MLB Contenders and Pretenders: Dodgers' offense leads surge
Another week of the season has passed, as teams and players across the Majors will head into the second month of the season with buoyed expectations for their remaining 125 games.
At this point of the campaign, it would be premature to say with a definite level of certainty who will make the postseason. However, that is what makes baseball so great and fun to watch.
Every team can have a surprise player, any player can hit a walk-off grand slam against one of the best ballclubs in the league and anybody can be the reason that their team wins a game.
Here are this week’s contenders and pretenders.
Contender: Los Angeles Dodgers
The two-time, defending National League champions are once again looking toward October with hope in their hearts. This time, they are led by outfielder Cody Bellinger.
So far, Bellinger is having one of the best seasons in league history, leading the Majors with a .412 batting average, as well as a .486 on-base percentage and a .840 slugging percentage.
Bellinger is destroying baseballs like no other, hitting 14 home runs and driving in a league-leading 38 runs.
Bellinger is literally the most valuable player in Major League Baseball, accumulating a 3.6 wins above replacement rating. However, the Dodgers are not solely relying on Bellinger for production, as the team is sixth in the league in batting average and fourth in on-base percentage.
Outfielder Joc Pederson makes up for his low average at the plate with 10 home runs and 18 runs batted in, a display of his incredible power.
Third baseman Justin Turner and first baseman Max Muncy are both showing great patience at the plate, earning 17 walks apiece. The hitting corps for the Dodgers are showing up and showing out. On the other hand, the pitching is just grateful for the hitting.
The Dodgers’ pitching is respectable, compared to the rest of the league. Kenta Maeda has pitched the most, with inconsistent results.
The best starting pitcher in terms of earned run average is Hyun-Jin Ryu, posting a 2.55 ERA along with a 3-1 record and 39 strikeouts. Julio Urias has emerged as a promising young gun, posting the highest strikeouts per nine inning ratio on the team.
Of course, one cannot forget the ace of the staff, Clayton Kershaw. Coming back from injury, Kershaw will not come back to form immediately. But talent wins out, and the Dodgers’ talent will guide them to October.
Coming in Hot but Still a Pretender: Arizona Diamondbacks
Besides the uniforms constantly changing, the seemingly endless cast of no-names on the roster and Chase Field, it feels like the D-backs are just average.
It is easy to forget that they made the playoffs only two years ago. However, they are back in the conversation this year, mainly due to their balance of hitting prowess and great pitching.
Although that sounds weird, especially after trading away their best slugger in Paul Goldschmidt, the D-backs lead the senior circuit in batting average, and currently have some of the best pitching talent in the league. At the plate, the Diamondbacks are led by outfielder David Peralta and third baseman Eduardo Escobar.
They both have batting averages over .300, with .312 and .302 respectively. In addition, they are showing flashes of power, combining for 12 home runs and 45 runs batted in.
Another bright spot in the Diamondbacks’ lineup is Goldschmidt’s replacement at first base, Christian Walker. He has the highest batting average on the team at .314 with seven home runs
and 16 RBIs. While the hitting is winning games, it is on the pitcher's mound where the real diamonds of the desert are to be found.
With all the crazy contracts that are being signed by position players such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the player who makes the most money per year is actually Diamondbacks ace pitcher Zack Greinke, at $35 million per year.
In 2019, Greinke is earning every penny of his ridiculous paycheck, registering five wins and a 3.42 ERA over eight starts, leading the team with 50 strikeouts.
While Greinke’s pitching is expected, the pitching performances of Luke Weaver are not. Currently clocking in at 10 strikeouts per nine innings, Weaver has earned three wins in seven starts with a 3.29 ERA.
In the bullpen, closer Greg Holland has been the definition of lockdown and has earned eight saves in 12 games while holding opponents to three hits all season. To top off that early dominance, he has an ERA below one.
Despite Arizona’s surge, the road to the playoffs in the NL West runs through Los Angeles.
So far, the Diamondbacks have not proven that they can beat the Dodgers, but they look good and they have that all important quality in efficient pitching.
Pretender: Pitching in General
Hitting is entertaining and all, but pitching is what wins championships.
Currently, the league average for ERA is about 4.35. This statistic has been generally rising in the past couple of years. In fact, 2015 represented the last time the league ERA was below four.
This could be a systematic problem, as the league wants people in the seats and eyes on the screen. The bottom line is that fans would rather see a shootout than a pitcher’s duel.
The major moments of this past weekend emphasized that. The Red Sox had 10 straight hits in the third inning against the White Sox, moonshots from Yoan Moncada and Christian Yelich pumping balls to the second deck.
It seems odd, but moments like these have brought more attention and interest in the game, which cannot be ignored.