LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Los Angeles Dodgers are in rare territory, putting up jaw-dropping numbers while piling up victories and commanding a 7 1/2-game lead in the NL West.
Ahead or behind, against NL or AL teams, the Dodgers are rolling merrily along, owning an eight-game winning streak and undefeated in their last 16 series.
They open a seven-game road trip at Philadelphia on Friday, when they’ll try to equal the club’s longest winning streak since winning nine in a row from May 9-18, 2010.
“We’re coming in with great attitude and a little bit of swag,” utility player Nick Punto said.
That wasn’t the case nearly two months ago for a team whose $215 million opening day payroll carried huge expectations. They were 30-42 on June 22 and manager Don Mattingly was on the hot seat.
Since that date, the Dodgers own the majors’ best record at 40-8. It’s the franchise’s best 48-game run in the modern era and the tops in the majors since the 1942 Cardinals went 41-7 from Aug. 11-Oct. 1. Los Angeles is 70-50 overall.
“It doesn’t matter who they’re throwing or what lineups Donnie has made,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “We have confidence.”
It shows, especially in one-run games. The Dodgers have won a franchise-record 12 in a row, going 19-11 in such contests this season. They haven’t lost a one-run game since June 10 against Arizona. The team rallied from a four-run deficit to beat the Mets 5-4 on Wednesday.
A franchise that has missed the playoffs for the last three years and hasn’t been in the World Series since winning it in 1988 has been installed by Las Vegas bookmakers as the favorite to win it all.
“They’re playing great defense, they’re pitching like crazy and they’re coming up with big hits,” said Mets manager Terry Collins, whose team got swept on Wednesday. “And you don’t have to play much better if you’re doing all those things.”
Five reasons the Dodgers have turned themselves into a first-place team:
1. PUIG AND RAMIREZ: The team’s improbable run began about three weeks after outfielder Yasiel Puig got called up in early June. He leads the club with a .368 batting average, and has 11 homers and 27 RBIs. The 22-year-old Cuban defector has imbued the Dodgers with a passion, on and off the field, that they sorely lacked to start the season. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is close behind, hitting .360 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs. He returned Wednesday for the first time since hurting his shoulder against the Cubs on Aug. 4.
2. PITCHING: Ace Clayton Kershaw and veteran Zack Greinke are leading the rotation, with South Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu putting up solid numbers, too. Kershaw’s 11-7 record is merely average due to a lack of run support (the team has scored just 10 runs in those losses), but his stellar ERA of 1.88 leads the majors. Greinke is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in 10 starts since June 22, when the Dodgers tied for the fourth-worst record in baseball. Ryu is quietly making a bid for rookie of the year, with the left-hander ranking among the NL leaders in wins (12), winning percentage (12-3, .800) and ERA (2.91).
3. DEEP BENCH: The bench includes veterans who have played on championship teams but now don’t get to play every day. Punto filled in for Ramirez and hit .450. Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker and Juan Uribe serve as reliable pinch hitters or double switch candidates. Their voices have gotten louder in the clubhouse as they’ve grown comfortable in their roles, even if it’s just providing comic relief at times. “There’s a lot of characters in this clubhouse,” Punto said. “There’s a lot of ribbing going on all day long.”
4. BULLPEN: Closer Kenley Jansen has stabilized the bullpen, converting 12 consecutive save chances although he allowed a run Tuesday against the Mets for the first time since July 23. The reliever corps is 11-1 with 18 saves in 19 opportunities since June 22. Ronald Belisario, Brandon League, new Dodger Carlos Marmol and Paco Rodriguez have all played key roles in setting up Jansen.
5. WAITING IN THE WINGS: The Dodgers have extra firepower just waiting to join them. Newly signed reliever Brian Wilson should be with the club by the weekend after rehabbing in the minors. Slugger Matt Kemp could be back by the end of the month from a sprained left ankle. He’s played in just 11 games during the Dodgers’ historic run, and