Column: A magical season in the sun for Los Angeles Dodgers
LOS ANGELES (AP) The hottest team in the land had yet to get a runner to first base as the third inning came to a close at Dodger Stadium, where 46,128 had come to watch a slice of history on a sunbaked Sunday afternoon.
The Dodgers trailed the Padres 2-0, but not many seemed terribly concerned.
Down in the left field corner, the ubiquitous beach balls bounced around. Up in section 106 behind home plate a woman put on a bright yellow sweatshirt with a pointed hoodie top and started to dance as those around her shouted ”Banana, Banana.”
Life is good in La La Land, where the home team is on a run unlike any seen since Walter O’Malley uprooted the team from Brooklyn in 1958 and headed for laid-back Los Angeles. The Dodgers are winning at such a pace that prognosticators have to keep moving up the expected win total for a season unlike any other.
The fans in section 106 had seen this show already many times this season. They weren’t just hoping for a win, but were expecting one.
It came, of course, because this is a season so magical that the lowly but improving Padres weren’t about to get in the way. Justin Turner would put the Dodgers ahead with a three-run home run to right field in the fourth inning, add another home run in the eighth, and the Dodger bullpen would do the rest.
The formula of power and pitching is so potent that the Dodgers are 83-34, with a ridiculous 18-game lead in the NL West over two teams with records good enough to lead two other divisions. Their West Coast rivals, the San Francisco Giants, are an even more ridiculous 37 games back and it’s not even September yet.
Just how good is this team? Any number of stats could be used but here’s a few:
For a streak of 53 games this season the Dodgers didn’t lose a game they held a lead at any point in. They have won 46 of their past 56 games, and 28 of their last 32 home games.
If they beat the White Sox at home Tuesday night they’ll be a whopping 50 games over the .500 mark.
And forget about winning a series against them. It’s been so long that manager Dave Roberts had to think hard about the last time that happened.
”It was against the Nationals, here at home,” Roberts said. ”I don’t remember the date or the month.”
To be exact it was the first week of June, more than two months ago. The Nationals came to town and took the first two games of a three-game set that was already looking like a playoff preview.
Since then, the Dodgers haven’t lost in 19 straight series and 16 of them, including the three-game set with the Padres. At this pace they will win 115 games, smashing the Los Angeles mark of 102 set the year Dodger Stadium opened in 1962 and again in 1974.
Forget about calling them the best team in baseball this season. They might be one of the best teams ever to play the game.
Their leadoff hitter has 17 home runs, and their No. 8 hitter has 21. Cody Bellinger, a rookie who didn’t even make the team out of spring training, is at 34 home runs, one off the Dodger rookie record set by Mike Piazza, while last year’s rookie of the year Corey Seager has 19 home runs and is batting .307.
Kenley Jansen, meanwhile, has 32 saves and has struck out 80 hitters while allowing only five walks.
Then there’s Turner, who was summarily cast off by the New York Mets a few seasons ago. The third baseman with the flowing red hair and unruly beard has 17 home runs and is hitting .346, despite missing part of the season while on the disabled list.
”He’s the glue to our ballclub,” Roberts said.
What has to be frightening to teams looking ahead to the playoffs is that the latest Dodger run has been done with ace starter Clayton Kershaw on the DL with back issues. He’s expected back soon, and with newly arrived Yu Darvish will present trouble to any team in a short series.
This is a team put together with a purpose and with little expense spared. The Dodgers win by slugging home runs and getting shutdown pitching, and the swagger seems to grow with every postgame fist bump.
It’s a formula that should play well in the postseason, though Dodger fans have reason to still be a bit nervous. One glance at the banners down the right field line is all they need to remind themselves their team hasn’t been in a World Series since Kirk Gibson led them to a title in 1988.
On this day at venerable – and beautiful – Dodger Stadium that wasn’t a concern. Another barrage of home runs, another series win, and everyone headed happily for the freeways.
In a magical year, they had to be thinking the long drought at Dodger Stadium will soon be over.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org