The Dodgers went east, faced two fine clubs in playoff atmosphere environs, returning home winners of seven of ten games. Character-building? I should say so.
Beginning in Miami with the also-ran of the trip, Los Angeles took two out of three from the Marlins, with Hanley Ramirez leading the way. Ramirez recorded six hits, with five runs batted in against his old club, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano won their starts convincingly, and Kenley Jansen added saves number 23 and 24 of the season. And it was on to Pittsburgh.
Despite a loss highlighted by the unfortunate ejections of Matt Kemp and Don Mattingly, and the skipper’s subsequent two-day suspension, L.A. still managed three victories in four tries, scoring 30 runs in the process. Seven hits for Hanley in that series, and contributions from almost everyone on the roster.
The Dodgers lost a tough one in extra innings Friday to open their set in Atlanta, with Mattingly leaving himself open to all kinds of second-guessing. And first-guessing. An ill-advised sacrifice (my personal non-favorite), the leaving of Ronald Belisario in to face Jayson Heyward with a rested Randy Choate available, and the decision to keep Jansen waiting for the save situation that never came low-lighted that one.
By Saturday’s announcement of his suspension, more than a few Dodger fans were ready for a two-day stay from Mr. Mattingly. While I don’t really think Trey Hillman’s substitute managing made the difference, necessarily, L.A. did win both Saturday and Sunday, with Mattingly peering down from a Turner Field luxury suite. You know the old Jewish saying, right? “It’s like chicken soup to a dead man; it couldn’t hurt.” The team wasn’t hurt with the absence of its field boss.
That evening’s game featured the rather unusual back-to-back-to-back home runs by Ramirez, James Loney and Luis Cruz, a second homer – a three-run job by Hanley later – and the Dodgers winning 6-2 on four hits total, home runs all. Plus a gutty 6 2/3 of one-run ball from Aaron Harang, and Jansen’s 25th save.
Cruz has been nothing short of a revelation. The career minor league infielder was 6-11 with two long balls in the Braves series, 12-29 during the road trip (good for a .448 average), and is at a very solid .279 on the year, including a .368 with runners in scoring position, and 29 RBIs in 129 at bats.
For comparison, the man Cruz replaced on the roster, Dee Gordon, hit .229, with 17 RBIs in 301 at bats. And Cruz makes all the plays at both shortstop and third base.
I’m not apologizing for my criticism of Chad Billingsley earlier, because he deserved every bit of it, but credit where credit is due. Bills has a done a complete 180 since a disabled list stint, bookended around the four-day All-Star break. He’s won six straight games in the second half, has lowered his earned run average from 4.30 to 3.44 in that span, and threw 15 shutout innings on eight hits on the trip. Billingsley will face Miami’s Mark Buehrle on Friday night at Dodger Stadium next.
But before we get to that, there’s the little matter of first place to discuss. The San Francisco Giants, minus their disgraced drug-cheating bastard of a left fielder (yes, another one) hit town for three huge games Monday through Wednesday.
Clayton Kershaw goes for his fifth straight win opposite Madison Bumgarner tomorrow, Joe Blanton and Tim Lincecum match up Tuesday in the 5.00-ERAs game Tuesday, and it’s Capuano vs. Matt Cain in the finale.
While the Dodgers seem to be playing better on the road lately, with successful dress rehearsals against the Bucs and Braves just concluded, they’re as ready as they’ll ever be for a series like the one upcoming. They’re in first place, a half-game ahead of San Francisco, at 67-55.
As I predicted before the Atlanta series, the Dodgers will win two of three here, with Kershaw beating the Giants as he always does, and Capuano besting Cain in the third game. Tuesday’s contest is anyone’s guess, and nothing would surprise me there, except perhaps for a 1-0 decision by one team or the other.
And don’t worry about Matt Kemp, who was hitless versus the Braves over the weekend. He’ll be absolutely fine, beginning at 7:10 p.m. tomorrow.
If you can’t be there in person, and there are good seats available, try your hand at one of my game threads. There will be a Giants fan participating and you can give him all kinds of bleep for nine innings a night. He’s quite the good sport.
It takes ten seconds to sign up, you can use a fake name and avatar, if you like, and no holds barred. Or you can bar your holds. That’s fine too. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please don’t hesitate to ask.
It’s the Dodgers and the Giants for three, beginning tomorrow night at the Ravine. I can’t wait.
And remember, glove conquers all.