Are the Dodgers a Great Team?
Entering Sunday's matinee the Dodgers had a Major League-best 22-11 record. There has been a healthy dose of skepticism concerning the team given the level of competition they have faced and the overachieving performances. However the Dodgers 11-5 win over the Colorado Rockies showed they have something a little more.
Exhibit A: One of the overachievers was Ted Lilly who came into the game with a 4-0 record and a stellar 1.41 earned run average. It was understood that the lifetime 4.11 ERA pitcher would come back down to earth soon. And the plummet to the earth looked to happen in the first inning when four consecutive singles to start the game wound up giving he Rockies the 3-0 lead.
Exhibit B: Matt Kemp entered Sunday with a three-game hitless streak. Of course Kemp wouldn't go on hitting .417 for the rest of the season like he did in April when he snagged the National League's Player of the Month honors.
But when Kemp pulled up running to first base on a grounder in the third inning, things got a little more dire for the squad. Mattingly immediately took Kemp out of the game with Kemp notably upset throwing his batting gloves in disgust in the dugout.
"He was frustrated," Mattingly said. "Obviously he didn't want to come out of the game. He was trying to say in, but I couldn't let him today."
Kemp did acknowledge that he was wanted to stay in.
"Nah, I wasn't mad at Donnie," Kemp said. "I'm just frustrated that I haven't been able to play the way I want to play."
Exhibit C: In the fifth inning, Andre Ethier disagreed with a third strike call by home plate umpire Mark Carlson. After some rather animated discourse, Carlson had enough and tossed Ethier out of the game.
"It's probably not the best situation to get thrown out right there especially with Matt just coming out of the game," Ethier admitted.
Mattingly decided he wanted in on the discourse waving his hands and getting red in the face. Predictably he also got himself tossed.
"I was most irritated that 'Dre was walking away," Mattingly said. "I'm not sure what he said or anything else."
Mattingly said he wasn't really mad. "Honestly I was tired of wearing those pink shoes. I felt funny in those."
Despite Lilly having a rough first inning, Kemp's hamstring causing him to leave the game in the third inning and the tempers of Ethier and Mattingly getting them rung, the Dodgers came together. Doubles by Tony Gwynn, Jr. and James Loney in the first and second innings led to them scoring to cut the lead to 3-2.
And in the fifth inning prior to Ethier getting ejected, the Dodgers worked the bases loaded to get to Bobby Abreu who replaced Kemp in the lineup. Batting .286 since coming to the Dodgers at the beginning of the month, Abreu hit a bases-clearing double to give the Dodgers the 5-4 lead.
After Ethier struck out and Loney walked, A.J. Ellis hitting in the sixth spot crushed a three-run for the 8-4 lead. Instead of a team content in having already won the series, the supporting cast helped lift the team.
"That's the mark of a good team," Ellis said after picking up a career-high four runs batted in. "I think we're getting to that point where we all just want to be a part of it. We piece things together. We've got to pick up the slack when things are going bad for somebody else.
"We have a lot of good character guys on this team which is huge. Guys who don't give anything away, fight for everything."
Take Gwynn. After being called on to take over for Kemp in centerfield, Gwynn made a brilliant diving catch to rob Carlos Gonzalez of a base hit. For Gwynn the depth of the ballclub is what gives them confidence.
"If somebody goes down — now I don't know if we can keep this sustained for a long period of time without our big guys &mash; we've got guys who can fill in and fill the void for the time being and feel confident we can still score enough runs and play good enough defense to win a ballgame."
A suicide squeeze in the seventh inning by Adam Kennedy and a two-run double by Scott Van Slyke in the eighth inning gave the Dodgers the insurance they needed to sweep the Rockies.
Ted Lilly ended up recovering from that first inning going seven innings to take his record to 5-0.
"As you can see we do things that are necessary to win games," Lilly noted.
And so far they have.
Kemp is going to have an MRI on Monday. "I'm defintely not going on the DL," Kemp noted. "That's not going to happen. The team needs me." Obviously the Dodgers will need their big guys, their stars to play their best to compete throughout the season, and losing Kemp for an extended period of time will hurt.
"You just can't do it long term," Mattingly said. "It doesn't make me nervous in the short-term."
Meanwhile the Arizona Diamondbacks come into town for a two-game series. And the Dodgers remain in first place with a six-game cushion in the NL West and the best record in baseball. While it's still might be too soon to crown them, at least they're showing signs that they have the fight.