A year later, Los Angeles Dodgers reverse fortunes

A.J. Ellis connects on a three-run, walk-off homer against the Houston Astros Saturday night.

When the Los Angeles Dodgers started 2012 as the hottest team in Major League Baseball over the first 10 games of the season, doubters questioned their weak schedule.

After all, the Dodgers racked up their impressive 9-1 start against the weak San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Once the Dodgers continued to maintain the best record in baseball after that point, naysayers still voiced doubt about the validity of the team because it was being carried by two guys – Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

Then, when Kemp went on the Disabled List on May 14, folks said we would finally learn whether the 2012 Dodgers are the real McCoy.

Meet the Los Angeles McCoys!

Since Kemp’s departure from the lineup, the Dodgers have gone 9-4 and have stretched their NL West Division lead over the San Francisco Midgets to 7.5 games. The Padres are dead in the division, the Colorado Rockies are on life support and the Arizona Diamondbacks look like a one-hit wonder from their 2011 success.

In other words, if the Dodgers continue to play like they have over the first 47 games of the season, this could be a special year in Los Angeles.

At 32-15, the Dodgers still own the best record in baseball. Los Angeles also owns an astounding 21-5 record at home, also the best in the league. Compare that with last year when the Dodgers were 11-14 at home through the first 47 games of the season.

So, what is the difference between last year’s team that struggled until September? Why are the 2012 Dodgers the team to beat in the National League instead of the team most everyone beat last year?

Here’s why (I’m not including Kemp and Ethier, because including them in this equation is like saying that peanut butter and jelly are vital to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!):

Chris Capuano – When the Dodgers signed Capuano to a two-year, free-agent contract this offseason, not many fans were giddy with excitement. Capuano was viewed as a gamble for the fourth or fifth starter’s position on the staff. All Capuano has done is lead the pitching staff with a 7-1 record, a 2.14 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched.

A. J. Ellis – I admit it … I was wrong about Ellis. Much like I was wrong in thinking that Ryan Leaf was a better draft pick than Peyton Manning back in 1998, I thought that the catcher’s position was going to be as exciting as vanilla ice cream for the Dodgers this season. I thought Ellis was a career backup catcher who was only starting for the Dodgers because he had to. Ellis should (and I think will!) make the National League All-Star team after his stellar season. In addition to handling the pitching staff with aplomb, Ellis has hit .317 with five homers and 23 RBIs. Ellis makes opposing pitchers work during every at-bat, and his 26 walks are a testament to that fact.

Ted Lilly – Lilly is second on the staff with five wins (against only one loss) and has posted a 3.14 ERA this season. The 36-year-old Lilly has added consistency to the middle of the Dodgers’ starting rotation and has only allowed three home runs in 48 innings. Lilly lost 14 games last season and had an ERA of almost 4.00, so with one more year of aging under his belt, the 2012 season was one of uncertainty. Lilly has had one bad game thus far this season, and his mastery of the strike zone is fun to watch. He may not break 90 on the radar gun many times during a particular start, but he makes up for a lack in velocity with movement and a change in speeds.

An improved bullpen – How about this for the ERA of some of the Dodgers’ major bullpen players? 0.96, 2.22 and 2.25! Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario and Josh Lindblom have bolstered the seventh, eighth and ninth innings for the Dodgers, something that didn’t happen in 2011. Jansen, who took over as the team’s closer for Javy Guerra, has gone 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA and has struck out 36 hitters in 24 innings.

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