Heading into the week, I suggested the Los Angeles Dodgers needed to go 5-0 to improve their chances of breaking the record of 116 wins. With five games against the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, it was a golden opportunity to put together a perfect week against two struggling clubs. They came close, winning their first four games before running into Justin Verlander on Sunday to end the week 4-1.
It was a pitchers’ duel for five innings as Verlander and Kenta Maeda each took a no-hitter into the sixth, but the Tigers scored four runs off Maeda while Verlander ended up giving up just two hits and one run in eight innings as Detroit won 6-1. The Dodgers matched their season low with three hits; the last time that happened was a 2-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on June 7, a victory that actually kicked off this amazing run of baseball.
Record: 87-35 (.713 winning percentage)
Last week: 2-0 vs. White Sox; 2-1 vs. Tigers
Pace: 116-46 … or, to be more exact, 115.5. Except we don’t have half-wins, so your choice: round up or round down
Record since June 7: 52-10 (.839)
Record needed to get to 117 wins: 30-10 (.750 winning percentage)
The Dodgers, by the way, finished 16-3 in interleague play — a key factor since the National League actually has a slim chance of winning interleague play for the first time since 2003 (the American League leads 134-127).
Game of the week. The Dodgers trailed the White Sox 4-2 on Wednesday entering the bottom of the ninth, but Cody Bellinger singled with one out, Logan Forsythe doubled down the left-field line, Austin Barnes singled and then Yasiel Puig stepped to the plate:
NEVER. GIVE. UP.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) August 17, 2017
It was another good, patient at-bat from Puig — he has had several of those lately — as he fouled off two pitches with two strikes before lining the double in the gap. He has spent much of the past two months hitting eighth, but manager Dave Roberts moved him up in the lineup this week, slotting him sixth, seventh, sixth and fifth in the games he started. One reason: Puig’s swing rate in August is 38 percent, below the 50 percent rate of the first four months. As he result, he posted just a 20 percent chase rate, so even though he’s hitting just .208 in August, he has a .387 OBP and Roberts is rewarding the better approach.
Trade of the week. The Dodgers acquired Curtis Granderson from the New York Mets for minor league pitcher Jacob Rhame, because the Dodgers need more depth. Always a class act, Granderson was honored to put on the Dodger uniform on Saturday:
— Curtis Granderson (@cgrand3) August 19, 2017
This is more than just a move for depth, however, and it will be interesting to see how Roberts fits Granderson into the lineup. After a terrible April in which he hit .128, Granderson has been one of the best hitters in the majors, ranking 18th in wOBA since May 1 — although his .406 mark only ties him with teammate Chris Taylor, who ranks behind Justin Turner and Bellinger. Against right-handers, Granderson ranks 16th in the majors with a .420 wOBA since May 1.
With those numbers, this isn’t a guy the front office acquired merely to come off the bench. On Saturday against right-hander Michael Fulmer, he started in left field and hit fifth, with Taylor sliding over to center in place of Joc Pederson, who was optioned to Triple-A. Against Verlander, Granderson led off and again played left field, with Kiki Hernandez in center as Taylor got the day off. So the obvious loser is Pederson, who had been mired in a 2-for-41 slump.
Pederson’s slump made the move to acquire Granderson even more reasonable. The Dodgers might have been more willing to let Pederson fight through this, but it doesn’t help that his defensive metrics have been below-average this season. Even though Taylor has little experience in center field — just the 20 games he has started there this year — his metrics there were solid (zero defensive runs saved, which means league average). So the front office clearly has the belief that Taylor is capable of handling center in the postseason. Of course, Granderson also can play center (he started 56 games there for the Mets), but his range is best suited to a corner these days.
And to throw a wrinkle into all this: Adrian Gonzalez also was activated off the disabled list and played first base in all three games against the Tigers, going 2-for-12. With the DH in those games, it was easier to get everybody into the action, but as the Dodgers move back to NL games, Roberts will have to find playing time for Gonzalez, Bellinger, Granderson, Taylor and Puig. With such a big lead, maybe it’s not a big deal, as Roberts can simply rotate everybody in and out of the lineup and give Gonzalez a chance to see if he can actually help the team (he’s hitting .249/.294/.333). Taylor could even see some time at second base, or Bellinger in center field.
All these options are fun and great, but you’d also think Roberts will want to settle on some roles once the postseason rolls around. The key guy is Gonzalez; if he hits, that moves Bellinger to a corner outfield slot and then there’s the ripple effect from there. Stay tuned.