Streaking in LA: Hitting and Pitching on Display

The Dodgers beat the Mets 4-2

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Dodgers new, and more competent, ownership is willing to spend whatever it takes to win a championship. They swung one of the biggest trades in Baseball history last year when they got Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto from the Red Sox. Absorbing every penny of each contract in the process. They threw buckets of money at Zack Greinke in the offseason to line him up behind Ace Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers 2013 payroll of $223,126,072 is second only to the Yankees $228,106,125 (source). That’s lots and lots of lettuce. Combined, the two teams’ salaries makeup 14.14% of the $3.19 billion being shelled out in player salaries this season.

Like I said; that’s a lot of lettuce.

Thanks to a slow start, the Dodgers had to fight there way back to the .500 mark by the All-Star Break. Good enough to be 2.5 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks who were leading the west at the time, but a far cry from where many pundits expected the talent laden team from the City of Angels to be. But the Dodgers had started a unique streak by that time.

But first, some history.

In 1924, the Dodgers of today did not reside in L.A. In fact, they weren’t even referred to as the Dodgers. They were the Brooklyn Robins.

The staff Ace was Dazzy Vance. He would win 28 games that year, post a 2.16 ERA and strike out 262 hitters en route to the pitching Triple Crown and the MVP Award. The most feared slugger in the lineup was Jack Fournier who led the league with 27 home runs to go along with 116 RBI’s and a slash line of .334/.428/.536. The team finished second to the New York Giants who would go on to lose the World Series in seven games to Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators.

That Brooklyn Robins team also set a franchise record for consecutive road wins at 12 games. A franchise record that stood through a name change in 1932 and a 3,000 mile move in 1958.

The record stood through a color barrier being broken by Jackie Robinson, through the team’s first World Series Championship in 1955, and through Kirk Gibson‘s heroics in 1988.

It stood for 89 years.

Back to the present.

Nine days before the All-Star Break, the Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants, 4-1. Which is good enough for any Dodgers fan because, it’s the Giants. They then went to Arizona and swept a three-game series against the Diamondbacks. For those of you keeping track, that’s four straight road wins, or, 1/3 of the way to the franchise record.

After the break, the Dodgers flew to Washington and swept a three-game set from the Nationals. Then they did the same thing to the Toronto Blue Jays in their next series. If you’re still following along, that’s 10 consecutive road wins, with their next road series being a four-game set against the Chicago Cubs.

Saturday night, the Dodgers beat the Cubs 3-0 for their 13th consecutive win away from Dodgers Stadium. Setting a new franchise record, and making it the longest such streak since the 1976 Phillies won 13 consecutive road games. They’re still four games shy of the National League record of 17 games, which was set by the 1916 New York Giants.

So, how did they do it?

For any kind of sustained winning streak, everything has to click for a team. From pitching to hitting to defense. The Dodgers have done everything right during this stretch where they have gone from .500 at the All-Star Break, to 60-49 with a 4.5 game lead over the second place Diamondbacks.

Their pitching staff has posted an ERA during that span of 2.61, a WHIP of 1.105 and they’ve held opponents to an OPS against of .628. Much better than the season marks for ERA (3.45), WHIP (1.257) and OPS against (.687). All while the two horses, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke, only got two road starts apiece during that span. Hyun Jin Ryu has been, well, bad, giving up 11 runs in 15.2 innings across his last three road starts. But the bullpen, has been lights out.

Combined, the bullpen has an ERA of 1.79. If you remove Carlos Marmol‘s three earned runs in 2.2 innings, that number plummets to 1.18. And Kenley Jansen has been the star allowing one earned run across nine innings while striking out 14 hitters and walking two.

But it hasn’t been just the pitching carrying the team. The Dodgers offense has been firing on all cylinders posting a cumulative slash line of .314/.379/.467. Good for a wOBA of .363, or, as good as Colby Rasmus‘ wOBA which has helped him accrue an fWAR of 4.1 this season so far. All of which is being done sans Matt Kemp. Which, come to think of it, might be the biggest reason as to why the Dodgers have been hitting so well. Kemp’s .700 OPS in the middle of that lineup scares nobody. But with Adrian Gonzalez and a resurgent Hanley Ramirez hitting third and fourth (and hitting .300 and .365 respectively), opposing teams are forced to deal with a lefty-righty heart of the order capable of turning a game around with one swing of the bat.

And their best hitter during that span (other than new pinch-hitter Zack Greinke) has been Andre Ethier.

In these 13 wins, Ethier has a .388/.483/.633 slash line with two home runs, 10 RBI, and a team leading 10 walks.

Lost in all of this is that the Dodgers aren’t just playing the part of Road Warriors to perfection. They have been beating up on any team in their path going 19-4 since that July 7th win against the Giants, and are 22-6 since the start of July. Hotter even than the Tampa Bay Rays who are 17-5 since July 7th, and just as hot since the start of July. And the Rays are considered the “hottest team in baseball.”

MLB’s Elite Pitching Staffs Since July 1, 2013
Tampa Bay Rays (TB) 29 23 6 11 1 75 2.54 265.1 1.80 7.33 0.976
Los Angeles Dodgers (LAD) 29 23 6 10 0 71 2.38 268.0 2.28 7.76 1.041
Detroit Tigers (DET) 29 21 8 7 1 91 3.15 260.0 2.80 6.99 1.204
Atlanta Braves (ATL) 30 19 11 11 2 106 3.51 272.0 2.78 8.31 1.239
Kansas City Royals (KC) 29 18 11 12 3 105 3.58 263.1 2.87 7.58 1.290
Cleveland Indians (CLE) 29 18 11 11 6 96 3.35 258.0 3.42 7.85 1.225
Boston Red Sox (BOS) 29 18 11 6 3 103 3.45 269.0 2.68 8.00 1.294
Seattle Mariners (SEA) 29 17 12 11 3 133 4.47 268.0 2.92 7.82 1.362
St. Louis Cardinals (STL) 29 16 13 9 2 106 3.79 252.0 3.07 7.46 1.306
Pittsburgh Pirates (PIT) 30 16 14 8 1 89 2.97 270.0 3.03 7.67 1.211

By the end of May, pundits were writing the Dodgers and their 23-30 record off. “This is what you get for trying to buy championships” they said. But only the Los Angeles Angels have continued to flounder after the teams blew up their respective payrolls in search of front-line talent. The Dodgers now have the second largest divisional lead in baseball, and show no signs of slowing down.

Until Matt Kemp comes back and gets reinserted into the third spot in the lineup.

Dodgers fans are begging you not to do that, Don Mattingly. Whatever you do. Do not put Kemp in the middle of your lineup when he returns.