Mark this day on your calendars, Dodger fans: July 4, 2013.
This date just might go down in baseball infamy. This is the first time since May 5 that the Los Angeles Dodgers have not been in the cellar of the National League West. Frankly, it is a day whose existence I questioned more with each passing game.
The 2013 MLB season has been one that Dodgers fans have wanted to rewind. I kept waiting for a new reality TV show like “When Good Seasons Go Bad.” Save for Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez and Hyun-Jin Ryu, not much had gone right for the Dodgers prior to the month of June.
But now, much like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back!” The Dodgers are back. They are tied for second place in the NL West, just a short three-game series away from the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks. For the love of Sandy Koufax, how has this happened?
The Los Angeles transformation really started on June 22. Until that date, the Dodgers were 7-11 during the month of June. Since then, the Dodgers have gone 10-1 and have climbed from the bottom of the NL West to “Teams Are Closer Than They Appear” in the Snakes’ rear-view.
How can a $200-million team go from putrid to pertinacious in a matter of a couple weeks? Here’s how:
• Take a peek at the 2013 statistics at www.dodgers.com – The first two entries on the stats page tell the story of the Dodgers’ recent resurgence: Y, Puig and H, Ramirez. Yasiel Puig is the talk of MLB this summer, and his .440 average, 8 homers, 18 RBIs and .466 on-base percentage reflect that. Just as important (maybe moreso!) is the impact that Hanley Ramirez has had on the team. Ramirez is hitting .412 with 7 homers, 19 RBIs and a .446 OBP. These two players have solidified the Los Angeles batting order at the two and four or five positions and have made life much easier on guys like Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Gonzalez.
• The emergence of Juan Uribe at third base – Okay, I admit it…I had to pause and take a look at those words in bold once more after I typed them. If you had told me prior to this season I would be writing about Uribe and would not use words like “fat,” “worthless,” “overpaid” and “hopeless,” I would have told you that you were insane. However, Uribe has solidified third base for the Dodgers with his fielding and with his bat. Now that the Dodgers are finally done with the weak-hitting experiment that was Luis Cruz, Uribe has received the bulk of the starts at third. And he hasn’t disappointed. Uribe is hitting .270 and has more homers (4), a higher OBP, slugging percentage and OPS than Kemp.
• An improved bullpen – Brandon League scares me more than the guy who tortures people in all of the “Saw” movies. I wish the Dodgers had scuttled him out of Los Angeles instead of Matt Guerrier, but I guess we had to start somewhere. Since the Dodgers replaced League with Kenley Jansen, the ninth inning isn’t quite so daunting. Jansen has saved five of the past six Dodgers’ victories and is doing his share to erase the haunting memories of League’s ninth-inning meltdowns. Lefty Paco Rodriguez has also been effective, especially against left-handed hitters. Rodriguez is 2-2 with a 2.73 ERA this season, but more impressive is the fact that he has held hitters to a .156 batting average. Fellow lefty J.P. Howell has also been solid out of the ‘pen with a 2-0 record and a 2.62 ERA.
• A big rookie at the back-end of the starting rotation – With all of the injuries to starting pitchers Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano, the back side of the rotation has been a point of contention. The Dodgers tried Matt Magill, but he forgot that a pitcher’s goal is to throw strikes rather than issue free passes to first. Enter a gangly bespectacled rookie to shore up the rotation – Stephen Fife. Personally, I am less concerned with what Fife does on the mound, because I’ll never forget the way he charged out of the Dodgers’ dugout during the Ian Kennedy melee with the Diamondbacks. Fife was one of the first Dodgers out to protect Zack Greinke and was ready to give the Snakes some goggle love! Fife has delivered on the mound as well, though. He has gone 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA since being recalled from the minors. Over Fife’s last 19.2 innings, he has only allowed 12 hits and has struck out 14 hitters.
I know that there is still a lot of baseball left to be played this season. I’m not so giddy with Dodger love that I think our boys in blue have the NL West in the bag. However, I’m also not so depressed about 2013 that I want to throw in the towel.
Hope is alive for the Dodgers, and it’s been a dad-gum long time coming!