Dodgers return home unscathed

DENVER -- Ned Colletti, as one of the perks of being the general manager, was one of the first people to get a look at the Los Angeles Dodgers' schedule for this season when there was still a lot of last season left. It was August, to be exact, and among the first things that jumped out to Colletti was the grueling road trip the team finally completed on Sunday with a 10-8 victory over the Colorado Rockies before 32,650 at Coors Field.

"At the time, Cincinnati was about to be the defending Central Division champions, and Philly had been one of the best teams in the league for four years running," Colletti told a small gathering of reporters on Friday. "And this team [the Rockies] is always a challenge. I thought this would be a very big [trip] for us, and it held true."

For all the misadventures that befell the Dodgers on this 10-game trek through three of the National League's biggest minefields, for all the big leads that almost got away and even for the one that did, they managed to break even after taking the final two of this four-game series with the Rockies. It wasn't the kind of result you pop champagne over, but for a team that has had to look hard for anything positive to celebrate this year, it certainly wasn't a negative.

Remember that punchless offense we saw so much of in April and May? Well, the Dodgers scored 61 runs on the trip, continuing a resurgence that began on the previous homestand. Remember all those solid pitching performances that went to waste because the Dodgers starters were basically doomed the second they gave up a run? Well, the Dodgers posted a team ERA of 5.48 ERA on the trip, including 5.27 by the starters and 5.85 by an increasingly flimsy bullpen that seemed to collectively cower in the face of hitter-friendly Coors.

"This is a tough place to pitch, and it's tough to keep that team down," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "We have to get on a roll where we put hitting and pitching together. That is when you can get on some pretty good runs, and we haven't had that yet."

They held their own against three of the best teams in the league, but as Blake said, they still haven't really gone on a run all season. The Dodgers have yet to win more than three games in a row, they have yet to sweep a series, they have yet to really scare anybody despite the fact their offense has been uncharacteristically explosive of late.

But if it all starts with baby steps, this series and this trip was exactly that.

"Our big problem has been hitting with guys in scoring position and getting key hits, but we have been doing that the last few games," Dodgers catcher Rod Barajas said. "I definitely think we're heading in the right direction, but we have to get on a roll at some point. If guys keep swinging the bats the way we have been, we know our pitching is going to be there."

The Dodgers even did something to close out the trip that they haven't really done all year, which is to beat a top-level starting pitcher in Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, whom they lit up for seven runs and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings in the finale. Granted, Jimenez is a far cry from the NL All-Star starter he was just a year ago -- last season, his only first-half loss was to the Dodgers, and this year, his only first-half win so far also was against the Dodgers, a four-hit shutout on June 1 -- but the Dodgers did beat him, for whatever that is worth nowadays.

It also should be noted that even with all those bullpen implosions and near-implosions against the Rockies, the Dodgers' five victories on this trip came by a total margin of 16 runs, while the five losses came by a total margin of eight. What this means is that the Dodgers were in every game, that they were within a clutch hit here or three from faring much better on their journey than they did.

That is encouraging, especially with the Dodgers now about to begin their longest homestand of the season, a 12-game stretch that begins on Monday night against the Reds. They will be followed by the Houston Astros, who own the worst record in the majors; the surging Detroit Tigers; and the struggling Los Angeles Angels, who always give the Dodgers fits no matter how they happen to be faring in their own league.

Between now and the All-Star break, the Dodgers (31-36) will play 19-of-25 at home and another three in Anaheim. So if the Dodgers are going to gain enough ground to get back into this still-winnable NL West race, the time to start making their move probably is now.

This time, simply breaking even won't be good enough.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.