LOS ANGELES -- When Clayton Kershaw hit the disabled list with a herniated disk in his back, it was hard to see how the Dodgers could cope with losing their ace and MVP candidate for any extended period of time.With a loss on June 26 in Kershaw's final start before
LOS ANGELES -- When Clayton Kershaw hit the disabled list with a herniated disk in his back, it was hard to see how the Dodgers could cope with losing their ace and MVP candidate for any extended period of time.
With a loss on June 26 in Kershaw's final start before he went on the DL, the Dodgers fell to eight games behind the Giants. At that point they were 14-2 in Kershaw starts and 27-34 in all other games.
Without Kershaw the team had a lineup full of veterans posting low numbers and an injury-laden rotation incapable of going deep into games. Corey Seager was a Rookie of the Year favorite and is the team's new candidate for MVP, but he could hardly drive the entire offense by himself.
And yet a month and a half later, the Dodgers are just one game behind the Giants in the National League West. The reason for their surge is clear: The veterans are hitting again.
The post-June 26 OPS totals of Howie Kendrick, Justin Turner, Adrián González and Yasmani Grandal are all at least 200 points higher than their marks entering that day. Grandal in particular has been hitting out of his mind, posting a monstrous .320/.445/.732 line since then.
The improvement is a vindication of first-year manager Dave Roberts' refusal to move any of his veterans down in the lineup. All season he has consistently batted Turner third, Gonzalez fourth and Kendrick in the top or middle of the lineup, even when Kendrick and Turner were slugging less than .350 at the end of May.
When asked why, his response is a refrain of his belief in the players' track records over a partial-season sample.
"The guys that started slow have really stayed the course and figured some things out," Roberts said on Wednesday. "It's good to see."
The loss of Kershaw as a rallying point isn't the singular cause of the turnaround on offense, as Kendrick and Turner were already starting to hit when the ace went down. Grandal and Gonzalez both started hitting post-Kershaw, but Grandal pointed to finally being healthy after playing through a forearm injury as the reason for his success, while Gonzalez credited a change in his strength training.
Above all, the team has credited not changing anything for revitalizing an offense that ranked near the bottom of the league in runs scored.
"You get frustrated through part of it, but the biggest thing is doing it for so long, you just learn to trust yourself and go, 'Man, I've been here before,'" Kendrick said on Wednesday. "You've just got to trust the work you've been putting in in the cage and the early work. Trust the process, I think that's been the biggest thing. Not everybody's going to be right where they want to be all the time."
The Dodgers have also been helped by the Giants struggling out of the gate in the second half, going 8-16 since the All-Star break. The Giants assumed the lead on Wednesday with a win and a Dodgers loss, but Los Angeles is confident that the production is here to stay.
"On paper, offensively, there's a lot of length, and it just didn't play out the first month of the season," Roberts said. "There's really no breaks in our lineup now, there's stress throughout. Credit to the guys, it's a long season. Howie, Yas, all the guys are swinging the bat. We're as good as any lineup in the NL."
Jack Baer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.