LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers have been hammering their way back into respectability for nearly two months now, so it was only fitting they powered their way into first place Tuesday night.
The Dodgers hit three home runs, and with a 9-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, they moved into a first-place tie with the San Francisco Giants. It was the first time the Dodgers had as much as a share of the top spot in the National League West since May 14.
And while it should have felt so rewarding that they can control their own destiny for a fourth consecutive division title, there was only the usual celebration after a victory signified by the colored disco ball in the clubhouse still alight and spinning long after most players had left for the night.
“The job’s not done yet, so you keep going,” said rookie Corey Seager, who had two more hits. “You can celebrate it at the end.”
Perhaps the Dodgers know that part of the reason they have moved from 6½ games back at the All-Star break to a first-place tie less than a month later has as much to do with the Giants’ poor play as it does with their ability to overcome the loss of ace Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers have been watching the scoreboards that have told the tale of the Giants’ struggles, yet they have tried to make it about them and their better play of late.
“I mean, obviously, it’s on our radar,” manager Dave Roberts said, when asked about the Giants’ contribution in all of this. “But I think, more importantly, we’re just focused on playing good baseball.”
The Dodgers are a respectable 12-9 since the break, but are only called a first-place team today because the Giants have gone 7-16 in the same stretch.
Since Kershaw has been out of action, pitching his last game June 26 in Pittsburgh, the Dodgers have managed to craft a 23-13 record that is the best in the National League over that stretch. The club was a season-high eight games out of first place after a defeat on June 26, but it has defied the predictions that had the Dodgers going nowhere fast without their ace.
“I think that when you look at the standings, there is something to hanging your hat on it a little bit, but I think the bigger picture is the way we’re going about preparing every day,” Roberts said. “Like I always say, the wins are a byproduct of our preparation and how we’ve been playing the game. That is more of what we’ve been trying to focus on.”
While it would seem that the rotation has picked up the slack in Kershaw’s void, that group has barely offered five innings a game since baseball’s best arm went down.
Instead, the revival is a big part the bullpen’s doing, and the offense has come alive behind guys like Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, Justin Turner — all of whom hit home runs Tuesday — and Seager, who hit two home runs Monday.
Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson are hitting the ball harder, too, of late, and Chase Utley remains a steadying influence at the top of the order. New right fielder Josh Reddick has not yet joined the hitting party, being allowed to slowly work his way into the fold.
Where hardly anybody was delivering early, everybody has suddenly gotten hot at once and the runs have come in bunches. The Dodgers delivered their third consecutive game of eight or more runs, something they have not done since July 2013.
“I think it’s just coincidence,” Kendrick said about the group hot streak. “A lot of guys have been putting in the same work all year and you are starting to see some of the fruits of the labor. Hopefully we can continue to do the same thing and keep the ball rolling. Our pitching has been giving us the opportunity to win. Even when we have gotten down early, guys have battled back and we’ve put runs on the board and been able to do it that way.”
The trick will be to make this kind of offense a normal part of their game and not have it be a peak they rode to catching the Giants before watching it fall away again. It will be a tall order.
Some of the impressive accomplishments Dodgers players have delivered lately:
Turner leads the NL with 17 home runs since June 10, while driving in 47 runs during that 51-game stretch.
Kendrick not only drove in three runs on his bobblehead night, the first one of his lengthy career, he is batting .310 (53-for-171), with 14 doubles and five home runs over his past 48 games.
Grandal not only has a career-best 18 home runs, including one in each of the past two games, he has hit safely in his past nine games and is batting .448 (13-for-29) in that stretch.
Seager is batting .330 (31-for-94) over his past 21 games, collecting nine doubles, four home runs, and 14 RBIs in that time.
Roberts said with confidence that the Dodgers now have a lineup that is as good as any in the National League.
“I think that if you look at our club offensively, on paper, there is a lot of length,” Roberts said. “It just didn’t play out the first month of the season. But with these guys, there really are no breaks in our lineup now. There is stress throughout. It’s just a credit to these guys to understand that it’s a long season and to not give the season away in April. Understand that every at-bat, we’re just trying to get better.”