Dodgers are the feel-good hit of the summer

Late June: No football, no basketball, no hockey.

Just baseball.

As God intended.

Of course, don’t tell online sports sites that it’s the middle of baseball season, that we’re almost to the All-Star break. At 10:30 PDT Monday morning, the homepage of ESPN.com was blathering on about NBA free agency, NFL quarterbacks getting big contracts and CBSSports.com’s biggest story was “the Nigerian Takeover of American Sports.” Spoiler alert: None of them is playing baseball.

Dodgers_bellinger_2017
Rookie Cody Bellinger leads the NL in home runs with 24. (John Mena photo)

Now it’s true, ESPN did have a story earlier in the morning on its front page about how the Los Angeles Dodgers had taken over the No. 1 spot in ESPN’s “power rankings,” whatever those are. But by 10:30, it was gone. It still existed if you knew where to look, but apparently, ESPN decided that by 10:30, which was 1:30 p.m. back east, America had had all it could stand of baseball and a team that had won 10 games in a row.

Baseball doesn’t get a lot of time to itself anymore. It used to be that basketball was over by March, hockey was done by April and football spent only about three or four weeks overlapping with baseball.

Spring and summer used to be baseball’s exclusive playground. Being a lifelong Californian, I can’t imagine myself living in New York City, but if I did, the best time would’ve been in the 1950s, when the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees ruled baseball and the sound of radio play-by-play wafted out of each apartment building window.

Now in Los Angeles, radio is the only way a lot of people can even hear Dodgers games since the TV network the team owns is available only on a particular cable system.

That’s too bad, too, since this Dodgers team is so completely worth watching. The team may be absent from TVs in L.A., but it certainly hasn’t been a case of out of sight, out of mind. The Dodgers lead Major League Baseball in average attendance both at home (44,606) and on the road (36,806).

The Dodgers’ 10-game winning streak (heading into Monday night’s interleague series against the Angels) is their first since 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Information. If they win Monday, it’ll be their first 11-game streak since 2006. If the Dodgers go beyond that — they play three more against the 40-39 Angels, one at Dodger Stadium and two in Anaheim, and then play three at San Diego (31-45) — they get into rare franchise history. The Dodgers haven’t won 12 in a row since 1976, 13 in a row since 1965, 14 since 1955 and 15 since 1924.

“Insane” may be the best word to describe the Dodgers offense. ESPN Stats & Info points out the team has led the majors in runs scored (79) and in home runs (27) during the win streak.

Individually, there seems to be a different Dodger producing runs each night, but none more eye-poppingly than rookie Cody Bellinger. He leads the National League in homers with 24. Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ rookie star leads the American League with 26, but he has played in 71 of the Yankees’ 73 games this season; Bellinger didn’t make his debut with the Dodgers until April 25 and has played in only 57 of the Dodgers’ 77 games.

Bellinger has homered 13 times during the Dodgers’ win streak. He has six multihomer games this season, just one behind Mark McGwire’s rookie record in 1987, and was named NL Player of the Week. If Bellinger isn’t NL Rookie of the Year, the sky isn’t blue.

But multihomer games have been fairly common for the Dodgers this season. Just last Tuesday, shortstop Corey Seager, last season’s NL Rookie of the Year, hit three homers against the New York Mets.

The Dodgers have won 16 of their last 17 and during that time, Joc Pederson, Justin Turner, Seager, Bellinger and Yasiel Puig have all been in baseball’s top 15 in OPS figures (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).

Pitching continues to be a main ingredient for the Dodgers and it isn’t just Clayton Kershaw who is doing the dominating. Good thing too, since even though Kershaw leads baseball with 11 wins, he’s given up 17 homers, already more than he’s allowed in any season. But we’ve become spoiled by Kershaw’s brilliance. He still has a 2.47 earned-run average, good for second in the NL, but considering his ERA was 1.69 last year, it’s a little troubling.

However, Alex Wood is 8-0 this season with a 1.86 ERA. Brandon McCarthy is 6-3 with a 3.25 ERA, although Sunday’s start against Colorado (3 innings, 4 earned runs and 3 wild pitches) was atypical for this season. Rich Hill is 4-3, 4.73 going into Monday’s start against the Angels.

Closer Kenley Jansen has been amazing this season. It wasn’t until Sunday that he walked his first batter after 32⅔ innings, 52 strikeouts and 17 saves.

But perhaps more than anything else, the Dodgers are a team you can never count out. That sounds corny and perhaps even biased, but here’s a number to back it up: Out of the Dodgers’ 51 wins, this season, 41% have been come-from-behind wins.

Take Sunday’s victory over the Rockies. The Dodgers, thanks to McCarthy’s erratic performance, were down 5-0 in the third inning. They managed to score four in the bottom of the third with two-run homers by Kike Hernandez and Bellinger. The Rockies got a run back in the fifth and the long game trudged on into the seventh with the Dodgers trailing 6-4.

With the bases loaded in the seventh, Adam Ottavino threw two wild pitches that scored three runs. Two more wild pitches in the eighth scored two more runs. Then Bellinger hit his second home run of the day and a double by Jansen (!), who was in the middle of pitching a five-out save, made the score 12-6.

The mark of a championship club is not just having timely hitting or clutch pitching or depth. Sometimes it’s having the good fortune to score five runs on four wild pitches.

It has been 29 seasons since the Dodgers’ last World Series appearance, when they beat Oakland in 1988. By nearly all accounts, the Dodgers are, at least on June 26, the best team in the National League. Whether that gets them, finally, into another World Series, remains to be seen.

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