The Los Angeles Dodgers: SUPERTEAM

Rolling along at an .800 clip, the Dodgers have be­come base­ball’s ver­sion of the Golden State War­riors

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - ADAM KILGORE

Base­ball is re­sis­tant to su­perteams, at least in the way the phrase has come to be un­der­stood.

Its in­her­ent ran­dom­ness sti­fles dom­i­nance, and hoard­ing stars is im­prac­ti­cal when there’s a 40-man ros­ter to stock and the best play­ers only have four or five chances to im­pact any given game. Ma­jor league teams do not rip off .800 win­ning per­cent­ages or sweep through the post-sea­son.

There are no Golden State War­riors in base­ball, be­cause the sport’s dy­nam­ics would never al­low them to ex­ist.

But we do know what a base­ball ver­sion of a superteam looks like, be­cause it has sprung to life in the form of the jug­ger­naut Los Angeles Dodgers. As the sea­son pro­gresses to its lat­ter stages, the Dodgers have brushed off a medi­ocre start and mor­phed into a colos­sus.

As the War­riors stretched their league’s lim­i­ta­tions of ex­cel­lence in the man­ner their sport al­lows, so have the Dodgers. Rather than clus­ter­ing stars and re­shap­ing strat­egy, the Dodgers com­piled su­pe­rior depth and in­no­vated ros­ter con­struc­tion. They have high­end tal­ent, youth­ful ath­leti­cism and mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. They have ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing the op­por­tu­nity to ac­quire even more.

The Dodgers have been win­ning at a clip that makes you squint and won­der if you’ve mis­read some­thing. On May 16, the Dodgers were 22-18 and stood in third place, three games out of first place in the Na­tional League. In the two months since, they have gone 44-11 — an ab­surd .800 win­ning per­cent­age, 128-win pace over a full sea­son — and sud­denly lead the NL West by 11 games.

Un­der base­ball czar An­drew Fried­man and his cadre of brainy, ex­pe­ri­enced ex­ec­u­tives, the Dodgers have lever­aged their fi­nan­cial re­sources to build a ros­ter void of weak­ness. They have a gen­er­a­tional lefty in Clay­ton Ker­shaw, a fire-breath­ing closer Ken­ley Jansen, an MVP can­di­date in Corey Sea­ger, a rookie be­he­moth in Cody Bellinger and a hit­ting ma­chine in Justin Turner.

But ask the An­gels and Mike Trout how re­ly­ing on stars works in base­ball. For all their elite tal­ent, the power of the Dodgers team lies in depth and in­no­va­tion, the de­ploy­ment of above-av­er­age spare parts.

The Dodgers have shown how to ma­nip­u­late the 10-day dis­abled list. They have placed 23 play­ers on the dis­abled list, the most in base­ball. Many of them have been pitch­ers os­ten­si­bly side­lined with a mi­nor in­jury, but ac­tu­ally re­ceiv­ing a rest in place of a fresh arm.

The Dodgers can af­ford it be­cause of the qual­ity of the back end of their 40-man ros­ter. Seven­teen Dodgers pitch­ers have con­trib­uted at a level above re­place­ment this year. Even at their most des­per­ate, the Dodgers do not turn to scrubs. Austin Adams isn’t walk­ing out of their bullpen door.

The Dodgers have dis­carded con­ven­tion, par­tic­u­larly in how they man­age their pitch­ing staff. Alex Wood has a 1.56 ERA and has al­lowed one or zero runs in 11 of his 14 starts. And yet, he has pitched past the sixth in­ning only three times and not thrown more than 98 pitches in any one start. The qual­ity and depth of their bullpen — ac­quired through shrewd deals and gobs of money — al­lows them to max­i­mize Wood and keep him fresh. They ap­ply the same con­cept up and down their ros­ter, through pla­toons and matchups.

The re­sult has been a team that is great at ev­ery­thing. Their po­si­tion play­ers, as a unit, rank sec­ond in the ma­jors in the FanGraphs ver­sion of wins above re­place­ment. Their start­ing pitch­ers and re­liev­ers have both ac­cu­mu­lated the most in the ma­jors. And they have the prospects to up­grade. They’re cast­ing a wide net at the trade dead­line, will­ing to con­sider ad­di­tions to their of­fence, ro­ta­tion and bullpen.

The last team to win a se­ries against the Dodgers was the Na­tion­als, back in early June. The Dodgers knocked out the Nats in a clas­sic NLDS last Oc­to­ber, and they ap­pear to be on a col­li­sion course again.

The Cubs may have an­nounced the end of their post-cham­pi­onship malaise this past week­end, outscor­ing the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles, 27-11, and rolling out newly ac­quired Jose Quin­tana in an as­sertive sweep.

Right now, de­pend­ing on how the Na­tion­als’ bullpen re­in­force­ments re­shape them, it may be more ac­cu­rate to place the Dodgers on a tier by them­selves. The na­ture of base­ball pre­vents teams from win­ning nearly 80 per cent of their games. But that’s what the Dodgers have done for nearly a third of a sea­son.

They’re the best team in base­ball, and pos­si­bly re­defin­ing the ceil­ing of what that means.

MARK BROWN, GETTY IMAGES

Yasiel Puig hits a three-run go-ahead homer in the ninth in­ning against Mi­ami as the Dodgers roll along win­ning 8 out of ev­ery 10 games.

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