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Dodgers notes: Will Smith, Noah Syndergaard’s finger, Gondola plans

MLB: MAY 13 Padres at Dodgers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The season is now a little over a quarter of the way through, and the Dodgers have separated themselves from mediocrity to the top of the National League standings over the past two weeks. Their elevation to the top has been credited in large part by Will Smith’s return to the lineup since suffering a concussion early in April.

Smith has been a focal part of the team’s success, but when Smith suffered his concussion, the team had slumped as a whole offensively. The Dodgers were only able to accrue a team batting average of .201 and a team wRC+ of just 80. The team also average four runs scored a game, a whole two runs shy of what they averaged with Smith in the lineup. Since returning from the injured list, Smith has been a powerhouse with his bat, and he has catapulted the Dodgers to winning 14 of their past 17 games.

Factoring in players such as Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Max Muncy (currently tied at the top of baseball’s home run leaderboard), who all possess a WAR above 1.0 and an OPS of at least .850, it is Smith that has made the strongest impact for a team coming off of five straight series wins. Cementing himself within the No. 3 slot in the lineup has given Smith the chance to be a key factor in the top third of the lineup, and that he’s done with flying colors since returning from the injured list.

What separates Smith from the rest of the pack is his much-improved plate discipline, as he currently carries a 2:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio (16 BB to 8 K). This has come as a shock to the baseball world, as he carries a career 18 percent strikeout rate and 11 percent walk rate.

Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs highlights what has made Smith such an impactful player for this Dodgers lineup, and how he has fared when comparing his production to other standout catchers the rest of the league as a whole:

“Due to his absence, he’s 19 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title, but among NL hitters with at least 100 PA (a cutoff I’ll continue to use for these comparisons), his .613 slugging percentage leads the league and his 173 wRC+ trails only Ronald Acuña Jr.’s 175, with his .323 batting average fifth and .412 on-base percentage seventh. Among catchers in either league, only the Braves’ Sean Murphy (.268/.404/.561, 161 wRC+) and the Rangers’ Jonah Heim (.315/.371/.528, 148 wRC+) have provided comparable production, albeit in about 30 or 40 more plate appearances.”

After taking the day off from Tuesday night’s loss to Minnesota, Smith will now have a chance to not only extend his hitting streak to seven games, but to also continue elevating his name in MVP considerations as the season progresses.