It's curious, interesting, funny, joyful, maybe infuriating how baseball works sometimes.
The 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers are a pretty good example. They began the season 30-42 through June 21. From June 22 to the end of the season, they were 62-28.
Joyful for the Dodgers. Infuriating for the rest of the NL West. Interesting and funny to the rest of baseball. Curious to the Atlanta Braves.
Curious in that the Braves will now face the Dodgers in the first round of the National League Division Series starting Thursday in Atlanta. Curious in that the Braves are facing the "good" Dodgers, not that strange team that played in Dodger Stadium for the first two and a half months of the season.
What does that mean for the Braves? I don't know. I don't think anyone does. It doesn't make a lot of sense to want to pick and choose your playoff opponent. If a team is in the playoffs, it's a good team capable of beating any other team in the sport at any given time.
And momentum doesn't help the Dodgers' case, because it's not even a real thing. The narrative will play to the Dodgers based on "recency bias," because they finished with an incredible record down the stretch. But that's not a guaranteed recipe for success in the playoffs. If a team is in the playoffs, they deserve to be there, and they deserve to win a championship. Anything can happen over a five-game series, or even a seven-game series.
What we do know is both teams are loaded with enough talent to win a championship. The Dodgers' hitting is where we start.
A big deal is being made of Matt Kemp being ruled out for the playoffs because of an ankle injury, and it's important when an All-Star and former MVP runner-up can't play. But the Dodgers have received almost zero value from Kemp this season. He has played in 73 games, hitting .270/.328/.395 with six home runs and providing negative value according to FanGraphs.
Also, the Dodgers could receive little to no help from Andre Ethier, who is also dealing with an ankle injury and hasn't run since Thursday. He could be limited to pinch-hitting duties or left off the postseason roster altogether. Ethier had a bigger impact this season, hitting .272/.360/.423 with a .340 wOBA and 120 wRC+ while hitting 12 home runs.
The Dodgers still have a strong core of Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe and Yasiel Puig.
Gonzalez has been a steady contributor without the flash of other Dodger hitters. He comes in hitting .293/.342/.461 with a .346 wOBA, 22 home runs and 2.8 fWAR. His WAR is down some because of defense, but he leads the team in home runs and remains a strong hitter.
Ramirez has experienced a reviving year by hitting .345/.402/.638 with a .442 wOBA, 20 home runs and 5.1 fWAR in only 86 games. This comes a year after he hit .257/.322/.437 with 24 home runs and 2.9 fWAR in 157 games. Not only is he hitting everything, his fielding metrics are surprisingly better at shortstop.
A big change in Ramirez's game is his approach at the plate. He is swinging at more pitches in 2013 than any other season at 52.3 percent, well above the 46 percent last year. He's swinging at nearly 10 percent more pitches in the zone than last year, and 6 percent more outside the zone. It's something I will dig into more this week.
Uribe has been a very solid defensive third baseman, but he also provides value at the plate, hitting .278/.331/.438 with a .334 wOBA and 12 home runs. He is tied with Ramirez for second on the team in fWAR, largely because of his defense. Uribe takes mighty cuts in the box and has always been very aggressive, recording a 51.8 percent swing rate over his career.
Puig has garnered more attention than any Dodger in recent memory for his story as a Cuban defector and flashy style of play. If you want his story in getting to the United States, Yahoo's Jeff Passan covered it well. If you want video of his flashy style of play, it doesn't get much better than this.
But Puig is also a very good player. He got off to an impossible start, hitting over .400 for an extended stretch to begin his career, and he didn't drop below .400 for more than a month. He came down to earth and is now hitting .319/.391/.534 with a .398 wOBA and 19 home runs in 104 games, totaling 4 fWAR. I'll dig into his approach at the plate this week.
The rest of the Dodgers lineup has its moments. Carl Crawford was a feared athlete not long ago, but he took a huge step back after leaving Tampa Bay in 2010 and hasn't been the same since. His 2.9 fWAR this season is his highest since leaving the Rays, and after signing a monstrous contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2011, he was worth all of 0.1 fWAR in two seasons before they unloaded him. He's hitting .283/.329/.407 with a .322 wOBA, six home runs and 15 stolen bases in 116 games.
Catcher A.J. Ellis is hitting .238/.318/.364 with a .304 wOBA and 10 home runs in 115 games. Second baseman Mark Ellis has very similar numbers while playing steady defense.
With the outfield depleted, the Dodgers might turn to Skip Schumaker in center field. The veteran utilityman has been replacement level this season, hitting .263/.332/.332 with a .301 wOBA.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly acknowledged his team isn't as good without Kemp and Ethier in the lineup, but he said they're still good enough. They have already proven that to an extent. Even without those two, the Dodgers have a top five to be feared in the lineup.