Bauman: Dodgers decimating division foes
Record against NL West includes stellar 11-1 road mark
SAN FRANCISCO -- Put the Dodgers in direct competition against their colleagues in the National League West and they are -- you'll pardon the expression -- the 1927 Yankees.
The Dodgers, with a three-game sweep of the Giants finishing Wednesday with an 8-2 victory, are now a remarkable 21-5 against the rest of the NL West. This is an extension of the way the competition has gone the last two seasons within the division for the Dodgers. But it also stands in stark contrast to the Dodgers' 2010 record against the rest of the competition -- 22-30.
"It's been that way for the last couple of years," manager Joe Torre said Wednesday. "We've played well against our division and it's made up for the sins we've committed elsewhere."
Torre has been asked about this phenomenon for three straight days at AT&T Park, and he has, typically enough, gone through it in detail, patiently and politely, tracing the path of the season, through the lack of success outside the division and the stunning success within it.
The manager comes to the conclusion that there may be no one-size-fits-all explanation for this situation. But he also believes that the success the Dodgers have had on the road in the division has given them a helpful dose of confidence about playing in otherwise difficult road venues, such as this one or Colorado's Coors Field.
"It's great for us because come August and September it's all about winning tough games," Torre said.
The Dodgers' overall record within the division is terrific, but their road record against the four other West teams, 11-1, is somewhere between terrific and otherworldly.
"It's crazy because our road record stunk at the beginning of the season," Torre said.
At the end of these discussions, Torre typically smiles and says that the current situation beats the alternative, because the primary competition is obviously within the division.
In 2008, Torre's first year as manager in Los Angeles, the Dodgers were 40-32 against the rest of their division. In 2009, they picked up the pace, going 46-26. This improvement reflected their overall improvement, as they climbed to 95 victories and won their second straight division title. This year, the sky appears to be the limit, at least within the division.
In evaluating the NL West race, the central question at this point might be whether San Diego's pitching staff can maintain its extraordinary level over six months as opposed to three months. History says no. Either way, the Padres have not been a mountain to climb for the Dodgers. San Diego is 1-4 against the Dodgers.
Colorado remains a potential force in this division. The Giants have the kind of pitching a division winner should have, but their offense, as presently constituted, will once again not get them to the postseason.
The Dodgers have had issues in the starting rotation, although that group is now healthier than it has been in some time. The trio of starters used in this series -- Chad Billingsley, John Ely and Vicente Padilla -- had no problems containing the Giants. The Dodgers weren't at full strength in the bullpen for this series, with closer Jonathan Broxton unavailable for the first two games, but that made no difference at all. In the lefty setup man category, whatever words anyone says in praise of Hong-Chih Kuo's work this season will probably be understatements. He has been in the category immediately adjacent to unhittable.
The team the Dodgers put on the field at the everyday positions is unquestionably the most talented in this division. If this edge doesn't automatically add up to the kind of advantage that 21-5 represents, it definitely points in that direction.
The Dodgers were at full throttle Wednesday, even with Torre resting some regulars and with Manny Ramirez out with a hamstring problem. Padilla halted the Giants on three hits over seven innings. Matt Kemp, coming back from a benching, responded to his return to the starting lineup with a home run, two singles and three RBIs. Rafael Furcal had four hits including a homer, and scored three times. Invaluable utility man Jamey Carroll got a start at third base and had two doubles, two walks and three runs scored. It was a fitting end to the series, in which the Dodgers played well in all facets of the game, bouncing back from a truly difficult loss to the Yankees on Sunday.
This leaves the question of the "sins committed elsewhere." The Dodgers struggled in Interleague Play (4-11). In the recent history of this competition, that leaves the Dodgers in good company, even crowded company, with other National League teams that have had their worst stretches of the season against the American Leaguers.
The Dodgers have also fared badly against the NL East (4-9). Those are early returns, but the bad news is that the Dodgers still have six games remaining against the Phillies. The NL East has emerged as a difficult division with three teams fully capable, at least to this date, of winning the division. Geography has given the Dodgers a favorable bounce in this case, a home in the NL West.
The Dodgers, confronted with a dominant performance within their own division, can be modest about this pleasant phenomenon. What's the reason? "If we knew it, we could bottle it and sell it," Carroll said. "But it's a good thing for us."
And if it keeps going the way it has through 26 games, this domination of their own division will become a great thing for the Dodgers.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.