the Los Angeles record — the 1962 club did it as well — but the Brooklyn version topped that twice, winning 104 in 1942 and 105 in 1953.

It’s important to remember, of course, that prior to 1961, baseball played just a 154 game schedule, which means that winning over 100 back then was far more impressive than it would be today. (If the Dodgers win 104 this year, they’d end with a .642 winning percentage; the 1942 team did so at .675… but didn’t even get out of the regular season, thanks to St. Louis’ 106 victories.)

Now as phenomenal as this has all been — and even taking into account that Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp should hopefully be healthier in September than they are right now — it’s probably not reasonable to expect an .818 run to continue for the remainder of the season. Or at least you’d think so, but then you look at the rest of the schedule, and it’s pretty favorable. After tonight’s finale with the Rays and three at home against Boston in two weekends, the Dodgers have only three more series against clubs with winning records. But that includes two against the reeling Diamondbacks, who may not be able to say they’re above .500 by the time the teams meet, and three games in Cincinnati, who dropped three of four to the Dodgers last month.

The Dodgers probably aren’t going to challenge the franchise record for wins, and they’re absolutely not going to best the 1942 team’s record for winning percentage. But 34-12, which is what they’d need to hit 100 wins, doesn’t seem all that unreasonable at this point… and the fact that we’re even discussing this less than two months after talking about their pace to set records for losses should be a pretty good indicator of just how absurd this has all been. I sure hope we’re appreciating it.

The Kind of Win That Just Doesn’t Happen

lan_tba_win_chart_2013-08-09The main takeaway from last night’s game? That literally anything can happen in baseball, as you can see from the absurd FanGraphs win expectancy chart, which bottomed out at 0.7% after Carlos Marmol put the first two men on in the top of the eighth, down 6-1. In order to win, so much had to happen at the end. Nick Punto‘s sliced double had to fall just within the foul line, which it did. Ben Zobrist had to terribly misplay Mark Ellis‘ triple in left field, which he did — shocking because Tampa Bay has long been among the most effective defensive teams in the game.

And of course, Fernando Rodney had to not only be completely unable to retire any hitter more dangerous than Dee Gordon, he had to help the Dodgers avoid the inability to pinch-run for the slow-footed Adrian Gonzalez by taking a potentially inning-ending double play ball and launching it to center field.

I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck, and the lousy Dodger defense did their best to make some terrible luck for Chris Capuano early on. But I can’t explain this, because the Rays are an excellent team. This just doesn’t happen, especially when you’re down six runs to David Price. This is just another example of a team that looks like they’re really building towards something special… and they have Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the rest of the weekend. The words, they fail me.

Can’t the Dodgers Just Play in Cincinnati All the Time?

The Dodgers have played five games in Cincinnati this year so far (despite not having made it to San Francisco even once yet, because that makes sense), and they’ve scored 9, 14, 5, 12, and 6 runs. Sure, they’re just 3-2 in those games because, well, you remember what the pitching was like in April, but still: nothing’s more fun than watching a team break out of a prolonged offensive slump, especially when you’ve got Andre Ethier going yard for the first time since returning from injury (with three hits on the evening) and Manny Ramirez doing so for the second time in two days. Plus, James Loney is red-hot, knocking out fourteen hits in his last six games, seven of which have been doubles.

Of course, to focus only on the offense would be unfair to the newly-buzzed Clayton Kershaw, who made it into the 8th having allowed just one run and one walk. (According to the broadcast, Casey Blake shaved his head during the rain delay yesterday. Ha!) If not for Blake DeWitt booting an easy grounder, we might have been able to see him finish out the inning, but even so, the man just keeps humming along. That’s now 8 consecutive starts since his May 4 disaster against the Brewers in which he’s allowed no more than three earned runs. Remember, you probably heard a lot about how impressive Reds rookie Mike Leake was entering tonight’s game, and he certainly is. Just don’t forget that Kershaw is actually a few months younger than even Leake, and what he’s doing is phenomenal.

With the win and San Diego’s loss to Toronto (man, that didn’t feel right to type), the Dodgers are now a half-game ahead of the Padres and the Braves for the best record in the NL – this, despite having just the 4th-best run differential in the NL West and the 9th best in the league, so it’s no surprise their Pythagorean record entering tonight was just 33-31. Still, I’ll take it.

Remember: early start tomorrow, at 9:35am Pacific – John Ely vs. Bronson Arroyo as the Dodgers go for the sweep. In other minor news, former Dodger Claudio Vargas (who I was oddly unhappy to see go last year) was signed to join the Albuquerque starting rotation.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what Scott Rolen and Dusty Baker were so mad about that caused them each to get ejected, this is the pitch which was called strike 3. It’s a gift, but I’ll take it!