from Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer
The first half of 2022 has demonstrated, in great detail, the extent of Los Angeles Dodgersadvantage over their National League peers.
More than halfway through this season, their run differential is more than twice as good as any of their competitors. The only team close to them is, of course, the New York Yankees, who are running away with the most talented division in sports.
Part of the story is the collapse of last season’s biggest surprise, the San Francisco Giants. They now sit far enough behind the Dodgers to make a comeback in the second half of the National League West almost unthinkable. The Padres, eight games back after Sunday’s game and soon to welcome Fernando Tatis Jr., remain a threat. But the Dodgers shouldn’t fear the Giants like they did a year ago.
A big part of the Dodgers’ story, in the absence of expected ace Walker Buehler and others, is the unexpected development of several unexpected pitchers into high-quality rotation starters. The Dodgers have long valued Tony Gonsoli. They’ve valued him more than any other team, in fact, since they scooped him up right after he went undrafted in 2015 and offered him a chance to start his pro career in the country.
He was an outfielder then and only a part-time reliever. They saw his athleticism and potential early, but even they didn’t see him as a starting pitcher who could consistently work deep in games.
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This season, that has changed out of necessity. Since Clayton Kershaw went on the injured list in mid-May, Gonsolin has averaged 90 pitches and six more in his 10 starts. Not once in 2021 did the Dodgers let him reach the pitch count. Not once in 2020 did they allow him to cross the number of innings.
At 28, Gonsolin is back to the type of pitcher who can start a postseason game — and not as a starter, as he did in 2020. His 11-0 record and 1.62 ERA reflect that. Gonsolin began the season sharing the start with lefty Tyler Anderson in what amounted to a rare piggyback deal. That also ended when the injuries piled up.
Anderson has been a solid, almost All-Star-caliber starter himself. If he’s the Dodgers’ fourth starter in the National League Division Series, that shouldn’t be a problem. Anderson is a veteran tradesman who signed after St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s an unconventional and unexpected kind of success that the Dodgers are experiencing in 2022.
Consider their situation this way. Gonsolin, Anderson, Julio Urías and, most recently, Kershaw have all been effective this season. Buehler remains sidelined with a flexor strain and surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, but he could return in September. Dustin May is on track to return from 2021 Tommy John surgery sometime in August. If any of these pitchers re-emerge at or near their past prime, the Dodgers will have a rotation to rival San Diego’s deep group of starters.
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Consider their situation this way as well. It is traditional for the team hosting the All-Star Game to send its ball into the Home Run Derby. Who will represent the Dodgers in that contest next week at Dodger Stadium?
Mookie Betts, who is starting the All-Star Game, leads the team in home runs, but he is not a traditional power hitter. He also just recovered from a serious injury. Starting shortstop Trea Turner is even less of a power hitter and told reporters he would not participate.
Freddie Freeman has tried this before and it didn’t go well. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy have done it before, but their stat lines this season aren’t exactly impressive.
Will Smith might make more sense. The Dodgers’ SportsNet LA broadcast reported Saturday that he is open to participating. He’s an elite hitter for a catcher, but he’s also never hit 25 home runs in a season and isn’t on pace to do so in 2022.
Again, it’s an unconventional and unexpected kind of success that the Dodgers are experiencing. Betts, Turner and Freeman have hit career highs. Former top prospect Gavin Lux is resetting what could be his career highs. But many others – specifically Bellinger, Muncy and Justin Turner – have struggled to live up to expectations.
Due to an injury to Chris Taylor, the Dodgers are currently deploying shortstops Jake Lamb and Trayce Thompson in left field. Neither player was on the 40-man roster three weeks ago. Not that it mattered. The two have combined for four homers and an OPS over 1.000 in their first 66 plate appearances.
Yes, the Dodgers would like some of their struggling stars to find their form before October. But they are well ahead in the division and will be well represented in the All-Star Game.
Their ways have worked so far.
Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic and, before that, the Angels and Dodgers for five seasons for the Orange County Register and LA Times. Previously, he covered his alma mater, USC, for ESPNLosAngeles.com. The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in suburban Southern California. His first book, How to Beat a Broken Game, came out this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.
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