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ST. LOUIS -- You can usually tell how well a baseball team is doing before entering its clubhouse. You can hear it from down the hallway before the double doors, hopeless in containing the music, finally open.
On Monday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated on the road for the 15th straight game after a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. It's the longest winning streak away from home the National League has seen since 1957 and baseball has seen since 1984.
The Dodgers celebrated accordingly by blasting Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" and Blackstreet's "No Diggity" in the clubhouse after the game as Yasiel Puig danced for the enjoyment of Dodgers relief pitchers, including Ronald Belisario, J.P Howell, Brandon League, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and Kenley Jansen.
|Not only did Zack Greinke earn his 100th win, but he drove in the winning run against the Cardinals and is leading all pitchers with a .405 batting average.|
The Dodgers' turnaround this season can be traced back to many things, but two of the biggest have been the arrival of Puig on June 3 and the play of the bullpen since the middle of June.
On June 21, the Dodgers were a season-worst 12 games under .500, but since then they have the best record in baseball at 32-7. It's the best 39-game stretch in team history since 1953.
They are now 15-2 since the All-Star break and have a six-game lead atop the NL West after being nearly 10 games back and in last place two months ago. They are also just two games shy of the National League record for most consecutive road wins, set by the 1916 New York Giants. The Detroit Tigers matched the record when they won their first 17 road games in 1984.
"I like it," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "The guys are proud of it, and they should be. It shows that we're getting ready to play and not taking games for granted. If we take a couple of games in a series we still know that the next game is one we want to win. I'm proud of the way the guys are playing right now on the road, and they should be proud of it."
Starter Zack Greinke not only won his 100th career game, but showed why he is leading all pitchers with a .405 batting average (15-for-37) by driving in the winning run. He is also batting .600 (9-for-15) since July 3.
"He played great," said Nick Punto, who scored the winning run on Greinke's hit and also made a couple of big defensive plays to seal the win. "Everything is going right. We're pitching outstanding. We're getting enough timely hits. We're winning one-run ball games. Everything is really good right now."
Where the Dodgers once found ways to lose, they are now finding ways to pull out wins. Monday was the Dodgers' 10th straight victory in a one-run game.
"We always feel like we're going to win," Mattingly said. "These guys expect to win now. We've been playing well enough that we expect to win the close games. Our bullpen has been great and our pitching in general has been great. Our starters keep us in the game and our bullpen has been throwing a lot of zeroes. We have pretty good depth out there. Guys are feeling pretty good when they get in games like this."
The Dodgers' streak of 23 consecutive scoreless innings without allowing a run was snapped in the first inning on Monday, but L.A. still ranks third in the majors with a 3.42 ERA, including a 3.30 mark by the starters, which is second best in baseball. Since June 22, Dodgers relievers have posted a 10-1 record with 16 saves in 17 opportunities and a 2.52 ERA, the third lowest mark in baseball during that span.
"I think we're playing the way everyone thought we would at the beginning of the season," said Clayton Kershaw, who will start Tuesday. "We're finally healthy and playing well. We're not really thinking about the streak. We're just thinking about playing baseball."
While the Dodgers have been fairly healthy during their streak, the injury bug has bit them again. Matt Kemp was walking around the clubhouse with a walking boot on his sprained left ankle, which is healing slower than expected. Meanwhile, Hanley Ramirez is not expected to return to the team in St. Louis after jamming his right shoulder in Chicago on Sunday.
"I feel better," Ramirez said. "My range of motion is better. It's way better than yesterday, but it's day-to-day right now."
That the Dodgers have been able to continue their winning streak without Kemp and Ramirez, and on Sunday without Puig, who returned to the lineup Monday. All of which shows that this run and this turnaround is not being fueled by one star, but by a collection of players finally playing as one.
"We're playing incredible baseball," Ramirez said. "I think we have guys that step up when other guys are out. It's what the good teams do. They help each other out."