Expert MLB Handicapping: Can Los Angeles Dodgers Turn it Around?
The Dodgers had a season win total of 96.5, which was tied with Houston for the highest in baseball. So, needless to say, when they were 16-26 on May 16, it was far below what we were expecting from the team. Injuries were a huge issue, the mental and chemistry issues that always seem to stick to the team were an issue again, and they were on a fast road to nowhere. They have turned a corner and gone 19-6, then, but it is still more of a hot streak than a corrected team right now because of the injury woes. But they are back in the playoff hunt and could be a threat into the postseason - which they were supposed to be all along. Can they keep it up? Or are the issues that doomed them early on going to come back again? Here are six factors to consider when pondering those questions:
Clayton Kershaw: Kershaw is the best pitcher since Randy Johnson in my eyes. A total freak. But if you aren't worried about him and his back at this point then you are far more optimistic than I am. He has been derailed by back injuries each of the last two years and is on the DL yet again with a back problem. He's 30 now, and he puts ridiculous strain on his back - like any top pitcher. If you can think of an example of a person who has back woes and fully and completely gets over them then you are doing better than me. He is throwing in the bullpen now, so he could be back soon. But how long will he stay back? And will he be more effective than he was early in the season when he was barely even a shadow of his former self? The team has done better lately without him than they were early on, but they are obviously a much better and more dangerous team if he is doing well. It's not hard to see this as a playoff team without him, but it is very hard to see them as a legitimate contender if he isn't there.
Injuries: Beyond Kershaw, injuries have been a major issue for this team. The rotation has been ravaged, with Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler out, and Kenta Maeda just returning from injury. That's a lot to overcome. And the injuries in the lineup have been significant as well. They have gotten very lucky with guys stepping up to fill some gaps, and that has made it all work. Matt Kemp and Max Muncy are two guys we will discuss soon, but another guy worth a good mention is pitcher Ross Stripling. He was a long reliever who has been forced into starting with all the injuries, and he has been fantastic. In his eight starts he has a 2.01 ERA and a stingy 1.01 WHIP. That makes it easier to deal with the loss of Kershaw.
Division: If you are going to start out being just awful in your first 42 games then the only division better than the NL West to do it in is the AL Central. The Diamondbacks have led throughout, but they are just 37-30, the worst record of division leaders other than Cleveland. And the Giants and Rockies have been disappointing and San Diego is terrible. The Dodgers are at .522, which is second in the NL West and just two games out of first, but they would be fourth in the other two divisions in the NL. They are going to play a lot of winnable games going forward, and they are in a race that they can win without being truly dominant. They are 19-6 in their last 25 games, and it doesn't matter that they likely can't sustain that - they don't need to in order to win the division. The discussion would be very different if they were in a different spot geographically.
Matt Kemp: Kemp was added back to this team purely as a financial measure. They grabbed him from Atlanta because they were running into the luxury tax, and his contract fit them better. And as soon as they brought him in they tried and failed to move him. As it turned out, that failure is the best thing that could have happened to the team. Kemp's numbers were not great in Atlanta last year, and it felt like he was slowing down like so many sluggers do around the same 33 age he is. But he obviously liked coming back to L.A. where he had so much success. His .335 average is his best since 2007, and his .555 slugging percentage is his best since 2011. He has been a revelation, and when an afterthought is becoming a savior you are in a good place.
Max Muncy: Muncy is a truly great story. He played 96 games over two seasons with the A's in 2015-16 - and it's not like cracking the A's major league lineup is tough right now. And then he spent all of last year in AAA. But when Logan Forsythe was hurt in April they called Muncy up to play third base - surely with minimal expectations given his less than stellar numbers in the bigs up to that point. But if you look at the OPS+ rankings in all of baseball you will find Muncy behind just two players - some guys named Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. That is heady company. Muncy has 13 homers and 30 RBIs in just 46 games. It's the kind of thing you can't plan for, but which certainly helps when a team has suffered through so many injuries and disappointments and still wants to compete.
Betting performance: Expectations were high from this team, the performance early on was a total disaster, and they are still only a .500 team at home. In other words, it is no surprise at all that they have been disastrous for bettors. The only team that has lost more bettor money this year is the Orioles - and Baltimore is so awful there are no words for it. They have been really bad for bettors at home, not nearly as bad but still far from profitable on the road, and ugly on the runline, too. Things have obviously been much better since they have gotten hot, but things are still far from rosy.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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