Miguel Rojas #72 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Matt Kemp #27 celebrate a 5-4 win over the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on June 25, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
On June 7 the Dodgers lost to the Colorado Rockies 5-4 in 10 innings. The defeat dropped their record to 32-31 and placed them a season-high, or low depending on how you look at it, 9 1/2 games behind the National League West Division leading San Francisco Giants.
At the time, Matt Kemp, a two-time Gold Glove winning center fielder, had bobbled enough balls that he was placed in left field for a timeout. Adrian Gonzalez, a career .292 hitter, was in a 1 for 24 slump and manager Don Mattingly was left wondering if he was leading a $238 million-dollar collection of Tin Men looking for their hearts.
Boy, what a difference three weeks makes.
Starting June 8 the Dodgers have gone 13-5 and it couldn’t have come at a better time. During that same stretch the Giants have tail spinned, losing 12 of 17.
LA is now just two games behind their Bay Area rivals, and closing in fast.
They’ve somehow managed to stay in the pennant race without the benefit of a long winning streak. Their longest has been three games - which they’ve done six times. It also helps that they haven’t lost more than four games in a row.
As the defense has improved, so have the Dodgers.
They once led the N.L. in errors but since May 25 they’ve committed the fewest errors in the majors (8) and have the best fielding percentage (.993).
“I think we’ve been pretty good at getting the outs we’re supposed to get, and playing more of a solid defense.”
It also helps that the Dodgers have, arguably, the best starting pitching staff in baseball.
Their starters have the most combined wins in MLB (39), they’re tied with the Cardinals for lowest ERA (3.09) and they’ve gotten no-hitters from Clayton Kershaw, baseball’s version of LeBron James, and fire-baller turned finesse-pitcher Josh Beckett.
What's tripped them up this year has been an inconsistant offense. Yasiel Puig has carried them for much of the first half but if they win the division it'll be because he got some help.
Kemp has found his footing in left field and it's showed in his bat. He's playing like 2009 Matt Kemp. Gonzalez leads the team in RBIs but he's still finding his stroke. And Hanley Ramirez has a shoulder injury that's now raising questions about whether he needs a stint on the disabled list.
It the Dodgers have any plans on repeating as N.L. West champs, those three guys will have to lead the charge.
During their improbable 42-8 run last year the whole team played like they had on P.F. Flyers. It led to a division title but it’s not likely to happen again. In the past few weeks this season they’ve found a steady pace that Prefontaine would be proud of.
“I feel like we play with good energy. We’ve hit our stride it feels like. Now it’s just a matter of can we maintain that stride,” Mattingly said.
If they can, there’s possibly a World Series trophy waiting at the finish line.