Are The Dodgers For Real?

Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers outfielders Matt Kemp (27) , Andre Ethier (16) and Tony Gwynn Jr. (10) react after the game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers defeated the Padres 6-1.

I'll level with you. I wrote an article titled "Are the (Team Nickname) For Real?" in December. The plan was to fill it in with the applicable team after the first two weeks in April. I filled it with admonishing pleas to not draw any conclusions because it was too early, and I ended with a weaselly, ambiguous conclusion that left me an out in case the team really was for feral.

That last world should be "real", but I made a typo and the autocorrect changed it, and I think ignoring it fits with the theme I'm trying to establish, which is I absolutely hate 'Are the (Team Nickname) For Real?' articles in the first two weeks of the season. I don't even care enough to edit my own "Are the (Team Nickname) For Real?" article.

But the Los Angeles Dodgers are 9-1, which they haven't been since 1981, when Fernandomania created a panic that caused people across North America to flee their homes, unless I'm conflating Fernandomania with the "War of the Worlds" broadcast. It's good times for the Dodgers right now. They're on pace for 148 wins. Matt Kemp is on pace for 90 home runs and 270 RBI. Six percent of the season is over, and the Dodgers are doing quite well.

Instead of asking the rhetorical question, "Are the Dodgers for real?", it's probably more interesting to point out two things about the Dodgers' fast start. Because I have no idea if the Dodgers are for real. Last year at this time, the equivalent article would have been "Are the Rockies For Real?", and I'm not even sure the Rockies finished the 2011 season. I think they just wandered off in the direction of Utah after a series in August, and no one noticed. The Rangers were leading their division at this time last year, and they never relinquished the lead. Maybe the Dodgers are for real, and maybe they aren't. Dunno.

But there are at least two points of interest about the Dodgers right now:

1. The Dodgers are an absolute caricature of themselves right now
Going into the season, most folks figured that Matt Kemp was going to be really good, Andre Ethier was going to be pretty good, and the rest of the offense was going to be some shade of awful. Juan Rivera was not only going to play the field, but he was going to hit somewhere close to the middle of the order. The infield was going to feature Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, and James Loney. It was a lopsided distribution of talent.

In the first ten days of the season, it's been hysterically more lopsided than we could have even imagined. Matt Kemp is going insane, hitting .487/.523/1.026 with six home runs in his first 39 at-bats. Andre Ethier has been exceptional, hitting .289/.372/.658. Catcher A.J. Ellis has a .419 on-base percentage.

Just about everyone else has been bad. Mark Ellis is hitting .235/.366/.294, and he's the success story of the rest of the team. Juan Uribe is outhitting Dee Gordon who is outhitting James Loney. Juan Uribe has a .290 on-base percentage and a .300 slugging percentage, and he's outhitting two of the other players in the lineup.

Every single hitter is what you thought they'd be, just 200 percent more or less. You thought Kemp would be great; well, he's Ted Williams without all of those pesky outs. You thought Gordon would be something of a speedy out-machine; he has just eight hits, but seven stolen bases. Ellis might not be a superlative offensive catcher, but you figured he'd at least draw a walk or two; he has an on-base percentage that only 17 catchers in the history of the game have ever had over a full season.

It's like the Dodgers were creating characters in a role-playing game, and whenever they'd move the slider on one player, another player got worse. So they set Matt Kemp to ethereal, which made James Loney hit like Chris Capuano and Chris Capuano pitch like James Loney. Doesn't matter. Dodgers are 9-1.

It's not as if this is terribly meaningful one way or the other. The symmetry of it all is just interesting.

2. The Dodgers don't have to give any of these wins back
As in, if you thought they were going to be an 80-win team, well, they already have nine wins in ten games. Over the remaining 152 games, a true 80-win team would win 75 games -- so now if you thought the Dodgers were an 80-win team, they're really an 84-win team to you. And if you thought they were a 70-win team, they have a heckuva better chance at finishing .500 than the team you thought they did before the season started. If you thought they were a 90-win team, they pretty much have the division wrapped up.

So while it's way too early to start talking about teams being for real, or doing some sort of contenders/pretenders breakdown, the Dodgers winning nine out of ten is significant. Those are wins that they have in their back pocket, as it were. It's now a 152-game season, and the Dodgers have a head start that no other team can claim.

Are they for real? STOP ASKING ME THAT. I don't know. But in the first two weeks of the season, they've been the best team in the league, even if you account for the fact that they've only played the Pirates and Padres They've won nine games. That's not meaningless. It's not completely meaningful. It's just a heckuva head start for any team.

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