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The Dodgers stopped being bad

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The Dodgers are scoring nearly eight runs per game in June. What else would you expect from a team starting Max Muncy and Matt Kemp?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

You knew the Dodgers weren’t going to be terrible forever, right? You knew that just because they had a 12-16 March and April they were still going to finish the season with 100 wins? You knew that because they couldn’t dump Matt Kemp, he was going to turn into 2011 Matt Kemp? You knew that just because Kenley Jansen began the season grooving 90 MPH cutters to everyone he faced, he was still going to be an unhittable demigod? You knew that just because they lost Corey Seager for the season and Clayton Kershaw’s future is riddled with more question marks than this paragraph that they were just going to perform a talent transfusion into Max Muncy and Ross Stripling?

Okay. Just making sure your mind wasn’t clouded with delusions of a complete and utter collapse of a team with unlimited resources and immense depth.

The Dodgers are too big to fail. Try to imagine a scenario in which the Dodgers miss the playoffs. They’ve already lost Seager and who knows if Kershaw’s back will be the same this year, and they’re playing great. They could endure a “Homer at the Bat” series of misfortunes and still win 95 games.

Since the Giants last met them on April 29th, the Dodgers are 22-17. More recently, they have a 9-2 record in June. As a team, their OPS for the month is .966 with a 167 wRC+. They’ve scored 87 runs in 11 games. That’s 7.9 runs per game!

Here’s where I say 11 games is an incredibly small sample size and they’re doomed for regression. It would be incredible if they started this weekend. Even at their season average of 4.8 runs per game, it’s going to be hard for the Giants’ offense to catch up.

Hitter to Watch

That’s a leaderboard of all major league hitters with at least 100 plate appearances sorted by wRC+. The first three names on that list make sense.

1. One of the best players of this generation

2. One of the best players of any generation

3. One of the best power hitters over the last few years.

And then:

4. Max Muncy

As if the Dodgers hadn’t been fortunate enough to have Chris Taylor turn into one of the best centerfielders in the league last year, the Dodgers now have Max Muncy, top five hitter in baseball even though he was relegated to a lineout in the Baseball Prospectus annual and he didn’t make the Fangraphs depth chart.

According to pitch values, the only pitch type he hasn’t done well against is curveballs. He only swings at 20% of them though. He tends to chase changeups and sliders—around 30% o-swing% for each—but if he hits them he usually hits them hard.

Pitchers are going to figure out how to pitch to him eventually. At least I hope so. Maybe he really is a top five hitter.

Pitcher to Watch

Ross Stripling began his career almost no-hitting the Giants. But Dave Roberts took him out and Trevor Brown hit a two-run homer. It was one of my favorite games ever. Whenever I hear Ross Stripling’s name, I remember his thousand-yard stare as Brown’s dinger sailed into the bleacher, and I smile.

Since then, he’s been mediocre. He’s oscillated between the rotation and the bullpen, getting starts when one of the many more talented Dodgers starters goes down with an injury.

Stripling is more or less starting in Kershaw’s spot. Somehow, he’s pitched even better than one of the best pitchers on the planet. This year, Stripling has a 1.65 ERA, a 10.8 K/9, and just a 1.6 BB/9. The trend for pitchers outperforming their career averages is to move away from the fastball and rely more on their secondary pitches, but Stripling hasn’t done that. The only change in his pitch usage is that he’s throwing the slider less and the changeup more.

Mostly, his control has been much better. His first-pitch strike% went up eight points from last year’s mark. He can locate all of his pitches and throw them for strikes. Sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

Prediction

After the way the Giants played in Miami, I’m not sure they’ll win another game this season. This might be recency bias, but there’s no way they don’t get swept, right?