AnalysisNL West

Los Angeles Dodgers 2021 Season First Half Recap

One half down, one to go. Before the Dodgers look to hopefully win their ninth consecutive NL West division title and defend their 2020 World Series title, let’s take a look back at how they fared in the first half of the 2021 MLB regular season.

NL West Standings

San Francisco Giants (57-32)

Los Angeles Dodgers (56-35)

San Diego Padres (53-40)

Colorado Rockies (40-51)

Arizona Diamondbacks (26-66)

Going into the second half, the Dodgers find themselves two games behind their rival, the San Francisco Giants, who own the best record in baseball entering the second half of the season. Let’s take a look at how the Dodgers fare in certain major categories compared to the rest of the majors.

The Dodgers lead the majors in run differential with +142 after 91 games. Although the offense has been productive so far, being second in the majors in runs scored, first in walks, and fifth in on-base plus slugging percentage, the pitching has been the strength of the team.

The Pitching

They lead the majors in team ERA with a 3.14 average, they are second in strikeouts with 918, and first in batting average against with a .213 average. The Dodgers pitching strength is even more amazing considering only two pitchers from the opening day rotation are still in the rotation. With Dustin May suffering a torn UCL in May, Clayton Kershaw recently hitting the injured list with arm inflammation, and Trevor Bauer on administrative leave for sexual assault allegations, only Walker Buehler and Julio Urías remain. Tony Gonsolin has since joined the rotation and David Price is starting to be stretched out to be a starter again.

Although starting pitching depth going into the season was a strength, they are now thin at the position and have been relying on their bullpen to carry more innings than originally expected.

Oh, and that bullpen has delivered alright. They are currently seventh in the majors with a 3.53 ERA, tied for third in the majors with 29 saves, and fourth in the majors with 122 earned runs allowed. Carrying the bullpen has been the responsibility of the dominant 2021 version of Kenley Jansen reinforced with other arms like Blake Treinen, Víctor González, and new addition Phil Bickford.

The Hitting

I mentioned how the offense has been productive, being tied for first in the majors in walk percentage with 10.8% and second in the majors in team batting WAR, according to Fangraphs, along with the categories I mentioned before the pitching section. The Dodgers, based on numbers and results, can be considered the second best offense in baseball behind the Houston Astros. Like their starting pitching, the Dodgers offense has been hit with the injury bug to a certain extent. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager, two major contributors to the Dodgers’ success in years past, have missed significant time due to injury this season. Except for Chris Taylor and Justin Turner, no other Dodger position player has played in at least 80 of the team’s 91 games.

Coupling the injuries to position players and star outfielder Mookie Betts‘ first half offensive struggles, it’s amazing how certain players have stepped up to provide some quality offensive performances for the team. Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, and Max Muncy were all replacement level players early in their careers, but since joining the Dodgers in 2014, 2016, and 2018 respectively, are now All-Star players and among the most valuable offensive pieces for a team defending its World Series title.

The Best Wins

Going 30-14 at home and 26-21 on the road, the Dodgers finished the first half 21 games above .500, not too shabby for a team that has dealt with injuries to key positions for significant portions of the first half. There are seven games that deserve highlighting as the best Dodger wins over the first half.

The first game occurred on April 17, when the Dodgers went to San Diego to take on the Padres. A pitching duel ensued between Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish, with Kershaw pitching six scoreless innings and Darvish pitching seven innings of one-run ball. The top plays for the Dodgers included an outstanding 8-pitch, bases-loaded walk by Clayton Kershaw to score the lone run against Darvish and Justin Turner hitting a solo home run against Padres reliever Emilio Pagán to give the Dodgers a 2-0 victory.

May 2 is the date of the next great Dodger game, with Julio Urías pitching seven innings and only giving up one run against the Brewers. Rest assured, he wasn’t pitching under much stress that game, because before he even took the mound, the Dodgers scored five runs in the top of the first inning and would score a total of 16 runs in this game as Matt Beaty and AJ Pollock almost single-handedly bludgeoned the Brewers in Milwaukee. The two Dodgers combined for 15 RBIs and racked up a total of 17 bases off of three home runs, a double, and some singles sprinkled in.

The next game worthy of highlighting took place on June 11, at home against the Texas Rangers. Not only did Kershaw give the Dodgers a great performance by pitching six innings and giving up only one run, the Dodger offense was outstanding, hitting five home runs and two doubles en route to a 12-1 Friday night victory to give Dodger fans a nice start to their weekend.

In the Arizona desert, the Dodgers took on the Diamondbacks on June 19. It wasn’t the nighttime desert heat the Diamondbacks were sweating from; it was the heat radiating off the mound from Walker Buehler’s pitching performance that gave the Arizona ballplayers heat exhaustion. He was on fire, pitching seven no-hit innings before he was taken out and charged with two earned runs that a reliever allowed to score in the eighth inning. In addition to Buehler’s stellar performance, the Dodger offense produced six extra-base hits, allowing the team to easily win the contest, 9-3.

On June 27, a vintage Kershaw performance occurred when he pitched eight innings of one-run ball while striking out a season-high 13 batters. While Kershaw was dazzling on the mound, the Dodger offense backed up the masterful performance from their long time ace pitcher by scoring six runs in the second inning thanks to a grand slam by Zach McKinstry and a two-run home run by Cody Bellinger. Bellinger added one extra run for good measure in the sixth inning on a sacrifice flyball, scoring Mookie Betts on the last run of the night, and giving the Dodgers a 7-1 victory.

On July 10, the Dodgers’ offense decided to have a feast in front of their home crowd against the Diamondbacks. Walker Buehler pitched six shutout innings, but he could’ve given up 20 runs and it still wouldn’t have mattered. The Dodgers hit a franchise record-tying eight home runs, 11 extra-base hits in total, and scored 22 runs. National League Player of the Week winner AJ Pollock hit two home runs and long time slugger Albert Pujols hit two of the game’s home runs as well.

Finally, to end the first half on a high note, the next day the Dodgers won the three-game series against the Diamondbacks in awesome fashion. Being tied 4-4 after eight innings, Max Muncy stepped up to the plate with Dodger runners on first and second, then launched a walk-off home run into the sunny afternoon Los Angeles sky, giving the Dodgers a 7-4 victory heading into the All-Star break.

The Best Pitchers

As I mentioned above, pitching has been one of the main strengths of this team, putting in productive outing after productive outing. These are the top five pitchers in the first half for the Dodgers.

  1. Víctor González

One of the three best relievers for the Dodgers in the first half, Gonzalez has been good so far, only allowing eight earned runs in 28 innings pitched. Although his command has been a little erratic this season, giving up 15 walks, that might be attributed to the plantar fasciitis he developed on his left foot and other nagging injuries. Hopefully the All-Star break will allow him to rest and build up strength for the rest of the season.

  1. Blake Treinen

The go-to set up man in the bullpen, Treinen is having his best year since his stellar 2018 with Oakland. He has a 2.70 ERA in 36.2 innings pitched while striking out 42 batters. His pitching metrics have also been great this year, with percentile rankings in categories like a 99 opposing batter barrel percentage, a 97 hard hit percentage, and a 99 average exit velocity percentile. According to these rankings from Baseball Savant, this shows that he is an elite reliever among his peers at limiting productive at-bats from hitters and not allowing solid contact.

  1. Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw has been enjoying a solid year for the Dodgers, giving them plenty of quality innings and striking out 127 batters in 106.1 innings this half. Up until he got inflammation on his pitching arm earlier this month, he provided the Dodgers with some much needed stability in a starting rotation that lost two of its Opening Day pitchers. Although he has been snake-bit by home runs this year, like some of his previous years, he’s allowing the least amount of walks and hits per innings pitched, excluding the shortened 2020 season, since 2017. Hopefully, for the Dodgers, some much needed rest for Kershaw will allow him to come back and dominate the majority of the second half of the season.

  1. Kenley Jansen

Jansen truthers rejoice! The all-time franchise saves leader is back to being one of the best closers in baseball, collecting 21 saves in 23 opportunities while pitching to a miniscule 1.24 ERA this half. If maintained, his ERA would be the best of his career. Although he is allowing more men on base this year than in previous ones due to an increase in walks, he’s been able to limit damage masterfully.

  1. Walker Buehler

The best pitcher on the Dodgers is Walker Buehler, hands down. He has pitched to a tune of a 2.36 ERA and has struck out 114 batters in 114.1 innings. Along with Julio Urías, Buehler is the only healthy starting pitcher remaining from the opening day roster at the moment. He has only had one start of less than six innings pitched this year. In his 18 starts so far, he’s given up no runs in six of them, one to two runs in seven of them, three runs in three separate outings, and four or more runs just twice on his way to a 9-1 record. Earning his second All-Star nomination this year, he is becoming the leader of the pitching staff.

The Best Position Players

Jumping to the position players, these five players have been carrying the load for the Dodger offense this season. Whether it’s getting on base, hitting for average, or hitting for power, these players have helped the Dodgers continue to be a powerhouse club in the National League.

  1. Albert Pujols

Released by the Angels after starting off the season hitting .198 and getting on base exactly 25 percent of the time, the 41-year-old slugger has found a resurgence of sorts with the Dodgers. In 39 games this year, Pujols is hitting a slash line of .275 AVG / .310 OBP / .824 OPS, his best marks if they were over a full season since his first year on the Angels in 2012. He’s hit 13 home runs so far this year, including 8 with the Dodgers. What’s even better is that since he is essentially a bench player and spot starter on the Dodgers, Dave Roberts can pit him against pitchers he’d be successful against. That means that he is an excellent choice pinch-hitting against left-handed pitchers, which he has a .314 batting average and .352 on-base percentage against.

  1. AJ Pollock

Now getting to the meat and potatoes of the Dodger offense, Pollock has been great at the plate in his last 22 games leading into the All-Star break, hitting .292 and having an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.043. Overall, Pollock has hit 12 home runs and driven in 33 RBIs. He was even named National League Player of the Week for the week of July 5-11 in which he hit .391 and slugged in 4 home runs.

  1. Chris Taylor

One of three Dodger position players to be named an All-Star, Taylor earned his first All-Star bid because of his solid bat and his versatility on the field. He’s second on the team in batting average with a .277 average and has driven in 46 RBIs. He’s getting on base at a career high rate of .382 percent and is top ten in on-base percentage in the National League going into the second half of the season. With injuries to Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger for significant portions of the season so far, Taylor’s fielding versatility has been an asset to the Dodgers and his production at the plate has been just what they needed.

  1. Justin Turner

Nothing but constant production from Turner at the plate in all his years on the Dodgers. Although he had a rocky month of May, he hit for a .330 average in 25 games between March and April, a .317 in 23 games in June, and an outstanding .457 average through 10 games in July. He is second on the team in on-base percentage with a .391 percentage. His power is still there as he has hit 15 home runs this half and driven in 50 RBIs. Getting his second career All-Star nod, Turner continues to be the ideal role model on the team.

  1. Max Muncy

A slugging and on-base machine, Muncy leads the National League with a .414 OBP and is tied for first in walks. He has achieved this while hitting a career high .270 batting average and launching 19 home runs. Seven of which were hit against the Dodgers’ rival, the San Francisco Giants, in nine games played against them. In addition to his bat, Muncy has continued to be helpful on the field, spending two-thirds of his time at first base and the other third of his time at second base. His outstanding production has been acknowledged as he was one of three Dodger position players to be named an All-Star this year, and he was the only Dodger starter in the game, at designated hitter.

Second Half Series to Watch

As the Dodgers look to win their ninth straight NL West division title, they will be facing 11 different teams in the second half. So here are the series that should be interesting to keep an eye on as the second half gets underway.

  1. July 16-18 at Colorado: this three game affair with the Rockies will serve as a test to see how the Dodgers come out of the gate in the second half. Will Dodger fans see more boom or bust performances from the squad offensively or will the second half be more balanced?

  1. August 3-4 vs. the Astros: this quick two game series will pit the two most productive offenses in baseball against each other in the second series meeting between the two teams. There’s bad blood between these two teams and it’s the first time the Astros will be back at Dodger Stadium since the Astros sign stealing scandal. It will be an intense and competitive atmosphere for sure. Also, could we see some trade deadline acquisitions make their new team debuts this series?

  1. August 6-8 vs. the Angels: This should be a fun home series filled with some of the best baseball players in the world. If everyone is healthy by then, it should be fun to see Mike Trout, Corey Seager, Shohei Ohtani, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Jared Walsh, Anthony Rendon, and long-time Angel, now Dodger, Albert Pujols, face off against each other.

  1. August 13-15 at New York Mets: A three game series pitting two great National League teams in the biggest media market in the US should be a lot of fun to watch. Hopefully we get to see great pitchers like Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Walker Buehler, and Clayton Kershaw face off against each other.

  1. September 24-26 at Arizona: Could this be the series in which the Dodgers clinch a division title? Only time will tell, but if the NL West race is still as tight as it is right now, then this series will be an important one to determine the Dodgers’ postseason placement.

  1. Every San Francisco and San Diego series: The Dodgers are in a tight division race with these two teams, and every series against them should be fun, exciting, nerve-wracking for fans, and important to each team’s playoff outlook. The Dodgers play 10 games against the Giants and nine games against the Padres. To the victor, goes the NL West crown.

Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman is a graduate student at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. He's a lifelong Dodgers fan from Los Angeles who grew up in a family full of Phillies fans. Follow on Twitter/X and Instagram @JHoff100 if you also obsess over Clayton Kershaw and sports uniforms.

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