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Los Angeles Dodgers

Why the 2017 Dodgers could be even better — somehow

FLUSHING, NY - AUGUST 05: The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their 7-4 victory in the Major League Baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets on August 5, 2017 at Citi Field in Flushing, NY. (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the midst of a memorable season, on pace to win more than 110 games. They have the best home record in baseball, the best road record in baseball, and are in the top three of virtually every significant team category. They are also undefeated when leading after the eighth, and have the most comeback wins in baseball.

In short, the 2017 Dodgers are a juggernaut and the favorite to win the World Series. You’d think it is one of those “dream” seasons in which everything was going their way. Here’s the crazy thing about the Dodgers: They could be better.

They have been historically good in 2017 despite multiple injuries to key players (they lead MLB in DL days… again). For example, they’ve been without ace Clayton Kershaw since July 23… and are 13-2 since.

Other players who have missed significant time with injuries include starting center fielder Joc Pederson, Opening Day left fielder Andrew Toles, rotation regulars Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and All-Star third baseman Justin Turner.

Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier have been out for about two months and all season, respectively. Veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez has been hurt for most of the year. Offseason acquisition Logan Forsythe has battled injuries and been a general disappointment. Pederson has had a down year, in addition to his DL time. A few bullpen arms have been either disappointing (Sergio Romo), constantly injured (Adam Liberatore), or both (Grant Dayton).

The Dodgers have opened a massive lead on the rest of baseball and look well on their way to the organization’s first World Series appearance since 1988 despite tremendously bad luck and a gaggle of poor performances from surprising sources. To be this good, the Dodgers have had to get surprising performances from unexpected players.

This iteration of the Dodgers is celebrated for its depth from the top of the major league roster to the lowest rung of the minor leagues. It has been tested and then some, but the front office has created a machine that churns out solid player after solid player even when another goes down.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 23: Los Angeles Dodgers Second base Logan Forsythe (11) celebrates after hitting a walk-off RBI in the thirteenth inning during the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 23, 2017, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire)

One of the most important players to the 2017 Dodgers came in a trade two years ago for former top prospect Zach Lee. Though Lee hasn’t panned out for Seattle, the Dodgers are reaping the benefits of the return on that deal, Chris Taylor. After establishing himself early in the season, Taylor has become one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters in baseball and one of the Dodgers’ most valuable, flexible assets.

He plays multiple outfield positions and can move back to his natural positions on the infield if called upon. In his first full season playing regularly at the MLB level, Taylor is hitting a cool .308/.375/.922 with 16 homers, 55 RBIs and 13 steals. If not for the injuries to Toles and Gutierrez, and the struggles of Utley and Forsythe early on, Taylor might never have gotten a chance in the first place.

Similarly, if not for Gonzalez’s struggles and the multitude of injuries that struck the Dodgers, rookie Cody Bellinger may never have gotten such an early call-up. All he has done since coming to The Show (besides permanently stealing the first base job in Los Angeles) is hit 33 homers in 94 games and seal up the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

You could even make a case that Alex Wood, who finally bloomed into the starting pitcher scouts thought he would become years ago, would not be in the rotation if not for struggles by Maeda and Hill and an injury to Ryu. Eighteen starts later, Wood is 14-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He was named to the NL All-Star team.

There has also been the resurgence of Yasiel Puig (career-high 21 homers), the emergence of Pedro Baez, Brock Stewart and Brandon Morrow (1.89 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 11.2 K/9, respectively) in the bullpen, and the contributions of Kiké Hernandez (10 homers) and Austin Barnes (.917 OPS).

So, yes, things are going right for the Dodgers — lot of things have to go right in a season when a team clinches a .500 record on August 10 — but it could be argued that a lot more has gone wrong for the sport’s best team, and that without such horrific injury luck and better performances by some key players, they’d be winning even more often.

It’s a staggering thought, but the Dodgers owe their success to a front office with incredible foresight, a core of regulars having their typical standout seasons, and a dominant pitching staff.

As for that handful of players nobody saw coming, who slid into spots opened by injuries or underperformance? Sometimes it takes a little bad luck to create something good.

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