MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

LA glory: 5 reasons Dodgers on historic pace

LA glory: 5 reasons Dodgers on historic pace

Fun fact about the 2017 Dodgers: They were 22-18 on May 16 and in third place in the National League West. Pretty good, right? Not great, but pretty good.

Almost three months later, the Dodgers have a chance to have the NL's best record in 111 years.

How did this happen? Was it good management? Great managing? Was it simply having more talent? Or a better plan than any other team?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

At 79-32, Los Angeles begins a three-game series in Phoenix on Tuesday on a pace to win 115 times, which would be the most in the NL since the 1906 Cubs went 116-36.

The Dodgers are 57-14 since that 22-18 start and 44-7 since a three-game losing streak in early June. And 79-32 is one game off the pace of the 2001 Mariners (80-32), who own the modern Major League record of 116 wins.

This Dodgers squad has baseball's best pitching staff (3.07 ERA). It has scored the fifth-most runs, with an offense built around getting on base (first in walks) and hitting the ball over the fence (fourth in home runs).

If someone asks how this happened, here's what you tell them:

1. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi are really good at their jobs.
Friedman long ago established his brilliance in transforming the Rays into consistent winners. Some wondered how that skillset of working with small budgets would translate into the nearly unlimited resources of the Dodgers.

Answer: Just fine. When the Dodgers won the NL West last season with 55 players, including 15 starting pitchers, Friedman had an awakening.

Depth is important. Depth wins. His mantra since has been to accumulate as much as possible. Instead of five or six quality starting pitchers, why not go for a dozen? They're not all big-money guys, either.

Los Angeles has used nine starters, and just seven of them have made at least five starts. But the Dodgers push no one. When Rich Hill or Brandon McCarthy need rest, they get it.

Hill strikes out Flores

Friedman's goal is to get to the postseason with his rotation refreshed and ready. Dodgers starting pitchers have a 3.15 ERA, tops in the Majors, but they're only 11th in innings pitched.

When Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in the game, went down with a back injury, Los Angeles immediately reeled off a seven-game winning streak.

Friedman's acquisition of Yu Darvish from the Rangers sets up the club to enter the postseason with a Kershaw-Darvish one-two punch, followed by -- take your pick -- Alex Wood, Hill, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu or McCarthy.

Friedman would tell you that 79-32 in the regular season guarantees nothing in October. But in accumulating depth and in acquiring Darvish, he has put his club in the best possible position.

2. Dave Roberts is the perfect manager for these Dodgers.
To know Roberts is to like Roberts. To know him is also to respect him and want to please him. That, in a nutshell, is the key to why a team with a tough clubhouse vibe only a couple of years ago has found peace, love and happiness in 2017.

Some of that change has occurred because of getting new faces -- for instance, Chase Utley. But Roberts can't get too much credit. His sense of humor, poise and basic decency play well during a long season. Like Terry Francona, he shows that a manager can be close to his players while maintaining that line of being in charge of the group.

3. Everyone knew Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger had a chance to be stars, but what about Justin Turner and Chris Taylor?
The Dodgers see things in players that other teams don't. Turner had been with three organizations and had a .260 career batting average when former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti signed him for $1 million before the start of Spring Training in 2014.

Today, Turner is leading the NL with a .349 batting average and is one of the four or five best defensive third basemen in the game. He's one of three or four Dodgers who will be prominent on NL MVP Award ballots this season.

Which brings us to Taylor, a career infielder who learned to play the outfield on the fly this spring. In three seasons with the Mariners, he batted .240, and Friedman's acquisition of him for pitcher Zach Lee in June 2016 didn't seem like a big deal.

Taylor's RBI triple

Look for Taylor on NL MVP Award ballots, too. He has started 81 games at five positions and is hitting .312 with 15 home runs. Taylor's 4.0 Wins Above Replacement is tied with Nolan Arenado for ninth in the NL.

4. No discussion of Friedman's best acquisitions would be complete without a mention of Wood, who has bounced back from an injury-shortened season in a spectacular way.
Wood was acquired in 2015 in a three-team, 12-player trade between the Dodgers, Marlins and Braves. The left-hander had solid numbers in 55 starts for the Braves (3.10 ERA), but he missed most of last season after undergoing elbow surgery. In his fifth season, at 26, Wood has morphed into a star with a raging competitive fire and command of all his stuff: 13-1, 2.33 ERA.

Wood would be an ideal Game 3 starter who is unlike both Kershaw and Darvish, works aggressively in the strike zone and is masterful at changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance.

5. Timing is everything.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez's injury opened the door for Bellinger to make his Major League debut on April 25. Bellinger's 32 home runs since then are the most in the Majors in that stretch. Second baseman Logan Forsythe's broken toe got Taylor to the big leagues. Taylor doubled twice in his first start and has taken advantage of almost every opportunity since.

Catcher Kyle Farmer got a brief callup in July 30 and whacked a game-winning double in his Major League debut. Pitcher Edward Paredes also got a chance in July after nine seasons in the Minors and got a victory in his Major League debut.

When stuff like that continues to happen, the whole thing starts to feel magical. And that's the story of these Dodgers.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.