It feels dumb to praise a team that has the highest payroll in the majors as some kind of underdog that’s bravely overcoming the long odds, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are 70-55, and here we are.
Before last night’s game against the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers placed starting pitchers Scott Kazmir and Brett Anderson on the 15-day disabled list, bringing the total number of Dodgers to have hit the DL this season to 27. That’s a mark only previously reached by the 2012 Boston Red Sox, who won 69 games. The Dodgers have won 70 so far, and have a two-game lead in the NL West after defeating the Giants last night.
The team currently has 15 players on the DL, including seven starting pitchers and three key outfielders. Clayton Kershaw—the kind of pitcher whose absence is supposed to lead to a guaranteed exit from the playoff race—hasn’t pitched in over a month; Hyun-Jin Ryu gave them one start before heading straight back to the DL; Alex Wood, Brandon McCarthy, and Brett Anderson have combined to start 20 games this season; Rich Hill, the guy who was brought in as emergency reinforcement at the trade deadline, has not yet been healthy enough to make a start.
This is a team that’s been forced to stick Howie Kendrick and his .738 OPS in left field, and last night had to rely on 27-year-old rookie Rob Segedin to help deliver a win against the Giants. Josh Reddick was brought over at the deadline to ease the sting of Yasiel Puig washing out of the majors, and all he’s done since is hit .149/.219/.164 in 19 games.
A cynical Dodgers hater might try to wave all of this off, arguing that a $272 million payroll is enough money to trump any number of injuries, but that’s only half true. The Dodgers’ massive war chest allows them to carry around the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Kenta Maeda, and Chase Utley, but it hasn’t really been the big-money players that have kept them afloat.
Corey Seager was drafted by the Dodgers in 2012, has since developed into one of the best shortstops in the league, and leads this current Dodgers roster with 5.4 WAR. Right behind him is third baseman Justin Turner (4.2 WAR), a guy who was scooped off the free-agent scrapheap in 2014 and is making just over $5 million this year. And right behind Turner is Joc Pederson (2.6 WAR), another homegrown talent who bounced back impressively from last season’s nightmare second half.
Even the pitching staff, long the part of a rich team’s roster most likely to be overstuffed with high-priced mercenary talent, has been buoyed by arms developed within the organization. 2012 fifth-round pick Ross Stripling hasn’t exactly taken the NL West by storm, but he’s provided the Dodgers with 14 starts and 4.04 ERA, which is about all anyone can ask for from a 26-year-old rookie starter. And then there’s Julio Urias, the 19-year-old phenom the Dodgers signed in 2012, who has struck out 62 batters in 57 innings and is now suddenly the team’s No. 2 starter behind Kenta Maeda.
The Dodgers should be completely fucked, and the fact that they aren’t is more a testament to their ability to develop quality players than it is their tendency to blow huge sums of money on players no other teams can or want to pay for. What should scare the rest of the National League isn’t that the Dodgers are somehow still winning games this year, but how good they’ll be when they find better players than Carl Crawford, Chase Utley, Howie Kendrick, and Adrian Gonzalez to spend all their money on.