The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent colossal amounts of money in an attempt to
buy win a World Series. Their major-league-leading $272 million payroll is $53 million more than the second-ranking team (Yankees), more than double the Cubs' $119 million payroll, and more than four times what the team at the bottom of the list (Marlins) is spending ($68 million).
So far, that's bought them a record 1½ games better than the Cubs, and though they hold first place in the National League West, they needed to win Sunday night's game to avoid falling out of that spot (and getting swept by the Giants).
So how are they doing this? I asked Eric Stephen, head of SB Nation's Dodgers site True Blue LA, to write a few words about his team.
Two Dodgers to watch this series will be Joc Pederson and Justin Turner. The former will provide competition for Kris Bryant for National League Rookie of the Year. Pederson is on pace for 42 home runs and 113 walks, something (40/100) only done twice in Dodgers franchise history, by Duke Snider and Garry Sheffield. But his biggest contribution has been stabilizing the outfield defense. In the last week, Vin Scully called Pederson the best center fielder the Dodgers have ever had, and Don Mattingly called him the best defensive center fielder he has ever been around on an everyday basis. Turner, the Dodgers picked up off the scrap heap before 2014 after he was non-tendered by the Mets. He hit .340/.404/.493 out of the blue last season, and has been even better this season. Turner comes to town with a career-best streak of three straight games with a home run, and a 22-start hitting streak dating back to May 22. The club is proactive in giving Turner regular days off, not wanting him to start more than five times in a week in order to keep him from breaking down. Look for Turner to start three of the four games in the series. Kenley Jansen has been sublime so far this season, allowing one run and four hits in his 12 innings, with 22 strikeouts and no walks, the most strikeouts ever by a Dodger to start a season before his first walk. He has been fine, but getting the ball to him has been a problem of late, with a revolving door of pitchers seizing and then losing the eighth-inning role. You will see a lot of left-hander Adam Liberatore in this series; he has been pretty great against both lefties and righties. But the Dodgers have had four relievers on rehab assignments, so the bullpen members could change significantly during this series. Joel Peralta will likely be activated before Monday's game, and we could see the returns of Brandon League and Pedro Baez by Wednesday or Thursday.
Game One: Tsuyoshi Wada (1-1, 3.68 ERA, 1.295 WHIP, 4.06 FIP) vs. Clayton Kershaw (5-4, 3.29 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, 2.58 FIP)
Game Two: Jason Hammel (5-2, 2.89 ERA, 0.976 WHIP, 3.09 FIP) vs. Zack Greinke (5-2, 1.81 ERA, 0.940 WHIP, 2.95 FIP)
Game Three: Kyle Hendricks (2-3, 4.28 ERA, 1.235 WHIP, 3.44 FIP) vs. Mike Bolsinger (4-2, 2.87 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 3.18 FIP)
Game Four: Jon Lester (4-5, 3.80 ERA, 1.336 WHIP, 3.57 FIP) vs. Carlos Frias (4-5, 4.68 ERA, 1.475 WHIP, 4.11 FIP)
Much has been made of the supposed mismatches in the first two games of this set. But Kershaw struggled through the first two months of 2015, though he's been excellent in June. On the other hand, Wada had the best start of his career in his last outing. And Greinke has an 11.57 ERA in three career starts at Wrigley Field. The pitching matchups in the last two games of this set would seem to favor the Cubs. Mike Bolsinger, after a strong start, has a 5.32 ERA in June, and Jon Lester looked strong in his last outing against the Twins. It won't be easy, but I think the Cubs can get out of this series with a split.
I've added FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) to the numbers above; that's supposed to give a better indication than ERA of how the pitcher is doing. Here is an explanation, via FanGraphs, of what FIP means and how it is calculated.
A test for the Cubs as they travel to St. Louis for a three-game series against the Cardinals this upcoming weekend.