Posted: Wednesday August 9, 2006 12:58PM; Updated: Wednesday August 9, 2006 2:48PM
Greg Maddux already has given the Dodgers a pair of quality starts.
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In any case, some previously questionable players all got hot at the same time. The bullpen, a decidedly weak point earlier in the season, has suddenly become one of the most successful in the game, allowing four runs in its last 30 innings (1.20 ERA). Backed by a resurgent offense that has been leading the league in on-base percentage, the previously undistinguished starting pitching recorded seven wins in seven consecutive games, the longest such streak in the league this year. The defense, even without the Gold Glove-winning Izturis, has played brilliantly.
Much of this has been thanks to rookies who were in the Dodgers' minor league system when the season began. Improbably, young outfielder Andre Ethier has been the Dodgers' most reliable hitter, with an OPS of .957. Russell Martin (.831 OPS) has become one of the league's top five catchers. James Loney, subbing for the injured Nomar Garciaparra at first base, has a 1.143 OPS since his recall from Triple A Las Vegas. Chad Billingsley has had back-to-back six-inning, one-run starts, and Jonathan Broxton is unscored upon in his last 8 1/3 innings, striking out 11.
As for other factors in the team's reversal, this being baseball, good luck has followed bad with a vengeance. Watch a Dodgers game these days and you'll see bloopers falling and borderline pitches being called their way, as if the team were placing the dice on the table in Strat-o-Matic. The Dodgers' six-run seventh inning in Sunday's 7-3 victory over Florida hinged upon a ball-four call so questionable that Marlins manager Joe Girardi's failure to argue it threatened to cost him his job. (In Girardi's defense, he had been ejected the day before, after arguing another pro-Dodgers verdict.) In the fifth inning Monday, the Dodgers scored on a full-count walk and two bloop singles, which were promptly followed by Colorado pitcher Josh Fogg being removed from the game and ejected on his way to the dugout.
It was suggested in this space two weeks ago, when the Dodgers were faltering, that they need not feel ashamed if they started planning for 2007. That remains true, but at least for now they have been rewarded handsomely for holding onto 2006 with their longest winning streak in 13 years.
Colletti further trimmed the hedges of the Dodgers' farm system in the process, trading Aybar, Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza, but he also may have accomplished addition by subtraction in finding takers for the underperforming Izturis, Perez, Baez and Ricky Ledee. Ultimately, his best move -- one that shouldn't be undervalued -- might be the faith he has shown in the rookies he has retained.
So what lies ahead? Even in going 11 for 11, the Dodgers seem more mysterious than invincible. On Tuesday night Maddux threw 27 balls out of the strike zone in six innings, and left trailing 2-1. The Dodgers hit and ran into five double plays and still won. Two winning streaks account for 18 of their 58 wins, and they're still only three games above .500.
All-Star Garciaparra returns from the disabled list on Wednesday. It seems like just the thing that will cement the Dodgers' run to a division title -- but you have to be a brave Dodgers fan to accept that omen at face value.