What a difference a week makes.
Entering the weekend of June 21, the Dodgers had lost seven of their previous 10 games and were mired in the NL West cellar, 9.5 games out of first place. The talk was all about the end of Don Mattingly and how the Dodgers would be sellers come the July trade talks. Now, thanks to the Dodgers winning eight of their last nine games, all that chatter has stopped. Nobody is quite sure what to make of a team that suddenly find itself only four games off the NL West lead.
The Dodgers still have their work cut out for them as they need to jump over the other four teams in the division to be taken seriously. But that jump could start as early as Tuesday.
The Dodgers play their next baker’s dozen of games before the All-Star break against NL West opponents. They embark on a nine game road trip to Colorado, San Francisco, and Arizona before coming back home to host the Rockies for four. Fortunately for the Dodgers, those teams have done their best to bring out that old “NL Worst” cliche’ once again.
Colorado has lost four of their last six games, the Giants five of six and Arizona has won just one of their last seven. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are back in the pennant mix thanks to some names that certainly weren’t rolling off the lips of Dodgers fans as recently as a month ago.
Outfielder Yasiel Puig continued his headline grabbing season by getting four hits in the Dodgers 6-1 win over the Phillies on Sunday. His name has now appeared next to the immortal Joe Dimaggio’s. Puig’s 44 hits during the month of June is the most by a rookie in their first month of play since Dimaggio had 48 in his 1936 debut. Puig is batting .437 in his last eight games.
Starting pitcher Stephen Fife was part of a 2011 deal in which the Dodgers sent their top prospect, outfielder Trayvon Robinson, to the Red Sox in exchange for triple A players Fife and catcher Tim Federowicz. Ironically, it was Federowicz who many perceived as the key player in that trade. The Dodgers were desperately searching for a catcher under age 30 to be groomed to take over from 32-year old starter, AJ Ellis. The jury may still be out on Federowicz but Fife has cemented himself into the rotation…for now.
Fife tossed seven innings of shutout ball against the Phillies on Sunday. It was his second straight win. He gave up just nine runs in six June starts and has gone at least six innings in his last three. The question is whether the Dodgers want to go after veterans Ricky Nolasco or Matt Garza, both of whom are rumored to be on the trading block by their respective teams, the Marlins and the Cubs.
One anecdote to Fife’s story is that trade, which included Seattle, seems to have paid off for no one but the Dodgers. Robinson was immediately traded by Boston to Seattle in exchange for starting pitcher Eric Bedard. Bedard went just 1-2 as a Red Sox and has since gone on to play for the Pirates and the Astros. He is 10-17 since 2012. Robinson is currently on the Orioles Triple A team in Norfolk, VA.
One other new face, er, uhm, arm to watch is that of reliever Jose Dominguez. In an effort to rollover a terrible bullpen, the Dodgers cut loose reliever Peter Moylan, 34, and sent Matt Guerrier, also 34, back down to the minors. Dominguez, 22, along with 2007 draft pick Chris Withrow, were called up from the minors and both made their major league debuts on Sunday. It was Dominguez that electrified the crowd.
He struck out the first batter he faced, Delmon Young, with pitches that registered between 98 and 100 MPH. Dominguez needed only 16 pitches to wrap up his one scoreless inning.
Now it may be way to early to laud Dominguez as the second coming of the 2002 version of the Angels Francisco Rodriguez but the comparisons have already started.
Rodriguez made his debut in the fall of ’02 and struck out two in his first inning of work. He helped the Angels win their first ever World Series by striking out 28 batters in 18.1 innings of postseason work.
As Dominguez walked off the field, the fans rose to their feet in order to pay homage to at least one relief pitcher who stopped the team he was facing rather than letting the opposition start a rally. The Dodgers bullpen leads the league with 17 losses.
Who knows? If Dominguez pans out, people will have a second bandwagon to jump on. Puig’s is already full.