LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers aren't winning because of Yasiel Puig. It was exciting from the start, gripping theater night after night -- sometimes drama, sometimes comedy, dashes of tragedy -- but they were 7-10 in the first two-and-a-half weeks he was in the major leagues.
The Dodgers aren't winning because of Hanley Ramirez. He came off the disabled list just a day after Puig caught his flight from Chattanooga to L.A.
They are, however, winning because of Puig and Ramirez. They are winning because of a dynamic that has formed, over time, around the twin energy sources of this Dodgers lineup.
Before Puig and Ramirez, the Dodgers were averaging 3.5 runs per game. Since Ramirez got back on the field, they are averaging 4.6 runs per game, 5.2 during this 16-3 joy ride toward the cusp of first place in the NL West from smack dab in last place.
Puig and Ramirez just kept going. Eventually, it didn't exactly trickle down to the rest of the team. It ignited it.
"When you get a couple of guys in your lineup doing things like they're doing, it puts so much pressure on a pitcher. All of a sudden, you get to the six or seven hitter and you're thinking, 'Oh, I can breathe,' and one of those guys pops you," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
One day it was Juan Uribe, who drove in seven runs in a game in San Francisco. One day it was A.J. Ellis, who drove in the key runs in the Dodgers' marathon win Wednesday that finished off the sweep in Arizona. One day it was Zack Greinke, of all people, getting three hits.
You never really know when momentum is going to lurch forward or when it will come crashing to a halt. While this thing goes on -- the Dodgers are still 1½ games out of first place and over .500 for the first time since April 15 -- the Dodgers aren't all that keen on analyzing it to death.
What they do know is that two scalding-hot hitters haven't just added heft to their lineup, they've added length. From Puig batting second to Andre Ethier or Uribe hitting sixth, the Dodgers have a hitter capable of doing permanent damage. Those are the kinds of lineups big-money teams like the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals fielded for so many years. It's the kind of lineup the big-money Dodgers thought they would have.
Now that they're healthy, they just might.
So, a team that used to rely on near-heroic starting pitching and then hold its breath through the final few innings to eke out wins has a few laughers here and there. It takes leads of four, five -- gasp -- maybe even six runs into the final few innings from time to time. Not every bullpen move by Mattingly sets off waves of angst on Twitter.
"It's been nice recently," Ellis said. "Early in the year, any game that we won felt like it was a nail-biter in the ninth inning, just trying to scratch one across."
The thing is, Ramirez and Puig don't figure to be straddling .400 until the final out of 2013. Puig already has shown signs of cooling off. His strikeouts have spiked and his extra-base hits have plummeted. Ramirez probably benefited in a strange way from missing so much time. It allowed the rest of his body to rest and, perhaps, reignited his passion for the game after all the losing in Miami and even after he got to L.A.
But, again, this is about more than one hitter. It's about more than two hitters. Teams have already shown an aversion to pitching to Ramirez. On Thursday, Colorado walked him three times, including twice intentionally.
Carl Crawford presumably will get his legs under him again. Matt Kemp showed signs of breaking out before his latest trip to the disabled list. Who knows, in the second half perhaps those two will be pulling the hardest on their paddles. Maybe Puig and Ramirez will get to coast a while.
They've certainly earned it. They pulled the Dodgers out of the mud.