After a Slow Start, the Los Angeles Dodgers Are a Juggernaut Again

After playing well to begin the season, but not quite to their own standards, the Dodgers arrived as top World Series contenders in August.

Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his solo homerun with Freddie Freeman #5, to trail the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-1, during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on September 21, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

As the Los Angeles Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday night, the team improved to 32-12 since July 8 — the last time they didn’t lead the NL West.

By many teams’ standards, a 51-38 record heading into the All-Star Break would have been the result of things breaking right and a stretch of strong play. But for the Dodgers, things hadn’t necessarily clicked in the first half of the season.

L.A. was picking up wins and contending for a division title, but the team appeared to be a far cry from the 100-win juggernaut we’ve seen year in and year out.

That was until they flipped the switch out of the break. They’re now on pace for 101 wins, have a 14.5-game lead in the division and tied their franchise record for wins in a month after racking up 24 W’s in August.

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Behind the MVP emergence of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, the Dodgers now have the second-best odds to win the World Series (14.7%), according to FanGraphs.

So, as the red-hot Dodgers take aim at yet another 100-win season, let’s take a look at what’s gone right at Chavez Ravine. 

The Best 1-2 punch in Baseball

If you look atop the fWAR leaderboards, you’ll find what may be the best duo to hit first and second in the same lineup in MLB history.

Betts and Freeman have been the two most valuable position players in baseball this season, and have only gotten stronger as the year has gone along.

Since the All-Star Break, Betts has gone on an unbelievable run. His 3.5 fWAR ranks first in MLB, and he’s gotten there by slashing .400/.479/.697 — good for a 219 wRC+.

Not only has his second half boosted the Dodgers to the top of the standings, but it’s helped him arguably become the favorite in the NL MVP race.

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NL MVP Candidates

While Betts has been exceptional since the break, Freeman has been right there with him each step of the way. He owns a .376/.452/.642 slash line and 195 wRC+ and has belted 20 doubles since the Midsummer Classic.

Both are on pace to finish the season with 7.0+ bWAR, 30+ home runs, 100+ RBI and 130+ runs scored. The last time two players on the same team reached all those milestones in the same campaign was in 1937, when Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig led the New York Yankees to a World Series title.

The Bullpen Figured it Out

Through the first half of the season, Los Angeles’ bullpen couldn’t seem to get the job done. It owned a 4.50 ERA and had a -0.96 clutch rating, per FanGraphs — the seventh-worst mark in MLB.

Since the break, however, the ‘pen has an MLB-low 2.35 ERA and three blown saves. Dodgers relievers have held opponents to a .195 average against, and are only walking 8.6% of the hitters they face.

The improvement later in games has come from a pair of mid-season additions stepping up.

Ryan Yarbrough and Ryan Brasier have pitched a combined 38.1 innings in relief, and both have ERAs under 2.00.

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Ryan Yarbrough19.11.863.1121.91.4.208
Ryan Brasier19.00.472.6827.36.1.129
Brusdar Graterol17.20.513.4918.86.3.186
Alex Vesia17.12.603.4429.76.3.136
Evan Phillips14.21.842.7924.53.8.157
Caleb Ferguson14.23.073.8824.613.0.305
Yency Almnote11.14.764.5027.116.7.205
Dodgers pitchers that have thrown 10+ relief innings in the second half

The team will get a boost as well when Joe Kelly returns from injury. The veteran reliever didn’t allow a run — in just 3.2 innings, albeit — after coming over at the trade deadline before heading to the IL with forearm inflammation.

The Rotation has Stepped Up Around Kershaw

As the Dodgers have filtered through 15 different starting pitchers this season, Clayton Kershaw has been the only one constantly delivering results. The three-time Cy Young winner owns a 2.48 ERA over 112.1 innings of work this season, and while he did miss some time on the injured list, he hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of his four starts since returning.

The problem has been the shuffle and inconsistency from his rotation mates. With Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin ending their campaigns early, Julio Urias disappointing, and some of the young arms the Dodgers have given a shot to not delivering quality outings, Los Angeles has a middle-of-the-pack rotation.

But, similarly to the bullpen, things have started to come around in the second half.

The addition of Lance Lynn has been a revolution. While the 36-year-old got tagged for seven runs in 4.1 innings Thursday against the Atlanta Braves, he still has a 3.57 ERA in his six starts as a Dodger.

Bobby Miller and Julio Urias have both started to look like the pitchers they’re expected to be. In his last six starts, Urias has a 3.16 ERA and has struck out 41 hitters while walking just five.

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Meanwhile, Miller has a 3.50 ERA in the second half, and has pitched at least six innings in four straight starts.

So, while it has been an uneven year for Dodgers starters, heading into the postseason with a rotation of Kershaw, Urias, Miller, and Lynn may not be as concerning as it was two months ago.