Philadelphia, PA – Few teams had been more disappointing through the first three months of the season than the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But as we sit here on the final weekend before the All-Star break, is there a team that is more likely to win a division title than the Dodgers?
Yes, the Dodgers are not even in first place yet, but they are easily the hottest team in baseball. They have the best pitcher in the league at the moment in Clayton Kershaw and, of course, the ultra-talented Yasiel Puig continues to hit everything in sight.
It also doesn't hurt that the rest of the National League West seems to be in shambles just waiting for someone to take over.
Mark my words, the Dodgers will be that team. When it is all said, not only will the Dodgers win a division title, but they'll have the easiest time in doing so.
With their win over Colorado on Thursday, the Dodgers moved above .500 (46-45) for the first time since they were 7-6 nearly three months ago.
Since falling a season-worst 9 1/2 games behind in the West back on June 22, Los Angeles has gone an MLB-best 16-3 and moved within 1 1/2 games of the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks.
The quick ascent also can be attributed to the Dodgers' strong play against the division, as they are 13-2 over their last 15 against the NL West.
And take a look at that division, by the way.
It's almost amazing Arizona is in front considering the bullpen has 19 blown saves. Colorado has been tremendous, but we can all agree that it is playing well above its heads. For a brief minute, there it looked like San Diego could be the real deal, but its recent 10-game slide has proved otherwise.
Then there are the defending world champion San Francisco Giants, who are closer to last place at the moment than the division lead. They can't seem to get out of their own way, though, and it just appears to be one of those years in San Francisco.
Don't be shocked if the Dodgers are five games up in the NL West this time on Aug. 12.
"It's been a lot of fun, things have turned around," said infielder Mark Ellis. "We're playing better baseball. Any time you can play good baseball and win games and do the right things, it's going to be a lot more fun."
While Puig gets most of the headlines, everyone has been contributing of late.
Take lefty Chris Capuano, for example. Banished to the bullpen when the team acquired Ricky Nolasco from Miami, Capuano was thrust back into the rotation on Thursday in place of the injured Stephen Fife and fired 6 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up his first win since June 19.
"I just tried to take advantage of those extra two days and get as sharp as I could," Capuano said. "I think tonight was probably the best I've felt this season so far just with command of the pitches and the action on them."
Amazingly, the Dodgers are doing all this still with little contributions from perennial MVP candidate Matt Kemp, who has been sidelined since July 5 with a shoulder injury, and is only hitting .254 with four home runs.
Of course, Puig continues to rake at the plate, as the Cuban phenom is hitting .397 with eight home runs and 19 RBI in his 36 games this season. But he may be slowed heading into the break by a sore left hip he originally hurt when he crashed into the Coors Field wall back on July 3.
"It's been bothering me ever since," Puig said through a translator.
But really it's been Hanley Ramirez driving the offense. Finally, healthy Ramirez has resembled the player who was a top-five talent with the Marlins at one time.
While hitting safely in 20 of his last 22 games, Ramirez has a .402 batting average.
"They don't want any part of Hanley," Ellis said.
While teams may not want any part of Ramirez, Puig apparently wanted no part of a meeting with former Arizona Diamondbacks star Luis Gonzalez earlier this week. Gonzalez went up to Puig to introduce himself and relate his own Cuban roots to him. However, Puig wanted no part of the conversation and essentially ignored Gonzalez.
Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire saw what had transpired and got all over the burgeoning superstar after the meeting.
Perhaps it's a good thing for the Dodgers' sake that Puig wasn't chosen for the All-Star Game, as Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman tallied more fan votes to garner the NL's final roster spot.
Puig could probably use the rest, especially now with a barking left hip.
Had Puig been selected to the game, and by the way he still could be brought there, it would have been a circus. Forget the whole "did he play enough games debate," the media frenzy around him would have been insane.
The Dodgers are going to make a run in the second half. They are going to need Puig to do so. A hectic three days in the Big Apple is probably the last thing he would have needed.
By the way, does anyone still want to fire Don Mattingly?