Baseball is resistant to superteams, at least in the way the phrase has come to be understood. Its inherent randomness stifles dominance, and hording stars is impractical when there’s a 40-man roster to stock and the best players only have four or five chances to impact any given game. Major league teams do not rip off .800 winning percentages or sweep through the postseason. There are no Golden State Warriors in baseball, because the sport’s dynamics would never allow them to exist.
But we do know what a baseball version of a superteam looks like, because it has sprung to life in the form of the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers. As the season progresses to its latter stages, the Dodgers have brushed off a mediocre start and morphed into a colossus. As the Warriors stretched their league’s limitations of excellence in the manner their sport allows, so have the Dodgers. Rather than clustering stars and reshaping strategy, the Dodgers compiled superior depth and innovated roster construction. They have high-end talent, youthful athleticism and meaningful experience. They have everything, including the opportunity to acquire even more.
The Dodgers have been winning at a clip that makes you squint and wonder if you’ve misread something. On May 16, the Dodgers were 22-18 and stood in third place, three games out of first place in the National League. In the two months since, they have gone 42-11 – an absurd .792 winning percentage, 128-win pace over a full season – and suddenly lead the NL West by 10.5 games.
Their weekend sweep of the Marlins gave them a nine-game winning streak, their second such tear in the past month. In the Dodgers’ past 23 games against NL opponents, they are 22-1. That just doesn’t happen.
Under baseball czar Andrew Friedman and his cadre of brainy, experienced executives, the Dodgers have leveraged their financial resources to build a roster void of weakness. They have a generational lefty in Clayton Kershaw, a fire-breathing closer in Kenley Jansen, an MVP candidate in Corey Seager, a rookie behemoth in Cody Bellinger and a hitting machine in Justin Turner. But ask the Angels and Mike Trout how relying on stars works in baseball. For all their elite talent, the power of the Dodgers team lies in depth and innovation, the deployment of above-average spare parts.
The Dodgers have shown how to manipulate the 10-day disabled list. They have placed 23 players on the disabled list, the most in baseball. Many of them have been pitchers ostensibly sidelined with a minor injury, but actually receiving a rest in place of a fresh arm. The Dodgers can afford it because of the quality of the back end of their 40-man roster. Seventeen Dodgers pitchers have contributed at a level above replacement this year. Even at their most desperate, the Dodgers do not turn to scrubs. Austin Adams isn’t walking out of their bullpen door.
The Dodgers have discarded convention, particularly in how they manage their pitching staff.
Alex Wood has a 1.56 ERA and has allowed one or zero runs in 11 of his 14 starts. And yet, he has pitched past the sixth inning only three times and not thrown more than 98 pitches in any one start. The quality and depth of their bullpen – acquired through shrewd deals and gobs of money – allows them to maximize Wood and keep him fresh. They apply the same concept up and down their roster, through platoons and matchups.
The result has been a team that is great at everything. Their position players, as a unit, rank second in the majors in the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement. Their starting pitchers and relievers have both accumulated the most in the majors. And they have the prospects to upgrade. They’re casting a wide net at the trade deadline, willing to consider additions to their offense, rotation and bullpen.
The last team to win a series against the Dodgers was the Nationals, back in early June. The Dodgers knocked out the Nats in a classic NLDS last October, and they appear to be on a collision course again. The Cubs may have announced the end of their post-championship malaise this weekend, outscoring the Baltimore Orioles, 27-11, and rolling out newly acquired Jose Quintana in an assertive sweep. “We are back,” catcher Willson Contreras told reporters Sunday. But all year long, the Dodgers and Nationals have stood above a mostly lousy National League.
Right now, depending on how the Nationals’ bullpen reinforcements reshape them, it may be more accurate to place the Dodgers on a tier by themselves. The nature of baseball prevents teams from winning nearly 80 percent of their games. But that’s what the Dodgers have done for nearly a third of a season. They’re the best team in baseball, and possibly redefining the ceiling of what that means.