Ten days ago the Dodgers were 9.5 games behind the red hot Giants, who had the best record in baseball. The team that many thought was a sure bet to repeat as NL West champions was struggling to keep pace with their arch-rivals from the Bay Area. Flash forward a week and a half and the Dodgers are right back into the thick of the race, just five days after ESPN Insider declared that the Giants are a near certainty to win the division, holding an 8.5 game lead just five days ago. In a five day span the Giants have lost five straight while a three game Dodgers winning streak has them within four games of the division leaders.
Wednesday night Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw threw his first career no-hitter and the 12th overall no hitter in Los Angeles Dodgers history. Kershaw struck out fifteen in a dominant effort and was just an error away from a perfect game. With the Giants losing earlier in the day Kershaw’s no hitter was an exclamation point in series sweep of the Rockies that included three strong starting pitching performances.
The three-game Dodgers winning streak has given them eight wins in their last ten games, and an important three-game home winning streak. The Dodgers remain just 18-20 at Dodger Stadium, combined with an impressive 22-14 road record.The recent win streak and strong road performance point to the Dodgers righting the ship. The Giants have burst out to a substantial lead but the recent five-game losing streak, couple with a solid run of play for the Dodgers, has come at the right time. Like last season the Dodgers seem to be making their June run.
So will the Dodgers repeat as National League West champions? Although it looked bleak less than two weeks ago there are several positive developments that point to a Dodgers repeat. Here are five reasons the Dodgers will surpass the Giants and repeat as division champions.
Their Home Record: Last season Los Angeles was 47-34 at home. In 2012 when they finished eight games behind the Giants for the division the Dodgers were 45-36 at home. This year they are a surprising 18-20, which includes this week’s three-game sweep of the Rockies. Chances are the Dodgers will play significantly better at home in the second half of the season, which bodes well for a division push.
Matt Kemp: The Dodgers recent strong form has coincided with the best form of the season for Matt Kemp. After missing nearly all of last season the Dodgers star outfielder seems to be rounding back into form. Over the past seven days he’s hit .417 with 2 home runs and 7 runs batted in.
The Bullpen: Heading into the season the Dodgers bullpen was a massive strength, with Kenley Jansen coming off of a dominant first season as the closer, and Brian Wilson returning as a premier setup man.
After a tough start to the season the Dodgers bullpen is beginning to show the form that many predicted coming into the season. Adding to the recent performance of the bullpen has been the performance of Brandon League. Last season League began the year as the closer but struggled, eventually losing his closer job to Jansen. This season League has regained his form and become a strong setup man. League has an outstanding 2.27 ERA in 35 innings pitched. League, JP Howell and recently Brian Wilson have combined with Jansen to give the Dodgers the pen many expected. With League’s re-emergence the Dodgers have a strong bullpen group to compete with the Giants down the stretch.
The Return of Kershaw: After missing nearly a month and a half due to a muscle strain behind his shoulder, the Dodgers ace left-hander is back in elite form and staking a claim for another Cy Young Award. Wednesday night’s no-hitter was Kershaw as his most dominant.
That Starting Rotation: With the emergence of Josh Beckett and a healthy Clayton Kershaw the Dodgers have the deepest and best starting rotation in baseball. At the top of the rotation the Dodgers have two elite left-handers in Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke, whose 24-7 over the past two seasons. Veteran right-handers Josh Beckett and Dan Haren have solidified the back-end of the rotation, with Beckett sporting a 2.49 ERA.
All signs point to the Dodgers catching and surpassing the Giants and living up to the expectations that many pointed to early in the season. The big upcoming matchup is the late July Dodgers visit to Pac Bell Park to face the Giants. If the Dodgers are within striking distance they’ll have a prime opportunity to take over the division lead.
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BY: Chris M