The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the National League despite injuries and setbacks

from Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer

The first half of 2022 showed in great detail the extent of Los Angeles Dodgers” advantage over their National League peers.

For more than half of this season, their run differential has been more than double that of any of their competitors. The only team that comes close to them is, of course, the New York Yankees, who run away with the most talented division in sports.

Part of the story is the collapse of last season’s biggest surprise, the San Francisco Giants. They now sit far enough behind the Dodgers to make a second-half comeback in the National League West almost unthinkable. The Padres, trailing eight games after Sunday’s game and soon to welcome back Fernando Tatis Jr., remain a threat. But the Dodgers don’t have to fear the Giants like they did a year ago.

A big part of the Dodgers’ story, in the absence of expected ace Walker Buehler and others, has been the sudden development of some unexpected pitchers into top-quality starters. The Dodgers have long valued Tony Gonsolin. They’ve prized him longer than any other team, in fact, considering they discovered him shortly after he went undrafted in 2015 and offered him a chance to start his pro career on the spot.

He was an outfielder then, and only part-time. They saw his athleticism and potential early, but even they didn’t see him as the kind of starting pitcher who could consistently work deep into games.

How Dave Roberts helped Tony Gonsolin become the NL Cy Young favorite

How Dave Roberts helped Tony Gonsolin become the NL Cy Young favorite

Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin tells Ben Verlander how he bounced back from a shoulder injury in 2021, what he’s done to prepare for the 2022 season, his mentality on the mound and how Dave Roberts has helped his way thinking.

This season, that changed out of necessity. Since Clayton Kershaw went on the disabled list in mid-May, Gonsolin has averaged 90 innings over six innings in his 10 starts. Not once in 2021 did the Dodgers allow him to reach that number of innings. Not once in 2020 did they allow him to surpass that number of innings.

At 28, Gonsolin has developed into the type of pitcher who can start a game in the postseason — not as a starter, as he did in 2020. His 11-0 record and 1.62 ERA reflect that. Gonsolin began the season by starting split with left-hander Tyler Anderson in what amounted to a rare lineup. That too ended when the injuries piled up.

Anderson himself was a solid starter, almost All Star caliber. If he’s the Dodgers’ fourth starter coming off the National League Series, that shouldn’t be a problem. Anderson is a veteran journeyman who signed after St. Patrick’s Day.

It’s an unconventional, unexpected kind of success that the Dodgers are experiencing in 2022.

Consider their situation this way. Gonsolin, Anderson, Julio Urias and, more recently, Kershaw have all been effective this season. Buehler remains sidelined with a flexor strain and surgery to remove a spike from his elbow, but could return in September. Dustin May is on track to return from Tommy John surgery in 2021 sometime in August. If any of these pitchers re-emerge at or near their previous peak, the Dodgers will have a rotation to rival San Diego’s deep group of starters.

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 in this way as well. It is traditional for the team hosting the All-Star Game to send its best hitter to the Home Run Derby. Who will represent the Dodgers in this contest next week at Dodger Stadium?

Mookie Betts, who starts the All-Star Game, leads the team in home runs, but is not a traditional power hitter. He has also just recovered from a serious injury. Trea Turner, who starts the game as a shortstop, is even less of a power hitter and told reporters he won’t participate.

Freddie Freeman has tried this before and it didn’t go well. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy have done it before, too, but their stat lines this season haven’t been particularly impressive.

Will Smith might make the most sense. The Dodgers’ SportsNet LA broadcast reported Saturday that he is open to participating. He’s an elite hitter for a catcher, but he’s also never hit 25 home runs in a season and isn’t on pace to do so in 2022.

Again, it’s an unconventional, unexpected kind of success that the Dodgers are experiencing. Betts, Turner and Freeman all hit career highs. Former top prospect Gavin Lux is rebuilding what could have been the norm for his career. But so many others — namely Bellinger, Muncie and Justin Turner — struggle to even come close to expectations.

Due to Chris Taylor’s injury, the Dodgers currently have journeymen Jake Lamb and Trace Thompson in left field. Neither player was on the 40-man roster three weeks ago. Not that it mattered. The two have combined for four homers and an OPS over 1.000 in their first 66 plate appearances.

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

Their ways have worked so far.

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

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