Don't look now, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have made their midseason push and find themselves at the top of the NL West. Though a lot of baseball remains to be played, this team is finding its stride and is looking to secure the divisional pennant. Thanks to their superior pitching, lineup depth and chemistry, this club will do just that.
Thanks to the recent trade for Ricky Nolasco, this team has a very dangerous rotation. With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nolasco, the Dodgers are now a bear of a matchup in any series. Chris Capuano rounds out the rotation for the time being, and although he isn't a world-beater, they don't need him to be one.
Overall, the Dodgers have a 3.62 ERA as a team, which is good for first in the NL West. The Diamondbacks aren't far behind at 3.77, but no one will argue that they would prefer Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin and Randall Delgado over the Dodgers' fearsome foursome.
Given the amount of baseball left, it wouldn't be fair to completely ignore the Rockies or Giants, either. However, these teams rank 13th and 14th respectively in terms of NL team ERA. That's just not going to get it done.
Relief pitching can be equally important to a team's success as well. The Dodgers know this all too well, ranking 5th in the majors with 16 blown saves. However, Dodgers fans can rejoice in the fact that Kenley Jansen has replaced Brandon League effectively and that the Diamondbacks actually have 19 blown saves.
Though the Dodgers offense was anemic for the first few months of the season, it has recently become one of their biggest strengths. They trail the Diamondbacks by 18 runs in terms of total scored, but that number has been decreasing very quickly. Since the All-Star break, the boys in blue have scored and dropped a whopping 39 runs on the Nationals and Blue Jays in just five games.
When healthy, this lineup has a phenomenal outfield that stars Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig with Andre Ethier's improving bat coming off the bench. In the infield, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez are absolutely raking at the plate while Mark Ellis, A.J. Ellis and Juan Uribe are a strong supporting cast.
Suddenly, this team looks really balanced and has started to hit the ball with runners in scoring position. They won't stay this hot, but the disparity between team batting average and batting average with RISP should continue to shrink.
The Dodgers have a batting average of .264 with 84 home runs in comparison to .255 and 81 home runs for the D-Backs. It took a while to get going, but this offense should continue to succeed in the second half.
In sports, some teams succeed in spite of inferior quantifiable characteristics. As fans, we talk a lot about things like intangibles and chemistry as things that contribute to this. I'm not here to tell you that the Dodgers are much closer as a group than fellow NL West contenders, but I will say that they're starting to look like a team.
In the past calendar year, the Dodgers have taken on a massive amount of salary and brought in a ridiculous amount of talent. Spending money helps, but the Yankees have taught us that it doesn't guarantee success. The same goes for this team.
For the first few months of the season, the Dodgers looked uninspired on the whole. Blame it on injuries, apathy or what have you. It looks different now.
Which team will win the NL West?
Between the call-up of Puig, the improved health of the roster and a big winning streak, this team is having fun. Anyone who has played a team sport knows that it takes time for chemistry to build, and I'm here to tell you that it has happened in L.A.
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks have seven games remaining against each other and a whole host of divisional tilts as well. The trade deadline should bring new faces to both rosters and add even more intrigue to what already looks like a great battle. There may not be much else going on in the sports world, but the best of baseball is just getting started.