It's difficult to imagine a team that has had 27 players on the disabled list is fighting for a division title. However, rookie Dodgers manager Dave Roberts never has lost his optimism for making the playoffs. His enthusiasm has helped the Dodgers maintain their belief in their collective ability to overcome any adversity to make the postseason and hopefully win their first World Series championship in 28 years.
From the first day of Spring Training, nothing has gone the way the Dodgers and Roberts envisioned. However, the ability of Roberts, his coaching staff and the front office to adapt has enabled the Dodgers to stay competitive. They don't hesitate to play their younger players when they need to, and the youngsters have performed better than anyone expected. Entering Monday's action, the Dodgers held a half-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
For the first half of the year, everyone was focusing on Clayton Kershaw. He was producing one of the best pitching performances in history and was poised to win his fourth NL Cy Young Award and possibly his second NL MVP Award. Every time Kershaw took the mound, the Dodgers knew they had a good chance of winning and their overtaxed bullpen would get a rest.
But on June 26 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, something appeared to be wrong with Kershaw. A few days later, it was revealed he had a mild herniated disk, and he was placed on the disabled list on July 1, retroactive to June 27. Unless Kershaw returned quickly or the Dodgers traded for another front-line starter before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, most baseball pundits thought it would be impossible for the Dodgers to win their fourth straight NL West title or earn a Wild Card berth.
But since Kershaw went on the disabled list, the Dodgers have posted a 27-19 record. On Tuesday, they will begin a three-game series against the Giants.
During the Dodgers' search for healthy starters, it has been exciting to watch the developing maturity of Ross Stripling and Julio Urias. Although Los Angeles' front office wanted to limit their innings, out of necessity they have performed well on the Major League level. Every time they've taken the mound, they have improved and show more confidence. On Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds, Urias hurled six scoreless innings, giving the bullpen a well-deserved break, especially after neither of the Dodgers' two previous starters finished the fourth inning.
To make up for the injuries to the pitching staff, Los Angeles' offense has come alive since the All-Star break. It has the best slugging percentage (.457) and the third-best batting average (.273) in the league in the second half.
Since Kershaw has been sidelined, Adrian Gonzalez has been outstanding. He has dealt with some nagging injuries that have interfered with his usual power production. But Gonzalez has adapted his swing, and he has hit .311 with five home runs since the break. He enters Tuesday's game with a 15-game hitting streak.
When Trevor Story of Colorado tore ligaments in his thumb, causing him to miss the remainder of the season, Corey Seager -- MLBPipeline.com's top prospect entering the season -- became the leading candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. There was much hype surrounding Seager during Spring Training, but he has surpassed all of the lofty expectations. While playing magnificent shortstop, he leads the team in batting average (.316) and on-base percentage (.370). His 21 home runs are second on the club.
No one understands how the Dodgers can vie for the playoffs when they have been devastated by injuries. If they go to the playoffs, Roberts should win the NL Manager of the Year Award for how he dealt with the unexpected.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.