LA Dodgers Looking For Strong Second Half

| July 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

The Los Angeles Dodgers have won 16 of their last 21 games, establishing the best record in baseball over that span surging back into the NL West pennant race. Buoyed by the undeniable force that is rookie Yasiel Puig and boosted by hot-hot hitting from Hanley Ramirez, the Dodger Blue fans have been turning out in droves to see the hottest team in the sport play their exciting brand of baseball.

Indeed, the Dodgers have gone from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the elite. More than 2 million fans poured through the turnstiles to watch the last four games before the All-Star break. The Colorado Rockies proved worthy adversaries as they, like LA, are getting healthy again.

Against Colorado, Puig (Hip), leftfielder Carl Crawford (Back), 2nd baseman Mark Ellis (leg) and centerfielder Matt Kemp were all sidelined for part or all of the games. If LA gets most of the pieces back for a post All-Star run, the sky appears to be the limit. When the Dodgers are on their game, they are a force.

The season started poorly. First Kemp, then Ramirez went down and onto the DL for extended periods. Pitchers Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley were sidelined for the season, depleting a strong pitching staff. The bullpen soured and nobody was hitting well except veteran 1st baseman Alex Gonzalez.

Puig Arrrives

Management resisted bringing rookie Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig up from the minors. But, when they did, he electrified the team, the fans and the sport. The five-tool player hit .500 through his first 12 games. Puig slumped a little before the break but he was playing through pain.

Yasiel Puig plays as hard as any player in the modern game. He throws runners out from deep rightfield. He steals bases. He turns singles into doubles and he hits with power and authority.

In 38 games, Puig is hitting .391 with 8 homers (one grand slam), 8, doubles, 1 triple and 19 RBI from the two slot in the order.  He has 5 stolen bases.  In 151 at bats, the rookie has 38 strikeouts but that is bound to lower as he sees pitchers more often.

From the cleanup spot, behind Gonzalez, Ramirez has been remarkable. In his 39 games, he is batting .386 with 25 RBIs, and 8 homers, 11 doubles and 2 triples. Ramirez has his swing grooved and between he and Puig have pumped life into a dismal offense.

Other players have also picked up the slack. Now entrenched as the starting third baseman, Jose Uribe has lifted his average to .270. He is playing a sizzling hot corner. Catcher AJ Ellis is hitting the ball hard .262. and throwing runners out. Rightfielder Andre Ethier has transitioned very efficiently to center and is now hitting a solid .268 with 28 RBIs.

The Dodgers have depth with Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Jerry Hairston, Jr.  Andy Van Slyke and backup catcher Tim Federowicz all filling in capably.

What could spell trouble for Dodger opponents the rest of the season is the evolution of a dynamic pitching staff. The Dodgers have always emphasized their pitching staff and this crew looks better than any in recent years.

Zack Greinke (8-2, 3.49), rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu (7-3, 3.09), and new addition Ricky Nolasco (1-1) backup league leading ERA pitcher Clayton Kershaw (8-6, 1.98, 139 k’s), the ace of the staff.

Steven Fife (3-3, 2.76) has pitched brilliantly in the five slot but has been assisted by good performances from veteran lefty Chris Capuano (3-6, 4.63).

Now that Henley Jansen is the closer, the bullpen has solidified. Dodger baseball is poised to storm the NL West after the break. Dodger tickets are hard to find but they are still available for the rest of the season. See Puig, Ramirez and company at home or on the road. This might be the best team in the game.

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