On Tuesday, the Dodgers beat the Phillies, while the Giants fell to the Marlins. As a consequence, the Dodgers pulled into a dead tie with the Giants atop the NL West standings.
This is notable first of all because it's August, and ties atop standings make for compelling stretch drives. The Giants and Dodgers are also blood rivals of long-standing, so there's also that. What's also surprising is that the Dodgers have barged to a first-place tie despite the fact that uber-ace Clayton Kershaw, thanks to a back injury, hasn't made a start since June 26. Prior to going on the disabled list, Kershaw pitched to a 1.79 ERA and 218 ERA+ -- MLB-leading figures, both -- in 16 starts. As well, he was on target to obliterate the all-time record for K/BB ratio. You miss a guy like that when he's out.
Still and yet, this happened ...
Since best pitcher in world was injured, Dodgers are 20-12, have come from 6 GB to share 1st. Everything you know about baseball is wrong.— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 10, 2016
As Petriello later tweeted, that's the Dodgers' record since Kershaw went on the DL. Since he last pitched, they're 23-13. Of course, it's about more than "just" the best pitcher in the world.
Per the very excellent ManGamesLost.com, the Dodgers have by a wide margin lost the most games to injury of any team this season (in the interest of equal time, the Giants have also been hit hard by injuries). This chart sums up the relationship between injuries and team success in 2016...
Yep, the 2016 Dodgers are the outliers. At one point, they had, broadly speaking, an entire high-quality major-league rotation on the DL. In matters related, manager Dave Roberts has used 12 different starting pitchers this season. As well, they've not gotten a single plate appearance from core outfielder Andre Either (broken leg).
As for the recent barge to the top, that 36-game Kershaw-less span has included 13 games against the Pirates, Orioles, Cardinals, Nationals, and Red Sox and six games against the improving Rockies. Along the way, the Dodger offense has scored 5.1 runs per game since Kershaw's last start and batted .272/.343/.452. That, generally speaking, is what's carried the team.
Also helping matters is that the Giants, since June 27, have gone 15-21. On the date of Kershaw's last start, the Giants had an 8-game lead in the division. At this writing, they're of course tied. It's a credit to the roster depth that the Dodgers built in the offseason -- depth that has been tested and all but depleted along the way. It's also a testament to the steady value provided by the likes of Corey Seager, Justin Turner, the key bullpen arms, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, import rookie Kenta Maeda. Let's also give a nod to the rookie skipper Roberts, who's not only handled high expectations and roster attrition, but also the disappointing performance of Yasiel Puig, who was expected to be a fulcrum this season.
For the road ahead, you can consider the SportsLine Projection System to be fairly bullish on the Dodgers. As of Wednesday morning, the system have the Dodgers a hefty 85 percent chance of fending off the Giants in NL West and a 99.2 percent chance of making the playoffs by any means. As well, SportsLine expects the Dodgers to win at a 0.638 clip over the remainder of the regular season, which is second only to the Nationals' rest-of-season forecast in all of baseball. As for Kershaw, he's hoping to be back by early September, and the Dodgers may also get stretch-drive innings from Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Such injuries would've waylaid most rosters, but if the Dodgers can claw their way back to first place without their most valuable contributor, what can't they overcome in 2016?