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Monday, July 8, 2013
Joy-riding through the NL West

By Mark Saxon



The Los Angeles Dodgers have so much going right for them these days, even their recurring bad dream doesn’t seem to be troubling them much.

They put two more players, Matt Kemp and Stephen Fife, on the disabled list Monday -- harkening back to the bad old days of two weeks ago -- but then steamrolled the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks 6-1 at Chase Field.

If there’s one thing that can slow down this roll, of course, it’s injuries. But as long as they come in relatively small doses, the Dodgers look capable of surviving them, if not thriving despite them.

A little less than three weeks ago, the Dodgers went into their June 22 game 12 games under .500 and 9½ games out of first place. Most of their division was playing well while they were sinking deeper by the day.

Zack Greinke pitched them to a win that day in San Diego, sparking a six-game winning streak. The momentum hasn’t died yet. The Dodgers have won 13 of their past 16 games, all but four of those games against teams in their division. They’re now just 3½ games out of first place with two more games left in Arizona before coming home to play four before the All-Star break against the struggling Colorado Rockies.

Just as important, the Dodgers simmered the Diamondbacks down, snapping their five-game winning streak. One of the reasons the rest of the NL West has been struggling lately is the four teams all have had to play the Dodgers during this long stretch of division play.

With as hot as the Dodgers are hitting, their pitchers no longer have to be perfect. Greinke was pretty close to perfect anyway, allowing just two hits over seven scoreless innings, striking out seven batters in part thanks to a wicked curveball.

The Dodgers' surge is being driven by a fairly small core of scalding-hot hitters, which has ignited other parts of the lineup. Yasiel Puig is the one getting all the attention, but it’s been more about Hanley Ramirez.

The Dodgers shortstop is looking a lot like the guy who won a batting crown four years ago, which makes sense since he finally feels like that guy again. Ramirez had three more hits to extend his hitting streak to 19 games. Over that span -- essentially, since he got off the disabled list just about the time the Dodgers got hot -- Ramirez is batting .486 with 14 extra-base hits in 74 at-bats.

Greinke had a 5.40 ERA in his previous four starts, so he was probably due for a good outing. He wasn’t, however, due for a big game at the plate, which he had anyway, banging three hits to raise his season average to .370.

About the only Dodger who isn’t hitting right now is Carl Crawford, who is hitless (0-for-14) since coming off the disabled list last week.