There is no team better than the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. Their 85-34 record is exceptional, they’re 19 game ahead of their closest division rivals (currently a tie between the Rockies and Diamondbacks), and it seems as if their ticket to the World Series is already printed.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have a dismal 53-67 record and have only won two of their last 10 games. The match-up seems heavily weighted in the Dodgers favor. We chatted with Eric Stephen, managing editor of True Blue LA, about this historic Dodgers season, and what the Tigers can expect from the unstoppable team.
BYB: Look, I’m just going to ask: How are the Dodgers so damned good this year? What’s the magic recipe?
ES: Two reasons come to mind: depth, and Dave Roberts. The lineup has essentially four near-MVP-type candidates in Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Chris Taylor, and the latter two started the season in the minors. The club also hasn’t missed a beat with Clayton Kershaw on the shelf, with the rest of the starters pitching in to keep the ball rolling.
Roberts’ addition last year has been a boon for the front office, which is known for being analytically based but has also strived to build chemistry and a winning environment. With Roberts, they have an infectious leader who exudes an intense positivity combined with excellent communication skills. The current run is ridiculous -- they have won 50 of their last 59 games -- and I give Roberts a lot of credit for helping to maintain the focus needed on a daily basis to achieve such a feat.
Obviously the injury to Clayton Kershaw isn’t ideal, do you think he’s been pushing himself too hard this season? How has losing him impacted the rotation?
I’m not sure if Kershaw was pushing himself too hard, since he was basically doing what he always does, every season. I think his back problems (also had a herniated disc last year, though that was more serious) will just be something he has to manage going forward. The perils of aging!
Amazingly, the starting rotation has been really, really good without him. Since Kershaw’s last start on July 23, Dodgers starting pitchers are 10-0 with a 2.43 ERA in 20 games. The last time a Dodgers starting pitcher got tagged for a loss was July 21 when Alex Wood suffered his only defeat of the season. It’s been a weird, crazy, amazing year.
Speaking of, how is that Yu Darvish acquisition working out for you? Are you sure you wouldn’t have preferred Justin Verlander?
The Darvish addition has certainly helped those numbers above, and adding him to a potential playoff rotation with Kershaw, Wood, and Rich Hill makes the Dodgers quite formidable in October. I do love Verlander and think he would have been a fine addition, but given that the Dodgers likely want to slide under the luxury tax at some point in the next couple seasons, adding $28 million for both 2018 and 2019 made that much more difficult.
On the team’s success, do you think this year is a lucky fluke or the work of a long-term project that began when the Dodgers switched ownership?
I can’t say I expected 51 games over .500 midway through August, but this year is definitely a few years in the making. The new ownership group has invested in both the major league team and in the minors since it bought the team in 2012, and the fruits of that labor are starting the ripen. This gets into the depth I mentioned earlier. The team has talent at both the major league level plus the farm system to add players (Seager last year, Bellinger this year, maybe Alex Verdugo and Walker Buehler next year or this September) or make trades to bolster the big club.
How much do you hate East Coast road trips?
I used to hate them, but I have grown to like them, at least as a change of pace. There is something to be said for a 4 p.m. PT game and my baseball-writing night is essentially done at 8 p.m. or so instead of something near midnight.
Which Dodgers player isn’t getting enough credit this season? (might be a tough call since they all seem unstoppable)
The Dodgers got Chris Taylor off the scrap heap last year, trading former first-round pick Zach Lee to the Mariners for him. Taylor has not only reinvented his swing this season, hitting a ridiculous .303/.374/.530 with 17 home runs (he hit .234/.289/.309 in 318 major league PA from 2014-16), but he was just an infielder when the Dodgers got him, and now he is manning left field with occasional starts in center field. His transformation has been remarkable.
Austin Barnes also deserves recognition here. He has been arguably the best backup catcher in baseball, a great compliment to Yasmani Grandal. Barnes is an excellent receiver and starts against most lefties, has speed, and can also play second base in a pinch. He’s hitting .293/.411/.513 in 180 PA.
Which Tigers player do you think will be the most challenging for the Dodgers?
Justin Upton has always scared me since he burst onto the scene with Arizona a decade ago. It is nice to see him continue to produce this season. I do also love Miguel Cabrera quite a bit, even in a rough injury-plagued season. I know he’s a superstar with two MVPs on his mantel, but if anything I think he is underrated historically. Cabrera is basically this generation’s Frank Robinson, a truly great Hall of Famer who people don’t realize just how excellent he really is.
Can we maybe win a game this weekend? Like… just one?
To quote Montgomery Burns when he said he would donate $1 million when pigs fly, “No, I’d still prefer not.”
Thanks to Eric for taking the time to answer our questions, and to not brag too much in the process. For more of his work visit True Blue LA or follow him on Twitter @truebluela.