The Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the kind of groove that carried them to the best record in baseball back in the cooler days of late spring. They beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-3 at PNC Park on Wednesday night as Clayton Kershaw registered his first victory against the Pirates in six career starts, setting up a Thursday afternoon possibility of a four-game sweep of their NL wild-card rival.
Also Wednesday, the San Francisco Giants lost 6-4 to the Washington Nationals -- and MVP candidate Melky Cabrera to a 50-game drug suspension -- putting the Dodgers alone in first place for the first time since July 13.
The Dodgers have beaten Pittsburgh nine straight times stretching back to last September.
Kershaw cruises. Guess who was on the mound the last time the Dodgers were in first place by themselves? Too easy? Wednesday wasn't Kershaw's most artful performance. At times, he actually got hit hard. Andrew McCutchen snapped out of his power slump and hit a monster home run off him to straight-away center field. But the fact remains that when the Dodgers need to make a move, they often do it behind their lefty ace.
New guys. It's fairly obvious the Dodgers have a deeper lineup with Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez in it. What's even better for the Dodgers is that both players seem to be rejuvenated by moving to a winning environment. Victorino has been tugging the offense along for more than a week (nine-game hitting streak) and Ramirez has had a terrific road trip, with 11 hits in 25 at-bats and eight RBIs in six games. It looks as if the Dodgers' MVP thus far has been general manager Ned Colletti.
Balance. The Dodgers still don't have the type of murderers-row lineup you see more often in the American League, but it's deeper than it has been all year. Wednesday was the perfect embodiment of that, with seven of the 10 hitters who got to the plate driving in at least one run. And, yeah, we include Kershaw in that group.
Options? Should the Dodgers consider using Luis Cruz at first base from time to time? The right-handed side of their platoon isn't exactly giving them much -- just 3-for-24 this month -- but Don Mattingly has used Juan Rivera in all but three games this month. Not that he has all that many options, but Rivera doesn't look like a good one these days.
Drama. Brandon League hasn't exactly given Mattingly stress-free innings since he arrived in a trade from the Seattle Mariners. League has made six appearances for the Dodgers and has allowed at least one base runner in all but one of them. His outing Wednesday was fairly clean, but walking a guy in the ninth inning with a six-run lead isn't the best way to endear yourself to your road-weary teammates.
Matchup. If you were to pick a Dodgers starter to go for the sweep, Joe Blanton might be the last guy you would select. Four of the starters have been solid lately and Blanton is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA since arriving shortly after the trading deadline. Meanwhile, the Pirates have A.J. Burnett on the mound. Burnett was awful for the New York Yankees, but he has found success in the National League. He has one home loss all season.