LOS ANGELES — For the rest of the National League West, the view is very familiar.
The Dodgers reached this week’s All-Star break with the best record in the National League and a 10-game lead over their division. It’s the seventh time in the past 10 full seasons that they lead the division at the break, and the third time in the past five full seasons when that lead was over seven games.
“They’ve been doing it for 20 years. That’s no surprise,” Manny Machado of the second-place San Diego Padres said at the All-Star Game this week, exaggerating by a decade. “Us, if we want to get to where we want to get to, we’ve got to go through them. There’s no question. No question at all.”
Nonetheless, Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner was asked the question last weekend – why were they able to win 11 of their last 12 and 15 of their last 17 to reach 60 wins before the break?
“’Cause we’re good,” Turner said, speaking slowly as if addressing someone who had just emerged from a coma. “And we have a lot of good players.”
Indeed they do. That seemed to be all anyone could talk about this spring.
The addition of Freddie Freeman gave the Dodgers four past league MVPs (along with Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw) and the potential for a lineup that featured as many as eight former All-Stars on any given day. Records would fall, the analysts said.
The Dodgers’ 60 wins at the break, another fat division lead and the best record in the National League at this point all fit that narrative.
But they have done it without their best starting pitcher (Walker Buehler, out until at least September with an elbow injury) and their two best relievers (Blake Treinen and Daniel Hudson, one working back from a shoulder injury, the other out for the season with a torn knee ligament). Two other starting pitchers (Kershaw and Andrew Heaney) and another top reliever (Brusdar Graterol) have spent a significant amount of time on the injured list (or still are) – as have another one of their six All-Stars (Betts) and a key bench player (Edwin Rios).
As if those injuries were not challenges enough, Max Muncy (a .160 batting average) and Bellinger (.210) have become drags on the offense.
“There was a lot of speed bumps,” Freeman said.
“To go through all those tests as a unit and to get through those tests – that’s what makes a special team even more special.”
Some of the specials were not advertised as part of that spring training hype.
No one expected Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson to combine to go 21-1 before the All-Star break. Evan Phillips and Yency Almonte were known only to those into bullpen deep cuts. But Phillips has grown into a high-leverage role with a 1.50 ERA and took a stretch of 18 innings without allowing an earned run into the break. And Almonte has dominated right-handed hitters, allowing them just three hits in 30 at-bats, only one for extra bases (a double).
“I got no idea,” Turner said when asked how the Dodgers always seem to unearth these unexpected contributors. “If there was an answer – or if there was a public answer, a lot of people would do it. They’re so good at finding guys that have good pitches and creating a game plan for them or creating a pitch for them that gives them another weapon.
“You see it time and time again where they take someone from another organization that is DFA’d or they just don’t want and they turn them into really good pitchers. I don’t know what it is but they’re really good at it and it’s been a while now. It’s not just a one-time thing. It’s each and every year and it’s multiple guys.”
In his first season with the Dodgers, Freeman has also found the organization’s oft-touted depth even more impressive than he realized as an opponent.
“The depth has surprised me,” he said. “If you look at just our bullpen – Evan Phillips? What he’s done this year? Yency Almonte?
“We had so many doors open with guys shuffling through. It’s been amazing what that depth has done because it’s been tested. That’s just a testament to Andrew (Friedman) and Brandon Gomes and all those guys in the front office and the job they’re doing.”
The wealthy could get wealthier in the weeks ahead.
“The pieces are starting to fall into place,” Freeman said. “We’ve been playing well lately even though a lot of pieces have been missing. But now we’re hoping to get Blake back soon. Justin (Turner) has been hitting. Dustin May is coming soon.”
Buehler and reliever Tommy Kahnle might be longer shots to provide regular-season impact. But the Dodgers are once again in the position of pointing toward October as they play out the second half of the schedule.
“You look at the last three weeks, we played a lot of great team baseball. We caught it. We pitched well. Offensively, we came together, one through nine. A lot of good things,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
“We know the talent, the ability we have in the room. Just to go out there and focus on playing good baseball, win a game each night – that’s what we’ve done. As a result, we’ve separated ourselves a little bit in the National League West. But there’s still a lot of baseball to be played.”