Dodgers in playoff battle despite injuries

Bullpen has been unsung hero first half of season

Dodgers in playoff battle despite injuries

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers hung in there over the first half.

All things considered, it could have been worse. With a fourth consecutive National League West Division title being the initial prize, the Dodgers began the season with an epidemic of new injuries and slow healers from last year's medical mess.

The offense has sputtered and the starting rotation has left too many innings for the bullpen, which has responded in spectacular fashion to be the unsung hero of the season.

Nonetheless, the Dodgers trail the Giants by 6 1/2 games. They've never reached the postseason when they trailed at the All-Star break by more than five games. On the other hand, they currently are the first seed for the two NL Wild Card berths.

Until his back went out, Clayton Kershaw was rolling toward another NL Cy Young Award. Corey Seager has been the first-half NL Rookie of the Year, Chase Utley the first-half Comeback Player of the Year and Kenley Jansen a contender for Fireman of the Year. Jansen is surrounded by arguably the best supporting bullpen in the game, which has been stressed and strained by a starting rotation that doesn't go deep. But the bullpen keeps delivering and it is a big reason why the Dodgers are still afloat.

Jansen shuts the door

Mostly, medical. The Dodgers were counting on the recoveries of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Justin Turner and Yasmani Grandal and to varying degrees in each case the timetable was late. Offensively, the hope was that Yasiel Puig would find his game-changing impact, but except on defense that hasn't happened either. Then there were serious injuries to Andre Ethier, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, Yimi Garcia, Frankie Montas and Joc Pederson, as well as less serious injuries to Kershaw, Howie Kendrick, Puig, Jose De Leon, Scott Van Slyke, Carl Crawford, Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias and Enrique Hernandez. The offensive lineup, even when healthy, can use a boost, especially in the outfield.

Dodgers management was right about Utley and Adam Liberatore. Utley was re-signed in the off-season after a down year with injuries, but he's shown that at 37, age is just a number. Nobody on the club plays with the heads-up intensity of Utley, who has transitioned to leadoff hitter and even gets the job done at second base. Liberatore, meanwhile, set a franchise record for scoreless appearances. Not a bad outcome for the first trade of the Andrew Friedman era. Trayce Thompson has proved to be a useful player with the power to match his physique, and he'd get even more playing time if he could cut down on strikeouts.

Utley joins elite company

It's rare when a touted prospect lives up to the hype, especially with the Dodgers, but Corey Seager is the real deal. He has a batting-champ swing and already has shown power to the opposite field. He's less effective against lefties and his strikeout numbers have climbed recently, but it's totally understandable considering how he's joined Adrian Gonzalez and Turner in carrying the offensive load. Aside from looking a little uneasy on the backhand, his defense has been better than advertised by scouts that insist he needs to move to third base.

Seager's RBI single to center

Maybe the back gave out because he doesn't have Zack Greinke to share the load, or maybe he tweaked it picking up 1-year-old Cali. Whatever the reason, Kershaw has been rehabbing as if he'll return sooner than some expected. It should be noted that the only other time Kershaw went on the disabled list, in 2014 for a strained teres major muscle, he also won the NL MVP Award.

Kershaw strikes out eight in win

Hands down it's Seager, although honorable mention goes to Kenta Maeda. He comes with an asterisk after pitching eight years in Japan, but he's technically a rookie nonetheless and for all the injuries the starting rotation has suffered, it's ironic that Maeda is still in one piece even though he's the one that failed his physical before signing an incentive-laden contract.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.