The Los Angeles Dodgers have gotten off to an incredible start, as their 16-7 record (as of April 30) has them three and a half games ahead of the San Francisco Giants. Their hot streak has been led by center fielder Matt Kemp, who is leading all of baseball in AVG, HR, SLG and OPS, along with right fielder Andre Ethier, who has been very good, but not quite on Kemp’s level (although, in fairness, who has?).
A pitching staff led by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley has also been excellent to date, posting a team ERA of 2.98. The bullpen has showed signs of caution recently, as closer Javy Guerra has given up at least one run in each of his last three outings, but such things happen over the course of a season, and given Kenley Jansen’s dominance (a 2.45 ERA thus far), it may not be too much to worry about.
However, the Dodgers hot start has raised many questions about their legitimacy for the rest of the season. Optimists have projected a division crown, while pessimists point to the 9-1 start against the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates as proof that the team hasn’t been tested yet.
To be honest, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
This team is not the best in the National League, as their record currently indicates they are. They are likely to challenge for the second wild card and could make an appearance in the division race if things break right and the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants continue to struggle.
A common argument for their continued contention, though, is that the Dodgers have these nine games over .500 in the bank and that will be enough to keep them in the race because the NL West is a weak division.
This is true, but it does not actually mean anything.
Yes, the Dodgers are currently nine games over .500 and these wins in April count just as much as they would in September. However, the Dodgers played an easy schedule in their first 10 games. If they had started 7-6 and then played those 10 games, their record would still be 16-7; they just happened to get an easy first week and a half.
Over the course of the season, teams have runs of difficult games as well as easy ones.
The Dodgers happened to get one right at the beginning of the season and their record reflects that. This will even out over the course of the year, though, as evidenced by a particularly difficult run from September 7-23, when Los Angeles plays San Francisco, Arizona, St. Louis, Washington and Cincinnati.
Losses then will count just as much as losses at the beginning of the season would have. The Dodgers just happened to have that stretch of difficulty in September and an easy one in April.
This is not to say that the Dodgers entire record is fluky though as you can only beat the teams you play, and it is a positive sign that they beat the teams they were supposed to beat this far. The recent sweep of Washington is also a good sign, and they’ve been competitive in most of their losses as well.
However, the argument that they have these victories “banked” and that will benefit them in the long run is bogus. They will make the playoffs or miss them based on their performance over 162 games, as will every other team in the division.