LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even amid the upheaval of a pandemic, one thing is predictable: the Los Angeles Dodgers are very good.
In fact, they’re the best team in baseball, boasting a 22-8 record at the halfway point of the shortened season.
They went 13-4 playing a stretch of 17 consecutive days that ended Sunday, capped by an 11-3 win over Colorado in which the Dodgers blasted seven home runs.
Instead of being on fumes, manager Dave Roberts said, “We all feel really good.”
It shows in their balanced offense and pitching. The Dodgers lead the majors in home runs (59) and runs scored (171). They also have the lowest team ERA (2.65), while their WHIP (1.04) is just behind Cleveland’s leading 1.03. The LA staff is doing it without David Price, who opted out of the season because of the coronavirus.
They’ve stayed healthy, too, avoiding the COVID-19 cases that have wreaked havoc with others teams’ schedules.
The Dodgers begin the second half Tuesday against the Giants in San Francisco.
“The last 30 games is more of trying to identify the roles, the roster, winning baseball games,” Roberts said, “but we have more off days coming up in September, so that’s a good thing as far as managing workload.”
The Dodgers’ depth has allowed Roberts to rest his players and pitchers, even with starter Alex Wood and reliever Joe Kelly on the injured list. Tony Gonsolin, good enough to be in a rotation elsewhere, moved back and forth from the alternate training site to be a sixth starter during the run of 17 straight games. Roberts has kept pitch counts under 100, too.
The National League has the designated hitter thanks to the pandemic, and the Dodgers have made the most of it. Nine different players have been used in the extra spot, whether to give someone rest or get those stuck on the bench into the game.
The Dodgers won a franchise-record 106 games last season to go with their seventh consecutive NL West title. They made a loaded roster even more so with the addition of Mookie Betts, who became the first Dodger to hit two homers and steal two bases in the same game Sunday. He blasted three homers in a game on Aug. 13.
“He’s unbelievable,” second baseman Kiké Hernández said. “He’s one of those guys we didn’t get the opportunity to watch too often in a different league. Now you get to see him on a daily basis and you know what all the Mookie Betts hype is all about. There’s really not anything he can’t do.”
Betts’ influence extends to the rare days he isn’t playing. He’ll sit on the bench watching his teammates and talk hitting.
“Mookie is from that school of just asking questions, inserting information, giving his thoughts, which is always welcome,” Roberts said.
The bottom of the lineup is producing, too. Three of the Dodgers’ seven homers on Sunday came from hitters sixth through ninth in the order. The team leads the majors in run production from those spots. Only one player in the lineup Sunday didn’t get a hit.
“I don’t think there’s a better one through five in baseball, so when you’ve got to grind through that one through five, maybe you tend to forget about the guys at the bottom,” Hernández said.
Some of the team’s biggest run producers — reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson — have gotten off to slow starts. Ross Stripling has struggled over his last three starts, but feels his stuff is still strong. Walker Buehler bounced back in his last start and is beginning to resemble the dominant pitcher he was last year.
The Dodgers take a four-game lead over San Diego in the NL West into the second half.
“We’re trying to run away with the division,” Hernández said. “That’s step number one to the main goal.”
The ultimate goal, of course, is a World Series championship, something the Dodgers haven’t won since 1988 despite back-to-back appearances in 2017 and 2018.
A shortened season wouldn’t make it any less sweet.
“Just an odd year,” Roberts said, “but still a lot of fun.”
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