Remember when the Indians won the World Series last year? How about the 2010 Padres? And of course, we all remember the glorious title run for the '08 Diamondbacks, led by Brandon Webb's 30 win season. Also, I should really start watching baseball after April.
The point is, just because the Dodgers have gotten off to a hot start while the Diamondbacks clearly haven't does not mean that Arizona is doomed to scrapping for the wild card. The Dodgers have gone 11-8 since their red-hot 12-3 start, which is fine, but it suggests that their .667 winning percentage probably won't hold up. They'll probably slide at some point, since this is still fundamentally the same team that we all predicted at the start of the year that featured Kemp, Kershaw, and the help staff at the Redondo Beach Best Buy.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
To be fair, much of the Dodgers' offensive advantage comes from Matt Kemp, who has rained fire from on high this semester, with an 1.192 OPS so far this year. He's likely to miss the next few days with a pulled hamstring though, so that eliminates much of their advantage. LA's pitching has been solid, with the starting rotation in particular being responsible for a 2.91 ERA. But considering that's being propped up by Chris Capuano (2.06) and Ted Lilly (1.91), I'm dubious about the team's ability to maintain it.
- I think this lineup, more than anything else I could come up with, shows just how valuable Matt Kemp is to this team. With Kemp, this is a team with an above-average offense. Without Kemp, the primary RBI men are Bobby Abreu and Juan Uribe. Sure, losing a player like Kemp would hurt any lineup, but still, wow.
- Dee Gordon is a speedy slap hitter with limited power. I mean, he's in his first full major-league season, so it's difficult to say that for sure, but that's what his minor league numbers suggest, and it's what he's been 369 PAs in the majors. This is all well and good when the hits are falling in, but he has a BABIP of .252 so far after never posting one below .300 at any level before this, and it has resulted in a line of .211/.250/.273 so far this year. Dee Gordon is currently running a seminar on the dangers of relying on BABIP-dependant slap hitters.
- James Loney, after years of underachievement, probably saved his job by hitting .320/.380/.534 during the second half of last year. I can only imagine how aggravating this must have been for Dodger fans. After watching Loney slowly decline after a promising rookie year, the Dodgers were finally in a position to get rid of Loney this offseason, and he hit just well enough to justify not going after someone like Prince Fielder in free agency before turning around this year and going right back to looking clueless at the plate.
- A.J. Ellis has an OPS+ of 161. Ellis is a 31-year-old backup catcher who inherited the starting job essentially by default. He's not young enough to be intriguing, and he's not established enough to good and veteran-y, but he's improbably hitting well in a valiant but probably unsustainable start to the season. A.J. Ellis is the the 2012 Dodgers in a nutshell.
Insightful Commentary: For the second year in a row, Ian Kennedy has had by far his worst start of the season against the Cardinals at Chase Field. To some extent, this is random luck, and to some extent, this is because the Cardinals have really good hitters and Chase Field is a hitter's park. However, it also seems like he had a poor approach in his last start, shying away from throwing his change-up early on, to his detriment. Again, the moral of the story is that it's better for everyone if we just pretend the Cardinals series wasn't a thing that happened.
Before last year, Clayton Kershaw was a nasty little secret that only the NL West really knew about. Sure, everyone knew he was a great young pitcher, but last year's Cy Young campaign is what truly put him on the map. He cut his walks while staying astonishingly good at striking guys out and preventing home runs, and just dominated the league last year. He had a 2.28 ERA to go with a 2.41 FIP, all while being the same age Pat Corbin is now. Simply incredible.
Insightful Commentary: Miley, for all the improvements that he's made this year, is benefiting from allowing only one home run so far this season. He's not really known as a ground ball pitcher, and he has Chase Field as his home ballpark, so I expect that to even out a bit as the year progresses. Again, this is not to disparage the legitimate improvements he's made in almost every other facet of his game, just something to keep an eye on.
Billingsley is part of that second-tier of Dodger players behind Kemp and Kershaw. You know, the group that pundits point to and say, "yeah, if that guy has a good year, this team could really make a run for a playoff spot." It's not a "sure thing" the way that Kemp and Kershaw supposedly are, but it's still more likely than, say, Aaron Harang being dominant. After a blip last year where his numbers dropped across the board, Billingsley looks to be back to being the solidly above-average, mid-3s ERA pitcher he was from 2007 to 2010, although his 4.34 FIP warrants keeping an eye on.
Final Verdict: These two game series are tough to get a sense of. Everything just feels rushed, and by the time you get into the swing of things, it's time to go somewhere else. It's baseball's equivalent of flying back home for a wedding. Still, I feel confident that the Dodgers are not as good as they've played so far, particularly with Kemp out. Thus, I expect the Diamondbacks can grab a game here. Diamondbacks and Dodgers each win a game.
Head over to True Blue LA for the Dodgers' perspective.
(Stats from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.)