The Dodgers have won a lot of baseball games lately, and many victories were far more exciting than Friday’s 2-0 shutout of the Red Sox. But Friday’s win helped shed some more light on a few underrated aspects of the Dodgers’ historic stretch.
The Dodgers are now 29-5 since the All-Star break and 46-10 since June 22. They’ve gone from 9 1/2 games back in the NL West to leading the division by 10 1/2 games, and it’s easy to make a case that they’re currently the best team in baseball. Their incredible hot streak has been due to a number of factors, some of which don’t get the recognition that they deserve.
When you think about the Dodgers’ torrid stretch, it’s easy to point to Yasiel Puig’s emergence. Certainly, Puig’s arrival helped ignite the Dodgers, who were 24-32 at the time of his call-up, and the polarizing Cuban outfielder has been one of baseball’s most dynamic players.
It’s also easy to point to the dominance of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Most teams don’t have the luxury of one true ace; never mind two of them. Kershaw continues to prove that he’s the best pitcher in baseball, and Greinke has been lights out of late. It’s a recipe for success, and it’s a recipe for postseason nightmares for opposing clubs.
But Friday’s win highlighted three more under-the-radar aspects of the Dodgers’ run. Ricky Nolasco pitched eight fantastic innings, Hanley Ramirez drilled a two-run homer to power the offense and Kenley Jansen once again shut the door in the ninth inning.
Before the Dodgers acquired Nolasco on July 6, the back end of their rotation was a mess. Los Angeles had already won 13 of its previous 18 games at that point, but injuries to Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley left the club searching for answers. Nolasco has exceeded expectations and made the Dodgers’ rotation downright lethal.
Nolasco is now 5-1 with a 2.53 ERA in nine starts since being acquired from the Marlins via trade. He has really helped lengthen Los Angeles’ rotation, which continues to get fantastic contributions from Kershaw, Greinke and Saturday’s starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu. Friday marked Nolasco’s best performance yet in a Dodgers uniform. He allowed just two hits, didn’t walk anyone and enjoyed six 1-2-3 innings.
“We’ve had some guys throw very well against us,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Whether it’s been [Matt] Moore, whether it’s been [David] Price, it’s been from the left side. This from a right-hander is probably as good a start as we’ve seen against us. To his credit, he had very good stuff and good location throughout.”
Nolasco’s effort against the Red Sox was huge because John Lackey was nearly as sharp for Boston. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they generated just enough offense, and it came from a source known for offensive fireworks of late.
Ramirez, who the Dodgers acquired about a week before the 2012 trade deadline, once looked poised for a disastrous season. He only played in four games before June 4, and given the regression he showed in his final two years in Miami, the 29-year-old shortstop remained a bit of a wild card. Ramirez has come back in a big way, though. He is leading the Dodgers’ recent offensive barrage, and he is reminding us that he is still a former batting champion with physical tools that most players only dream about. On Friday, Ramirez sent Lackey’s only mistake of the night over the center field fence.
Friday’s win was secured by Kenley Jansen, who has been dominant since being installed as Los Angeles’ closer in June. Jansen, who owns a 1.95 ERA and 0.80 WHIP, has led a revitalized bullpen that continues to thrive amid the Dodgers’ success. L.A. has some talented arms in its ‘pen, but the relief corps really took shape when Don Mattingly stripped Brandon League of the team’s closer duties and handed the keys to Jansen.
Everything has to go right for a team to win 46 of 56 games in Major League Baseball, which is why the league hasn’t seen this kind of stretch since 1942. So while it’s easy to get lost in Puigmania and a host of other storylines surrounding the exciting 2013 Dodgers, let’s also be sure to give some love to everyone else who is making the historic run a reality.