How the Dodgers Caught the Giants in the National League West
Just 21 days ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers were 9.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants for first place in the National League West. Three weeks later, after winning 12 of their last 16 games, the 47-37 Dodgers are 10 games over .500 for the first time this season and are tied with the Giants atop the division. Since June 8th, when L.A. was 9.5 games back, they've gone 15-6, while San Francisco has gone 5-15.
Led by Clayton Kershaw, who went 6-0 in June with a 0.82 ERA and currently has a 28 inning scoreless streak after striking out 13 Cardinals over seven innings on Sunday, the Dodgers are on fire. According to numberFire's season-long projections, the Dodgers are the third-best team in baseball with a team-wide nERD of 0.78 and a 77.6% chance of making the playoffs. The Giants, meanwhile, are the sixth-best team in baseball with a nERD of 0.49 and an 81.2% chance of making the playoffs, meaning the NL West is likely going to be a season-long battle between two division rivals who really don't like each other very much.
But how has Los Angeles done it? How have they made up a staggering 9.5 games in just three weeks?
Namely, with pitching.
In the month of June, the Dodgers' pitching has been the best in the National League, while the Giants' pitchers have floundered (NL rank in parenthesis).
|Dodgers||2.63 (1)||3.02 (1)||8.61 (2)||2.02 (1)|
|Giants||4.31 (14)||3.74 (10)||6.83 (14)||2.33 (3)|
Los Angeles' starting rotation has been particularly good, as noted by Jim Sannes a couple days ago, with the starters posting a 2.70 ERA in June, second-best in baseball and tops in the NL. Meanwhile, San Francisco's starters have a 4.38 ERA this month, third-worst in the National League. The Dodgers' bullpen has also been terrific, with a 2.43 ERA (second best in the NL), compared to the Giants 4.12 'pen ERA (13th in the NL) in June.
As mentioned above, Kershaw has been from another planet in June, worth 2.0 fWAR this month alone. Zack Greinke's 3.82 ERA this month has been solid, while Josh Beckett's no-hitter against Philadelphia sent on him a month-long hot streak, with a 1.36 ERA. Hyun-Jin Ryu's June 3.19 ERA has been solid, while Dan Haren has been the lone outlier, with a 5.20 ERA in five June starts.
Meanwhile, every Giants starter has an ERA over 3.00 this month, led by Madison Bumgarner's 3.00 ERA in five June starts. Tim Lincecum pitched a no-hitter his last time out, which lowered his June ERA to 4.88, and Tim Hudson has been decent (3.86 ERA in June). Matt Cain has struggled mightily with a 5.46 ERA in five June starts, and Ryan Vogelsong has a 5.08 ERA in June.
Offensively, the Dodgers have been a bit better as well.
|Dodgers||.319 (4)||.260 (4)||109 (6)||.112 (13)||.338 (2)|
|Giants||.298 (9)||.253 (7)||93 (13)||.117 (11)||.311 (8)|
With the exception of Isolated Power, a metric that gauges how a team has hit for power, the Dodgers outperformed the Giants in every category. Scott Van Slyke has led the team with a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .458 in 52 June plate appearances (PAs), followed by Justin Turner's .445 wOBA in 62 June PAs and Matt Kemp's .393 wOBA in 108 PAs this month. Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and Yasiel Puig have also had a very solid month of June as well.
For San Francisco, Buster Posey has led the team with a .394 wOBA in 100 June PAs, worth 1.1 fWAR this month, with Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval all having decent months. However, a poor stretch by one of their best hitters and injuries to two key players have stunted the Giants' offense.
Michael Morse had just a .275 wOBA in June, walking in just 2.2% of his plate appearances this month while striking out 23.1% of the time. The Giants also lost Angel Pagan for stretches this month, although he is expected back on Tuesday, and didn't get a single plate appearance from their top power hitter Brandon Belt, who broke his thumb back on May 9th. However, Belt has hit well in his rehab and should be back in the lineup before too long.
Once San Francisco gets Belt and Pagan back, and assuming Morse recovers from a down June, the offense should improve. Where the Giants will have trouble measuring up with the Dodgers is in the starting rotation, where L.A. boasts maybe the best staff in the National League.
Still, this is a race that should stay tight for most of the season, especially if both teams make improvements at the trade deadline next month. And frankly, there aren't many things better in life than a Giants-Dodgers pennant race in late September.