- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
OK, so consider that a rhetorical question.
Yet the fact the Dodgers managed to go 6-1 last week with the man who carried them for large stretches of July out with a shoulder injury, tells us something. It tells us the Dodgers are on the kind of roll that can only be produced collectively. It’s not about Yasiel Puig. Or Ramirez. Or Clayton Kershaw.
It’s about everybody.
Punto and Schumaker combined to bat .533 with eight RBIs last week. In other words, they gave them the production they would have expected from a player like Ramirez, who has the Dodgers’ third-highest WAR (3.7) despite missing 59 games with injuries this season.
The Dodgers won’t say this publicly, of course, but the fact they’re showing so much patience getting Ramirez back on the field probably has something to do with the fact they’re increasingly confident of making the playoffs. They’re more likely to play deep into October if Ramirez is playing at 95 percent health than at 70 percent.
Don Mattingly has only seen Kershaw frustrated by his low run support (third-worst in the majors) one time this year. He couldn’t recall the exact game, but it was some time in April or May.
“He didn’t say anything and he might say it really wasn’t, but it just seemed like he was having a bad day,” Mattingly said.
It happens to a pitcher on somebody’s staff every year. Mattingly remembers that Ron Guidry was always the guy who got low run support when he pitched for the New York Yankees. The fact it’s Kershaw isn’t sitting well with the Dodgers.
“We need to change it, that’s for sure,” Mattingly said.
And, just like that, the Dodgers did -- or, at least, started to. They jumped on the Tampa Bay Rays for eight runs in Sunday’s sweep-capping victory, allowing Kershaw -- for just the second time this year -- to coast.
The Dodgers are more about pitching than hitting, but unless Kershaw is on the mound, they do a more-than-adequate job of supporting their pitchers. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke have both gotten plenty of support.
The Dodgers scored 42 runs in seven games, though 13 of those were in one game in St. Louis, after Carl Crawford lined a ball off Shelby Miller’s right elbow, knocking him out of the game after two pitches.
Adrian Gonzalez had a solid week, but nobody had more moments than Punto and Schumaker, who commute to Dodger Stadium from Orange County on a daily basis.
Dodgers starters lead the major leagues in ERA. No surprise there, considering they have two Cy Young winners and their No. 5 starter, Chris Capuano, is good enough to have pitched nine seasons in the major leagues.
But what has allowed Dodgers pitching to take off has been one of the hottest bullpens in the majors. Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen have been impossible to score against and the other Dodgers relievers are handling their roles.
The improvement in relief could be key for the Dodgers’ chances in October. The bullpen all season has stood out as the area of most serious concern.
From the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game in St. Louis, the Dodgers’ bullpen pitched nothing but shutout innings. Going into Sunday, opponents were batting .100 off the relievers in that span.
From July 23 to Thursday, Jensen retired 27 straight batters. Were he a starter -- and had he done it in one night -- he would have had a perfect game. Rodriguez got a rare two-inning save in St. Louis. J.P. Howell got some big outs. Even Brandon League looks like he’s rebuilding his delivery. Carlos Marmol isn't a lost cause.
The Dodgers will be considered October threats because of their starting pitching, but their relievers could make them the complete package.
The Dodgers played awful defense early in Friday’s game and somehow came back to win it, rallying for seven runs in the final three innings. Dee Gordon continues to be a work in progress (putting it kindly) when he plays shortstop. If you're a fretful type and root for the Dodgers, fielding will be your only major worry these days.
One of the more puzzling Don Mattingly decisions was to use Ramirez as a pinch hitter Friday night with the Dodgers trailing 6-1 and with Schumaker on second. Ramirez looked bad striking out to end the inning, but more important, it set back his clock should the Dodgers elect to put him on the disabled list.
Now, any move would be retroactive only to Friday.
You have to also give Mattingly some of the credit for how well the bullpen performed. He put them in the right spots to succeed. In fact, it seems Mattingly’s feel for his bullpen and its roles is one of the more positive evolving story lines.
Brian Wilson made the Dodgers’ decision to sign him look smart, at least so far. In all three of his minor-league rehabhttp://proxy.espn.go.com/blogadmin/los-angelesdodger-report/wp-admin/upload.php outings, he has pitched perfect innings.
Punto and Schumaker were prominent, so the grit-meter was a bit higher than usual. Those guys must argue about who's more scrappy on their 45-mile commute. But let’s face it, when you’re this hot, grit's kind of a secondary concern. They'd rather have them hit.
STATE OF CONTENTION
While not completely falling out of things, the Diamondbacks haven’t kept pace, allowing the Dodgers to add two more games of distance between themselves and the second-place team. It also doesn’t help that outfielder Cody Ross, one of Arizona’s hottest hitters, had to be carted off the field and taken to a hospital after dislocating his hip in Sunday’s game.
The rest of the division has faded into a blob of irrelevance.
Barring a strange change of direction, the Dodgers soon will be jockeying for home-field advantage in the playoffs, rather than scrambling to get there. And, we're teetering on giving them an 'A,' but ...