Dodgers return home after strong road trip

LOS
ANGELES
— Just how good are the Dodgers going as they prepare
to host the Angels Monday night for the first of three games at Dodger Stadium?

So good that it took six Seattle Mariner pitchers to no-hit the Dodgers last
Friday. It was only the second time in MLB history that so many had combined to
give up so little. At one point, Dodger manager Don Mattingly was thinking his
team might even win the game without getting a single knock.

Now that’s going good.

The Dodgers keep winning in spite of numerous injuries to key personnel,
including All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp, placed on the disabled for the
second time in 2012 with a badly pulled hamstring. Enterering Monday, they are
baseball’s best team at 39-22, are the only team in either league with 20 or
more wins at home and lead the second-place San Francisco Giants by a robust
five games in the National League West. No other first-place team has a lead of
more than three games in their division — Texas is three up on the Angels in
the American League West.

It has been a truly remarkable season so far — despite the turmoil surrounding
the carryover of the Frank McCourt situation — including the excitement of the
ownership transition from McCourt to the Guggenheim Baseball group. There
literally hasn’t been one moment of breathing room for anyone involved, yet
like a championship thoroughbred the Dodgers have worn blinders and kept
pressing forward.

— Kemp goes down and Andre Ethier fights off a slump to hit a grand slam
Sunday to lead the Dodgers to an 8-2 victory over Seattle. Through Sunday, Eithier
is batting .292 with 10 homers and 52 RBI. Thirty of his 66 hits have been for
extra bases.

— Mark Ellis suffers a leg injury that could have led to amputation, and Jerry
Hairston steps in and plays like an All-Star. A career .261 hitter, he leads
the team with a .356 average and is probably the Dodgers most versatile player
defensively, already seeing action at first, second, third, shortstop and in
left field.

— Bobby Abreu, released by the Angels, is picked up off the baseball scrap
heap and is hitting .300, showing signs of the form that will get him some Hall
of Fame consideration when his career is over.

— On the pitching side, Chris Capuano joins the starting rotation
from free agency, and continues a courageous comeback from nearly two years
away from the game after Tommy John surgery in 2008. Before his Monday night
start, he was 8-2 with a 2.82 ERA, more than a run and a half lower than his career
ERA. Then there’s 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw (5-3, 2.65 ERA) and
closer Kenley Jansen (4-0, nine saves and 44 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings).

Just when it looks like everything is about to catch up to them — Milwaukee swept
the Dodgers in a four-game series before LA’s recent 10-game road trip — Mattingly’s
club bounces back.

After dropping two of three in Colorado to start the trip, the Dodgers swept
the Philadelphia Phillies in a four-game series, the first time in 66 years LA
had done so. By taking two of three in Seattle, the Dodgers finished the trip 7-3
and improved to 17 games above .500.

“When you look at the schedule, it could have been a dangerous trip.”
Mattingly said after the finale in Seattle. “You usually see a lot of runs
scored and you can burn up your bullpen in Colorado, and Philly. (The Phillies)
have a club that’s been a championship club the last few years and it’s tough
to play there. And with interleague play you never know what you’re going to
get.”

“But it’s been a good road trip for us.”

What Mattingly knows is that his club never gives up, and that will be crucial
when they send Capuano to the mound Monday night to take on the Angels’ Garrett
Richards. The Halos are even hotter than the Dodgers, winning 14 of their last
18, and they’re back in the AL West Division race after a horrible start.

Players from both sides say they’re really looking forward to the upcoming
games. Mattingly even noted that the rivalry is “kinda cool.” Despite
the momentum the Angels bring up the 5 Freeway, the Dodgers are confident they
will continue their own run.

“We’re a good club, no doubt,” Ethier said during a TV interview
after the Sunday win. “I’ve been, and others have too, telling everyone
that it’s a great group with great chemistry. We’re all pulling for each other
all the time, even when we go through bad times like we did (against the
Brewers) right before this trip started. Guys are always there for each other,
to pick each other up and give support.

“It’s a fun club to be around.”

Imagine if the Dodgers can get completely healthy.

NOTES: Dodgers’
third baseman Juan Uribe, out since May 13 with an injured left wrist, will be
activated for Monday’s game and, according to Mattingly, will be in the
starting lineup against the Angels.