It's been awhile since we used this space to check in on the boys in blue. On May 14, six weeks ago tonight, the Los Angeles Dodgers had just been swept in four games by the Cincinnati Reds at home. A prominent southern California newspaper headline read 'worse than the worst.' The Dodgers were 16-24, and two nights later they would be 16-26. A lot has changed since then.
Tuning out the Dodgers wouldn't have been a bad idea at that point, but that's not what happened. Our eyes were still on the prize, as it were, it just that there were much more interesting things going on. An expansion team in Vegas had a legitimate shot at a hockey title. The Golden State Warriors won again, although that's not all that newsworthy. A horse won a triple crown. There was an election. There's a big soccer thing happening, so we thought we'd check that out. Oh, and yeah, a week after the Dodgers sunk to the depths of ten games below .500, a really famous British dude married some American chick, and millions of people watched it live in the middle of the night (don't be ridiculous, I taped it).
As of this moment, 10:24 PDT Monday June 25, the Los Angeles Dodgers are just a game-and-half out of first place in the National League's western division. Their ace starting pitcher has had a bad back, or arm, or both. Another lefty has just come back from blisters, their best right hander tossed seven shutout innings against the Cubs tonight, threw only 84 pitches, and inexplicably got pulled anyway, and guys you never heard of keep appearing in games, and then disappear back to Oklahoma City. But the Dodgers are winning. How, you ask? By hitting home runs with nobody on base.
It's a weird thing, and not exactly what you would think would be a recipe for success. Yesterday, the Dodgers beat the New York Mets 8-7 in 11 innings to sweep a three-game series. They hit seven home runs, all with nobody on, and still needed a couple of extra frames. The Dodgers went back-to-back to start the game with Kike Hernandez and Max Muncy. They would later get home runs by Cody Bellinger, Hernandez again, Joc Pederson, Bellinger again, and Justin Turner in the top of the eleventh. Not exactly murderer's row, but the seven solo homers ties a major league record. Turner has been getting credit for the game-winner, but what about leading hitter Matt Kemp grounding into a double play in the eighth inning? Hernandez scored on the play, and it didn't even involve a home run. Tonight, the Dodgers, safely back home in LA after a 4-2 road trip, beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1. The runs were solo homers by Hernandez and Chris Taylor.
To be fair, though, the solo homer is just how the Dodgers have been winning the past few games. The home run, though, has been the key, whether guys are on base or not. Friday in New York, the Dodgers scored 5 runsó4 on a Bellinger grand slam, and a solo shot by Yasiel Puig. The next night, Kemp hit a pinch-grand slam, and Muncy also went deep.
Here's the thing, with the possible exception of Bellinger, you wouldn't pick any of these guys to win a home run hitting contest. They aren't Giancarlo Stanton, or Aaron Judge, or Mike Trout, or Bryce Harper, but get this. The Dodgers lead the National League in homers. They topped the 100 mark in New York in just 75 games (four American League teams have more). In June alone, the Dodgers have hit 48 (including tonight) in 22 games, and there's still a week left.
Since two nights after that sweep by the Reds (and our latest column about them), the Dodgers are 25-9. They say it's a marathon, and not a spint, but if the season ended right now, the Dodgers would face the Cubs in the NL Wild Card game. Not bad for a team that was worse than the worst, just six weeks ago.
Kickin' it: Before the start of play today, all 32 teams in the World Cup soccer tournament in Russia have played two games. In those 32 contests, there have been no 0-0 draws, and only seven ties. However, there has been a grand total of 85 goals, which means an average of 2.7 goals per game. So, even with England's 6-1 blowout of Panama, and the scintillating (seriously) 3-3 tie between Spain and Portugal, the average score has been about 2-1. Not without drama, though.
With the second pick...: I learned something about my sports-watching self this week that troubles me. I apparently would rather watch the NBA draft than an actual NBA game. I tuned in to make sure the Sacramento Kings took Marvin Bagley the Third with the second pick, but watched the entire first round. I even fast-forwarded through the second, and stopped when they announced each selection. I don't know what's wrong with me, but at least I can't say I haven't heard of these guys when they do something, or get hurt, next year.
Doink: I might be too soccered up, but I think it's the aluminum bat. I never really get into the College World Series. Oregon State and Arkansas are meeting in a best-of-three for the championship, but game one got rained out in Omaha tonight. The only reason I know that is because ESPN was there in time for the beginning of the Dodgers-Cubs game.