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Dodgers' success is good for the game

One of baseball's iconic franchises has turned around season with amazing run

First, the Dodgers got hot. Then, they got ridiculously hot. Now, they're historically hot.

At this point, the numbers are almost a blur. Let's trot out a few of them anyway:

• They are the first team in 62 years to win 39 of 47 games at any point in a season.

• They have a 22-3 record since the All-Star break.

• They turned a 9 1/2-game deficit into a 7 1/2-game lead in the National League West in a span of 53 days.

The Dodgers aren't just doing it one way, either. Since June 22, their starters have gone 26-7 with a 2.59 ERA. Los Angeles has won three 1-0 games and it is 11-7 when scoring three runs or fewer. Dodgers relievers have posted a 1.74 ERA since the All-Star break.

They've won by scores of 10-8, 7-6 and 7-5, too. They've scored at least seven runs 11 times since the All-Star Break and won all of those games.

That's the thing that ought to frighten teams as we look ahead to October. The Dodgers probably will run out Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the first three games of a postseason series, and what NL team can do better than that?

And they hope to have Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez in the middle of their lineup. No team has more offensive potential.

Here's perhaps the most impressive thing about these Dodgers: They're winning even when they don't have their main guys.

Ramirez was the hottest hitter on the planet when he injured his shoulder last week. The Dodgers have gone 8-1 since, with Ramirez's replacement, Nick Punto, hitting .458 during that stretch.

Kemp? He has been in the starting lineup just 59 times, and the Dodgers are 38-22 without him. The Dodgers have also gone without Carl Crawford, Greinke and Andre Ethier for long stretches.

They may look back at this season and see those injuries as a positive, at least in terms of building a unified clubhouse. General manager Ned Colletti said that for the past few weeks, his team has had the best clubhouse environment he has been around.

One reason surely is that every player has been asked to contribute, and almost every player has contributed. The Dodgers were hammered together with a massive amount of spending, but the one question during Spring Training was if all those large salaries and large egos would fit together. Manager Don Mattingly has done a tremendous job making it work.

Now about that spending. This new ownership group wanted to send a message that it would do things differently than the previous group. In other words, it wasn't going to apologize for being a big-market franchise.

In acquiring Ramirez, Crawford, Gonzalez and Josh Beckett, the Dodgers took on more than $300 million in salary obligations. They didn't stop there. They lured Greinke from the Angels for a deal worth $147 million and spent another $103 million on international free agents Puig and Ryu.

Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten has emphasized that the spending was to jump-start the franchise and get fans excited again. But he believes the Dodgers are building a first-rate player development system as well.

Now, about that chemistry. Let's not be naive. Winning contributes to everyone getting along. But the Dodgers have had a unifying factor in needing every player. Their original blueprint wasn't for Skip Schumaker and Punto to have more at-bats than Kemp and Ramirez, but it has worked out.

Back in June, Puig energized the Dodgers with his production and unbridled joy and even his recklessness. But the Dodgers have been sustained by dozens of things falling into place.

As for reenergizing Southern California -- mission accomplished. The Dodgers lead the Major Leagues in attendance, drawing more than 45,000 per game, and they are on a pace to draw 3.7 million, their highest total since 2009.

Baseball is better when one of its iconic franchises is having a great season, and the Dodgers are even more special by how they've recovered from a 30-42 start. They were an afterthought back then. Now, they're the most interesting team on the planet.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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