The best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have a nostalgic road trip beginning this weekend, first going to South Florida to play the Marlins (146 miles from historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, the Dodgers’ spring training home for six decades) and then going to New York to play the Mets at Citi Field (13 miles from the site of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers played from 1913 until the franchise moved to Los Angeles following the 1957 season).
Sunday’s game with the Marlins can be streamed on Peacock beginning at 12 pm. How long did the Dodgers train at Vero Beach? From 1948 (Jackie Robinson’s second season) to 2008 (Clayton Kershaw’s rookie season). By the time current Marlins manager Don Mattingly became the Dodgers manager in 2011, the team was training in Arizona. But Mattingly played his entire career with the Yankees, who trained in Fort Lauderdale, so Mattingly played spring training games each year up the road in Vero.
It’s hard not to think about history when talking about the Dodgers.
But first, I want to talk about the current Dodgers. Is this team going to win it all in 2022?
How are the 2022 Dodgers doing it?
Los Angeles is running away with their division and putting up some historic numbers. In their first 123 games, the Dodgers have outscored their opponents by 275 runs (more than two runs per game). They score well north of five runs per game (5.4) and allow just over three (3.16).
Dave Roberts’ team is likely to win two-thirds of their games, finishing around 108-54. And they could probably win more, but they’re unlikely to push it, preferring to tinker with combinations and rest to best handle expanded playoffs in October.
This is a team that ownership has spared no expense in building. President and CEO Stan Kasten and President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman have built a roster with an estimated 2022 payroll of $261 million dollars. The league-leading payroll won’t put the team in the World Series every year, but it gives the team a chance to win every year.
In 2021, Los Angeles fell in the NLCS to the Braves and their first baseman Freddie Freeman. In 2020, the Dodgers won the World Series. In 2019, the Dodgers were eliminated in the 10th inning of the winner-take-all Game 5 of the NLDS to the Nationals and their shortstop Trea Turner. In 2018, the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Red Sox and their fabulous right fielder Mookie Betts and starting pitcher David Price (2-0, 1.98 ERA in 3 games, 2 starts against L.A. in the World Series).
There is no commandment against coveting thy opponent’s best players, is there?
Here’s my point about the 2022 Dodgers offense. Sure, the back of everyone’s baseball card looks great, but how many of them are having career-best seasons?
Let’s discuss. But first, a stat I must point out:
The Dodgers lead Major League Baseball in runs scored.
And they lead by a lot. The Dodgers — through Wednesday night — have scored 42 more runs than the next closest team in the bigs (the Braves).
That 30-year-old first baseman, Freddie Freeman, has an OPS of .919. If you sort his career by OPS, you would find that 2022 — while a fine year — is Freeman’s fifth-best season. In 2020 (his MVP year), his OPS was 1.102. It was .989 in 2017. It was .968 in 2016. It was .938 in 2019. This year, his .919 OPS is barely ahead of 2013 (.897), when he was 23.
The 29-year-old right fielder, Mookie Betts, has an OPS of .873. If you sort his career by OPS, you would find that 2022 — while a fine year — is Mookie’s fifth-best season. In 2018 (his MVP year), his OPS was 1.078. In 2020, he had a .927 OPS. In 2019, it was .915. In 2016, it was .897. And this year’s .873 is better than 2021’s .854 OPS, Mookie’s first season with L.A.
Surely, the 29-year-old shortstop, Trea Turner, is having a career year — right? Wrong. Trea’s OPS of .847 puts him in the MVP discussion, but it pales next to his 2020 season, when he put up a .982 OPS. And his .937 OPS in his 2016 rookie campaign was much better than this year. As was 2021, when Trea had an OPS of .911 for both Washington and Los Angeles (.950 with LA). And don’t forget the World Series season of 2019, when Trea had an OPS of .850.
That makes 2022 Trea Turner’s fifth-best season.
Max Muncy agreed to a contract extension earlier this week, just before his 32nd birthday. Muncy has been terrific in August (19 games, .294/.375/.676 with 7 HR, 17 RBI). He was excellent in the 2020 World Series run (.904 OPS in 18 playoff games). He didn’t play in the 2021 postseason because of an arm injury sustained in a late-season collision.
That injury lingered and affected Muncy in the early months of this season. But the facts remain: Muncy’s .699 OPS in 2022 is slotted after 2018 (.973), and 2021 (.895), and 2019 (.889), and 2020 (.720). This year is, yup, Muncy’s fifth-best season.
The centerfielder, 26-year-old Cody Bellinger, isn’t close to his best couple of seasons. In 2017, he was the Rookie of the Year. In 2018, he was the NLCS MVP. In 2019, he was the National League MVP. His OPS+ in those first three seasons was 144, meaning he was 44% better than the average hitter.
2017-2019 OPS of .928 OPS+: 144
2020-2022 OPS of .654 OPS+: 76
Since the start of 2020, Bellinger is batting .201. His OPS is .654, and his OPS+ is well below an average hitter. This year is a touch better than last year, so this is his fifth-best season in a six-year career.
Chris Taylor, “CT-3”, is the primary left-fielder. He turns 32 on August 29. His OPS this year is .711, which represents his sixth-best season. He topped out in 2017 at .850. In 2020, it was .842. In 2019, it was .794, and .782 in 2021. It’s down to .711. His OPS+ is just 95, meaning he’s five percent below average.
The catcher, 27-year-old Will Smith, is in the prime of his career and one of the top backstops in the game. But his .825 OPS this season does not equal up to his 2020 season (.980), or his 2019 season (.907), or his 2021 season (.860). Congratulations, Will, on your fourth-best season!
Only the second baseman, Gavin Lux, 24, is having his career-best season. Of course, this is only his second full season. His OPS is .824 and his OPS+ is 124.
As for the other guys on the bench, well, it’s about the ninth-best season for 37-year-old Justin Turner. Backup catcher Austin Barnes is batting .189 with a .669 OPS and an OPS+ of 85 (and that’s after Wednesday night’s 2-4 performance with a homer). He’s had much better seasons. Newly acquired Joey Gallo has had much better seasons, although he’s much better now that he’s away from New York and playing for L.A.
Dodgers pitching staff: They buy a lot of “fine china” but they rely on the “everyday” dishes
Los Angeles certainly has a lot of money spent on pitching. And the pitching staff leads all of baseball in ERA.
But the Dodgers’ pitching rotation in October could include Dustin May (25 years old, not yet eligible for arbitration, and just back from recovery from Tommy John surgery). It could include Tony Gonsolin (28, also not eligible for arbitration). It could include Julio Urias (making $8 million dollars, with one more year of arbitration). And it could include Tyler Anderson (on a one-year, $8 million dollar deal). Anderson is 13-2, with a 2.73 ERA and leads the team with 135.1 innings pitched. Urias is 13-7, with a 2.36 ERA. Gonsolin is 16-1, with a 2.10 ERA.
The fine china is cracked. Walker Buehler is out for the season — and a good portion of 2023. Clayton Kershaw is currently on the Injured List, but hopes to be back for the postseason. Kershaw has made just three starts after the All-Star break, in a statistic that should surprise no one.
In the bullpen, will the franchise go with Craig Kimbrel? His strikeouts are way down. His WHIP is 1.523. In recent weeks, it has only gotten worse.
The Dodgers are paying Kimbrel $16 million dollars this year, and David Price double that.
But the Dodgers have the entire month of September to figure out a back-end of the rotation. And they have Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen and Evan Phillips backing up Kimbrel. Phillips has a 1.29 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and a WHIP of 0.735.
Maybe the Marlins will defeat the Dodgers this weekend. Miami has a terrific starting pitcher named Sandy Alcantara. If the Dodgers falter this October, they can always target Alcantara. After all, Dodgers history demands a top-of-the-rotation Sandy.