Los Angeles Dodgers lead National League despite injury, hurdle

By Pedro Moura
MLB Sports Writer FOX

The first half of 2022 has shown, in great detail, to what extent Los Angeles Dodgers‘ advantage over their National League counterparts.

More than halfway through the season, their running difference is more than double that of their competitors. The only team near them was, of course, the New York Yankees, who ran away with the sport’s most talented division.

Part of the story was the collapse of last season’s biggest shock, the San Francisco Giants. They now sit far enough behind the Dodgers to make a second-half return to the West National League almost inconceivable. The Padres, eight games down after Sunday’s match and soon to welcome the return of Fernando Tatis Jr., remain a threat. But the Dodgers need not fear the Giants as they did a year ago.

Much of the Dodgers story, in the absence of the aces Walker Buehler and others hoped for, is the sudden development of some unexpected pitcher into a top-of-the-rotation quality starter. The Dodgers have long cherished Tony Gonsolin. They have valued him longer than any other team, in fact, given that they found him shortly after he was not drafted in 2015 and offered him the opportunity to start his professional career on the spot.

He was an outfielder at the time and only a half-time reliever. They saw his athleticism and potential early on, but even they didn’t see him as a budding pitcher who could consistently work deep into the game.

How Dave Roberts helped Tony Gonsolin get to the forefront of NL Cy Young

How Dave Roberts helped Tony Gonsolin get to the forefront of NL Cy Young

Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin tells Ben Verlander how he bounced back from a shoulder injury in 2021, what he’s doing to level up for the 2022 season, his mentality on the mound and how Dave Roberts helped his mindset.

This season, that has changed out of necessity. Since Clayton Kershaw entered the injury list in mid-May, Gonsolin has averaged 90 throws and more than six innings in his 10 appearances. Not once in 2021 have the Dodgers let it hit that number of notes. Not once in 2020 have they allowed him to surpass that number of innings.

At 28, Gonsolin has turned into a pitcher who can start a postseason game — and not as an opener, as he did in 2020. His 11-0 record and 1.62 ERA reflect that. Gonsolin kicked off a splitting season starting with left-hander Tyler Anderson in a rare piggyback setting. It also ends when the injuries add up.

Anderson himself has been a solid starter, almost All-Star caliber. If he’s the Dodgers’ fourth starter in the National League Division Series, that shouldn’t be a problem. Anderson is a veteran day laborer who signed on after Saint Patrick’s Day.

It was an unusual and unexpected success the Dodgers had in 2022.

Consider their situation like this. Gonsolin, Anderson, Julio Urías and, recently, Kershaw have all been effective this season. Buehler remains closed due to 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 Operation Tommy John 2021 sometime in August. Should either of those pitchers reappear at or near their past peak, the Dodgers will have a rotation to rival the starting group in San Diego.

The Dodgers’ depth is unmatched in baseball

The Dodgers' depth is unmatched in baseball

Ben Verlander dives into the depths of the Los Angeles Dodgers and their success even without key players Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Dustin May and Walker Buehler.

Consider their situation this way too. It is a tradition for teams that host the All-Star Game to send their best hitters to the Home Run Derby. Who will represent the Dodgers in that competition next week at Dodger Stadium?

Mookie Betts, who started the All-Star Game, led the team in home runs, but he wasn’t a traditional power hitter. He also recently recovered from a fairly severe injury. Trea Turner, starting the game at a shortstop, was even less than a power hitter and told reporters he would not be participating.

Freddie Freeman had tried this before, and it didn’t go well. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy have also done it before, but their stats this season have not been particularly impressive.

Will Smith is probably the most sensible. SportsNet broadcaster LA Dodgers reported Saturday that he was open to participating. He’s an elite hitter for catchers, but he’s also never surpassed 25 home runs in a season and isn’t in the pace to do so in 2022.

Again, this was an unusual and unexpected success for the Dodgers. Betts, Turner and Freeman have reached their career norm. Former top prospect Gavin Lux is rebuilding his career norm. But so many others — namely Bellinger, Muncy, and Justin Turner — have struggled to get close to hope.

Due to an injury to Chris Taylor, the Dodgers currently have Jake Lamb and Trayce Thompson on left court. None of the players made the list of 40 players three weeks ago. Not that it matters. The two have combined for four homers and over 1,000 OPS in their first 66 plate appearances.

Yes, the Dodgers want some of their struggling stars to find their form before October. But they are way ahead in the division, and they will be well represented in the All-Star Game.

The way they’ve made it so far.

Pedro Moura is a national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic and, prior to that, Angels and Dodgers for five seasons for the Orange County Register and the LA Times. Previously, she covered her alma mater, USC, for The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up on the outskirts of Southern California. His first book, “How to Beat a Broken Game,” is out this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.

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Los Angeles Dodgers lead National League despite injury, hurdle

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