The best team in baseball travels to Seattle to face the division-leading Mariners.
The Mariners were able to maintain their grip on the division lead by winning their weekend series against the depleted Astros. Friday’s game featured more late-game heroics capped off by Ty France’s walk-off single. Mariners batters lead the majors in clutch hitting by a wide margin and that’s a big reason why they’ve outperformed their expected win percentage by two wins. They’ll be hard pressed to keep up their hot streak with series against the Dodgers and Red Sox on the horizon. This week could be the beginning of the mid-April swoon that brings the team back down to earth.
The Dodgers are by far the best team in baseball. They’ve combined the largest payroll in the majors with the best player development group to form an unstoppable juggernaut. They had been knocking on the door with consecutive championship losses in 2017 and 2018 and they finally broke through with a World Series win last year. They’re on a quest to become the first repeat World Series champions since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998–2000. They have the payroll to throw funny money at players like Trevor Bauer while also having enough organizational depth to acquire Mookie Betts (and sign him to a huge extension) without hurting their major league roster or their stacked farm system. Every team wants to emulate the Dodgers but no one else has the kind of resources they’re working with.
The Dodgers are missing a couple of players in their lineup but their roster is so deep, they’ve barely missed a beat. Cody Bellinger is out for a few months with a hairline fracture in his leg and Gavin Lux had a wrist issue pop up last week. In steps Zach McKinstry, a 33rd round draft pick who is suddenly crushing the ball in his first real taste of the big leagues. And because McKinstry, Chris Taylor and nearly every other member of their bench is so versatile, they can continue mixing and matching their lineup to give everyone plenty of rest. Edwin Ríos isn’t listed above but he would be a starting quality corner infielder on nearly every other team in the majors. On these Dodgers? Just a role-playing bench bat. Losing Bellinger for a while is a big deal for this team but their lineup is so good and their depth so plentiful, they’ll easily continue thumping the ball until their center fielder returns.
Dustin May’s sinker has a beautiful combination of elite velocity and some of the biggest horizontal movement in baseball. But despite those two outstanding qualities, that pitch hasn’t really helped him push his strikeout rate beyond league average. Batters pound the pitch into the ground but they don’t swing and miss at it very often. May will usually turn to his hard cutter and curveball to generate whiffs and both of those secondary pitches are excellent. To go along with all that raw stuff, he has excellent command of his entire arsenal. He has tremendous amounts of talent, he simply needs to learn how to hone his repertoire to maximize each pitch’s strengths.
The Dodgers have been extremely careful with Julio Urías ever since he made his major league debut as a 19-year-old back in 2016. He did struggle through a significant shoulder injury in 2017 and 2018 so it’s not like their concern was unwarranted. But the kid gloves came off last season as they ran him out as a regular member of their rotation. He rewarded their patience with a fantastic season and an incredible postseason performance. His arsenal is good but it doesn’t have a true swing-and-miss pitch to drive a high strikeout rate. Instead, he uses all four pitches in his repertoire to severely limit hard contact against him. As a fly ball pitcher, that contact management thread is extremely narrow and could be seriously affected by whatever ball Major League Baseball decides to use at any given moment. It worked for him the last two years when the ball was extremely prone to leaving stadiums, so it should continue to work as MLB tries to deaden the ball.
The Big Picture:
The A’s have simply stopped losing. They won their eighth straight game and have gotten their season back on track after a really bad start. They were supposed to host the Twins in a three-game series this week but Minnesota’s COVID issues have halted their season. A doubleheader is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday pending testing and contact tracing efforts. The Angels were the victim of the Twins health issues over the weekend; they only got one game in on Friday before the rest of the series was postponed. They host the Rangers this week. Houston has won just once in their last eight games and will travel to Colorado for a short series this week.