7/4/2014 2:06 A.M. ET
The spin on Dodgers? It's all about rotation
Los Angeles re-claims first place in NL West thanks to its solid pitching
By Tracy Ringolsby / MLB.com
DENVER -- There's no secret to the Los Angeles Dodgers success.
It's a five-man answer.
It's the rotation.
One through five it is arguably the best in baseball.
And there is no argument about the fact that the quintet has been at the top of its game in the last 26 games, pitching the Dodgers from oblivion into first place in the National League West.
With another quality-plus start from Zack Greinke in a 3-2 victory against the Rockies at Coors Field on Thursday night, the Dodgers moved a half-game in front of second-place San Francisco, a 10-game turnaround from their last visit to Colorado on June 6-8.
Oh, the Dodgers rotation was good in the opening weeks of the season. The starters had a 3.36 ERA and a 26-17 record in the season's first 63 games, but they didn't work consistently late into games, adding the load on the bullpen, in part because of an injury to Kershaw. In the last 27 games, not only is the rotation 15-6, but it has an NL-best 2.35 ERA.
And the rotation is why manager Don Mattingly was able to maintain his composure during the early struggles that had the high-priced Dodgers with a 32-31 record and the 9 1/2-game deficit to the Giants following a 5-4, 10-inning loss at Coors Field on June 8.
"From game to game you know they are going to give you a chance to win every day," said Mattingly. "What was frustrating early is we were getting pretty good [starting] pitching, but we'd give away the extra out, and it would be an extra load on the starters. We were going five, 5 2/3 innings and then going to the bullpen.
"We're playing better now."
That brings the discussion back to a rotation that is averaging more than 6 1/2 innings per start in the last 25 games, and set a Major League record on Thursday night with the 37th consecutive game in which a starting pitcher walked two or fewer batters.
And it's not just that the Dodgers have had 18 quality starts in their last 25 games, but they've been high quality more often than not. They have allowed two or fewer earned runs in 18 of those 25 games, and it has been solid from No. 1 through No. 5.
Think about it.
Josh Beckett is arguably the fourth starter and Dan Haren No. 5. Yeah, Josh Beckett, who has a no-hitter on his ledger this season, is a three-time All-Star, a former 20-game winner, and the MVP of both the 2003 World Series and the 2007 American League Championship Series. And, yes, that Dan Haren, who has won in double figures nine times in his big league career, earning three All-Star selections.
Not too shabby a back end for a rotation that starts with three-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, the baby of the group at 26 and the driving force in the recent surge. He goes into Friday night's start in Colorado 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA his last five starts. Oh, and the last time he faced the Rockies, at Dodger Stadium on June 18, he not only no-hit them, but came within an error by shortstop Hanley Ramirez of a perfect game. He didn't walk a batter and struck out 15.
Then there's Greinke, also a past Cy Young Award winner whose effort on Thursday was his fifth quality start in the six games he has started since June 9, and he also keyed the in-season Dodger surge of a year ago, going 12-2 in his final 19 starts, 16 of which the Dodgers won.
And don't overlook second-year big leaguer Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA as a rookie in 2013, and leads the Dodgers with 13 quality starts this season.
"We haven't rattled off one of those eight- or nine-game winning streaks, but we've won our two out of three, three out of four, and kept moving forward," said Mattingly. "It's because we are in the game. It's because each of those starters, every time they go out there, we feel we have a chance to win."
The Dodgers usually do. Their longest losing streak this season is three games, which happened twice in May. They have lost back-to-back games once in the 27-game resurgence.
It's the type of consistency a team can enjoy when it has a rotation that constantly gives it a chance to win.