LOS ANGELES — What was once a worthy challenge is now far over. The Arizona Diamondbacks had a share of the lead in this division just 52 days ago. After the Los Angeles Dodgers swept them Wednesday with a economical 7-0 win, the gap between the top clubs in the NL West grew to 15 games. The Dodgers have had a historic month — they’ve won 24 of the 28 games they’ve played in August, the second most of any month in franchise history and most since 1953 — but this run has been more than just that.
They have been humming for a while now. Their season had reached a nadir in June. The San Francisco Giants came to Dodger Stadium and soundly swept them, dropping them to 39-33 and third place. Their pitching was in tatters. Their offense was more home run-reliant than they’d anticipated.
Since then, they’ve gone 44-16 — a 119-win pace.
“It’s just good all-around baseball,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
The Dodgers have tried to make it as brutally simplistic as possible. They’re pitching well. They’re hitting well. The boulder is already halfway down the hill, so they’re just riding it.
There’s at least one more easy reason to point to. The Dodgers employ perhaps the two best players in the National League and the two best position players in baseball, according to FanGraphs WAR. They have certainly enjoyed the fruits they have provided. And unlike their neighbors down the freeway, they have managed to supplement their dynamic duo with a roster capable of bolstering such a supreme advantage.
— MLB (@MLB) August 31, 2023
Roberts has fielded a bounty of questions over recent months about just how dynamic Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman have been for his club. He’s vouched for each to be the National League MVP, with the former award winners in the midst of brilliant seasons. Along with Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson, no conversation for the award should start without them.
Betts has a career-best 36 home runs and it’s not even September. Freeman is one off the franchise record for doubles in a season (51) and has his first batting title within reach. Each has an OPS hovering at or above 1.000 (Betts at 1.021, Freeman at .999).
The other pieces are contributing, too.
Monday night, they dismantled a Cy Young candidate in Zac Gallen. Merrill Kelly has quietly formed into one of the most reliable arms in the sport but was left to wear it after surrendering seven runs Tuesday night.
Wednesday, promising Arizona right-hander Brandon Pfaadt flirted with danger for two innings before baseball’s top pairing came around for a second crack. Betts legged out an infield single on a dribbler as shortstop Geraldo Perdomo couldn’t muster a strong enough throw. Freeman followed with a moonshot that soared 130 feet in the air and landed much further than that, settling just a few rows shy of clearing the right-field pavilion for his 25th homer of the year.
Pfaadt came undone from there. He couldn’t handle David Peralta’s slow chopper back to the mound, then served up another two-run blast two batters later when Jason Heyward turned on a center-cut changeup. Even Austin Barnes, who entered hitting .165 in backup duty, singled to spark the Dodgers, coming around to score on Max Muncy’s two-run double — giving Los Angeles a six spot or more against each Arizona starter. It’s been that kind of run.
“If we just go out there and execute, it doesn’t matter who’s out there,” Muncy said.
Their pitching has corrected itself despite the fact Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin won’t throw another pitch this year. Lance Lynn has traded off swing-and-miss but has put together results much like his former self since the Dodgers acquired him at the deadline. Julio Urías has been wobbly all year, but the organization remains optimistic he can sort things out before October. Clayton Kershaw dealt with diminished velocity and command Tuesday night … and still delivered five innings of one-run ball. Bobby Miller looks like a real weapon.
Ryan Pepiot, outside of the club’s picture this summer, has staked an interesting claim for himself, too. It’s easy to forget he made the Dodgers’ Opening Day rotation, in part because he complained of discomfort in his oblique just a couple of days later. An intercostal injury cost him the first 4 1/2 months of the season. He’s taken the ball three times since, and each instilled confidence in what the organization can expect.
The 26-year-old right-hander has his quirks. He is one of the few in the modern game to still sport stirrups on the mound. He’ll tend to wear bright-colored or patterned shirts on his start days. He emerged from a school (Butler) that was far from a baseball power but rode his prolific changeup to the big leagues a year ago. It’s an interesting profile, one the Dodgers have tested in a variety of uses — in long relief, following an opener and, on Wednesday, as a starter.
“He is earning opportunities and he’s building experience, building trust,” Roberts said. “He’s doing everything he can to open our eyes even more.”
Against Arizona, he delivered five innings without allowing a run. After a year spent in an almost perpetual battle against his command, he walked just one batter.
“The confidence is a lot higher than it was last year,” Pepiot said.
Four innings of relief from Ryan Yarbrough reset a bullpen that has reaped the benefits of added rest lately.
Through three nights, the Dodgers largely made it look easy. They trailed for a total of two innings. They largely weathered a pesky, run-happy Diamondbacks team that had run all over them back in April.
By all accounts, they looked the part of a club that has been rolling.
(Photo of Jason Heyward after his home run Wednesday: Kirby Lee / USA Today)