Dodgers sailing through chemistry class

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
11:02
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Somebody asked Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly after Tuesday night's 4-2 win over the New York Mets how tough it will be to take Nick Punto out of his lineup Wednesday.

"It's pretty easy, honestly," Mattingly said.

[+] EnlargeNick Punto
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillNick Punto continued his torrid stretch filling in for injured Hanley Ramirez. On Tuesday, his two-run single was key in the Dodgers' seventh straight win.
Punto might be batting .458 in his last nine games -- including his big two-run double off Matt Harvey on Tuesday -- but he was just keeping the spot warm for Hanley Ramirez, who might have been the most dangerous hitter alive for about a month before he jammed his shoulder chasing a foul popup.

Those words, spoken about a different player, at a different time, could have furrowed some brows, maybe even stirred a bit of tension between the manager and a player. Punto's not that guy, and this is not that moment.

And Punto's used to the grief. A few days ago, he had to hear about teammate Skip Schumaker comparing him to actor Danny DeVito because of his squat build. Then, the Dodgers took it to another level when they arranged for an on-field meeting between DeVito and Punto before Monday's game.

After Punto's home run, the video board showed DeVito, who turned around and pointed to his No. 7 Punto jersey.

Punto and fellow veteran Juan Uribe seem to come in for the most grief around these guys. The Dodgers have been letting Uribe have it ever since Evan Longoria got him with the hidden-ball trick Saturday. Somebody with the Dodgers talked the kid who ran onto the field with Uribe before Tuesday's game into tagging him with his autographed ball.

"There are a lot of characters in this clubhouse," Punto said. "There's a lot of ribbing that goes on, all day long."

If the Dodgers were still losing the way they were back in April, May and June, "characters" might not have been the first word on the tip of everybody's tongues. Goofballs? Screw-ups? It's a lot easier to get away with all this slapstick stuff when you play .830 baseball for nearly two months.

No Dodgers team has ever stayed on a roll quite this long. The last team in baseball to be this hot for as long as 47 games was the 1951 New York Giants. Those Giants probably had a good time, too, even without the joys of Twitter.

And it's funny how nobody has mentioned the word "chemistry" in a while. Remember when that was one of the worries about the Dodgers, that they had forged a team of millionaire mercenaries who wouldn't be able to stand the sight of one another while traveling around for six months?

"I knew there was some talk about [chemistry] during the winter, but I really wasn't worried about it," Mattingly said. "It's about playing well. When you start winning like we've been winning, it's going to be pretty easy to keep it like that.

"It's when things go bad that you get tested and we had that stretch and they hung in there through that."

Big-name talents like Ramirez and Yasiel Puig seemed to get this thing going, but lately it has been smaller people, with smaller contracts, who are keeping it moving. Punto and Schumaker have been swinging hot bats and Mark Ellis has been producing with little fanfare. A.J. Ellis isn't small, but he's often overlooked. He's now second on the Dodgers in RBIs.

That's a fun little egalitarian story line, but really it's been about pitching. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been doing the same kinds of things Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw have been doing: pitching deep into games and keeping the Dodgers in range for some late-inning magic. When asked about his game plan for Tuesday's game against Harvey, whose fastball is among the toughest pitches in baseball, Mattingly said, "Hyun-Jin is the game plan."

Ryu is on a six-game winning streak, and the Dodgers have won nine straight when he starts.

The bullpen finally gave up a run. Kenley Jansen, whose velocity has diminished lately, gave up a run in the ninth, snapping a 17 2/3-inning scoreless streak for Dodgers relievers. Oh, well.

On Wednesday, the Dodgers get healthier with Ramirez's return. They have more talent waiting in the wings. Brian Wilson should be with the club by the weekend. Matt Kemp could be back the following week.

It's easy to smile if you're a Dodger these days. It's even easier to laugh.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.312 13 59 68
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 17
RBIA. Gonzalez 83
RD. Gordon 69
OPSY. Puig .909
WC. Kershaw 14
ERAC. Kershaw 1.86
SOC. Kershaw 174