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University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The Batter’s Box: The Dodger days of summer

Here we go again. After it seemed like everything would be different in 2023, the Los Angeles Dodgers have found themselves in the same place: way ahead in the division, scalding hot in August, and cruising into the final month of the season. 

 

Los Angeles has a double-digit lead in the NL West, notwithstanding the Diamondbacks and Giants making credible drives for playoff spots. The Padres, expected to be the Dodgers’ biggest challenger for the division crown, have sputtered from the start and never looked formidable. Los Angeles is once again on track for triple-digit wins. New faces, same Dodgers. 

 

Los Angeles has all but locked up the second seed in the National League, behind only the Braves. A series between the two clubs is underway as this article goes to print. However, the difference between the advantages of the first and second seeds is minimal; both get byes in the NL Wild Card Series. 

 

With a less intense September finish, history professor Timothy Paynich said he was looking for them to “stay healthy and get some good workouts against the mediocre teams that remain in the schedule.”

 

The Dodgers’ trade deadline action was their biggest story of the summer. Los Angeles acquired five players, two of whom were former Dodgers and 2020 World Series champions. 

 

Political science alumnus Ryan Yoo discussed Los Angeles’ trade season strategy. 

 

“I was surprised, but now with people like Lynn and Yarbrough doing their jobs, I’ve been really happy,” he said. “[General manager Andrew] Friedman has a way with things; not necessarily [by] doing stuff that may be flashy like 2021, but the Dodgers front office knows what they’re doing.” 

 

Their first trade dealt two still-developing relief pitchers to Boston in exchange for Kiké Hernández, a fan-favorite utility man. Next, the Dodger front office somehow got excellent value in exchange for starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who seemed utterly shellacked during his time with Los Angeles, by trading him to Cleveland for shortstop Amed Rosario. Syndergaard was cut by the Guardians last week. 

 

Hernández and Rosario are the two position players Los Angeles acquired, and they’ve both improved on the stats they had with their former clubs. Both of them will serve as right-handed depth pieces for the lineup, a deficiency in the team after Trayce Thompson (no longer with the team) and Jake Marisnick went down with injuries. 

 

The White Sox gave the Dodgers their biggest haul. Los Angeles parted ways with Trayce Thompson, top pitching prospect Nick Nastrini, and Jordan Leasure (another pitcher from the minors) to acquire two pitchers, starter Lance Lynn and reliever Joe Kelly, back with the team after a year and a half with Chicago.

 

Lance Lynn seemed comparable to Noah Syndergaard before the trade. He had a rotten earned run average (ERA) of 6.47 through 21 starts before being traded, but he has looked reinvigorated with Los Angeles, earning four wins in his first five starts.

 

Joe Kelly, a fiery Dodgers legend, arrived to significant fanfare and a good start, four scoreless appearances, before going down with an elbow injury. He likely won’t return until at least October. 

 

On the day of the trade deadline, the Dodgers seemed to have all the pieces in place to execute a trade for the Detroit Tigers’ premier starting pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez. At the last moment, Rodríguez invoked his no-trade clause that applied to the Dodgers and chose to stay put. 

 

Los Angeles was able to find a different option in the final hours, acquiring Ryan Yarbrough from Kansas City. Yarbrough has been used out of the bullpen so far as a Dodger, but he could pick up more innings if necessary (or piggyback off Ryan Pepiot, who made his season debut a few weeks ago and has looked proficient coming off an oblique injury).

 

While not as dramatic as the summer of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner back in 2021, Los Angeles’ trade deadline has been very successful so far, as the Dodgers have gotten valuable contributions from their five new acquisitions without giving up any of their top eight prospects. 

 

The starting rotation seems to be the most dangerous spot for the Dodgers. While Kershaw has been his elite self, the rest have all had inconsistent performance or inconsistent health. 

 

Yoo added (referencing injuries to two high-profile Dodger starters), “You’re right on the starters’ health. We can’t have a repeat of 2021, and that taught us a lot about how important a starting rotation is in the postseason… Not having guys like [Tony] Gonsolin and [Dustin] May is a big blow to our flexibility, but with Buehler maybe coming back, our rotation is solid.” 

 

Walker Buehler looks to return from Tommy John surgery within a month, which would be his first appearance since June 2022. Los Angeles may end up counting on him more than anticipated, but his 2.94 career ERA in the playoffs speaks to his ability to come up clutch.

 

The batting lineup has been absolutely electric, and especially so in August. The Dodgers are second in the majors in on-base percentage, slugging (and, by extension, OPS), home runs, and runs per game. However, it’s their NL compadre Atlanta that has the top spot in all those rankings.

 

Specifically, the top two in the lineup, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, are serious contenders for the NL MVP award. Their top competition is Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr., who has a lower OPS than both but last Thursday became the first 30-60 player ever (30 or more home runs, 60 or more stolen bases). Betts’ career-high 38 home runs as of Thursday (one shy of the all-time record for a leadoff hitter) and NL-best 7.8 WAR (wins above replacement, a measurement of how many more wins a team gets because a certain player is on their team instead of a replacement-level player) give him a good chance of beating the prolific base thief, according to the oddsmakers, who made Betts the favorite last week. 

 

When asked about Freeman’s and Betts’ cases for the award, Paynich joked, “Just keep doing what they’re doing! Either one could take it, unless somehow they cancel each other out…”

 

The biggest off-the-field news for the Dodgers over the last few weeks has been an injury to a player that isn’t even on their roster. Shohei Ohtani tore his UCL, ending his season as a pitcher. Ohtani’s ridiculous pitching-hitting dual season ended, but he’ll stay in the batting lineup defending his MLB-best home run mark. This is particularly important to the Dodgers because they are the favorite to sign Ohtani when he becomes a free agent after the season. 

 

I spoke with Cal State LA computer science alumnus and Angels fan Alex Sherzai about Ohtani’s value as a hitter versus as a pitcher and his future with pitching as he gets older. “I think he was more valuable as a hitter this year… I’m not sure exactly what happened that led to his injury; it seems like a combination of organizational negligence and Shohei being stubborn [about continuing to pitch]… Shohei is such an unbelievable athlete I wouldn’t even be shocked if he came back to be the dominant dual-threat player he is but, realistically, I see him becoming a high-leverage reliever as well as a batter.”

 

In Cal State LA Dodger news, it was Cal State LA Night at Chavez Ravine last Tuesday. Interim president Leroy M. Morishita threw out the first pitch, and the Boys in Blue dominated the Diamondbacks 9-1.

 

After last year’s collapse in the NLDS, the Dodgers cannot take their foot off the pedal in the home stretch. As a fantastic NL juggernaut rivalry brews with the Braves, the two clubs intend to meet in the NLCS for the third time in four years, a series Sherzai said “could genuinely be one of the best series in the history of the sport.” October can’t come soon enough.

 

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About the Contributor
Cliff Connors, Contributor
Cliff Connors is a third-year anthropology and journalism double major with a minor in philosophy and an intern reporter with the University Times. He is also a baseball writer for the sports website Back Sports Page. He founded the UT Dodgers baseball column “The Batter’s Box” in 2023. He directed a documentary on the Los Angeles-based cultural nonprofit Latinos in Heritage Conservation and worked as a camera operator for another documentary on an environmental nonprofit in Los Angeles, Nature for All. When he’s not reading or writing, he might be playing football, skiing, or trying to teach his cats to fetch.

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