Dodgers maintain momentum as second half starts

PHOENIX -- Four days away from the action and it was as if the All-Star break never happened for the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers.

The pitching staff might have looked a little rusty, but the offense continued to show life in a 13-7 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday.

How is this for an answer to Clayton Kershaw’s recent back injury: The Dodgers have won their past four games, have won eight of 11 since their previous homestand started and are 11-4 since Kershaw last took the mound on June 26.

The Dodgers moved within 5½ games of the first-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West and continue to lead the wild-card standings by 2½ games.

“I think it’s awesome to see the offense come out [like this], and I think everybody had a hit,” said Justin Turner, who had a first-inning home run among his two hits. “To see us put up runs like that is a good feeling for us as a club. After the break, you never know how everybody is going to feel or what’s going to happen, so to see us come out of the gates and put up runs like that is a good sign for us.”

An offense that has been soggy for much of the season scored double-digit runs for the second time in the past four games. The Dodgers also have scored five or more runs six times since June 30 and eight times since June 27.

And the standout performer was somebody who wasn’t even in the organization until a June 19 trade. Chris Taylor, in his 97th career game and 11th with the Dodgers, saw to it that his first career home run was a grand slam. He collected six RBIs and missed out on the cycle by a single.

Taylor had a chance at the cycle in the eighth inning and laid down a surprise bunt attempt that was fielded to the left of the mound by Diamondbacks pitcher Josh Collmenter, who made the play at first base.

“Mentally, it’s big to have a game like this, especially early in my season, as far as the big leagues go,” Taylor said. “I think the biggest thing is just for my confidence and to help me relax a little bit and help me to play free, like I was in Triple-A.”

As far as bunting for a single on a night when he was ripping the cover off the ball, Taylor had no regrets.

“I thought it was a good situation with the third baseman back,” Taylor said. “It’s always been a part of my game, regardless of the [earlier] hits. You put me in that situation again, I’m always going to try it. That’s always something I take pride in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good angle on it, and the pitcher made a nice play.”

It was just that swinging away was the best bet for the Dodgers all night. Their 18 hits represented a season high, and the 13 runs were their highest since they scored 15 on Opening Day at San Diego.

That season-opening series was back when Kershaw was healthy and the club was on cruise control. But glaring inconsistencies began to surface -- all but on the days when Kershaw pitched.

The club’s recent run of success seems to be the result of a collective realization that Kershaw was carrying too much of the load, even as a player who saw action only once every five days. Others have started to pull their weight.

“I think that although we were playing pretty good baseball before the break, I thought that getting away and getting unplugged a little bit for our guys, the energy was there,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We’ve kind of reset, and I feel good about going forward and winning tomorrow.”

The reality during the Dodgers’ recent turnaround is that plenty of factors had been in play. The bullpen had been rolling. The defense had been solid. And even though the starters had not been giving the club length, they were keeping the team in games.

The success of the bullpen might be the biggest reason why the Dodgers have started figuring out how to win the close ones. Los Angeles was 8-1 in its last nine one-run games before the break.

Friday's victory was a rare one with breathing room, and it came on Bud Norris’ third start with his new team. That he was able to defeat the Diamondbacks shows how fresh of a start this is for the right-hander: Norris had been 0-7 in eight previous games (five starts) against Arizona.

Norris did give up four runs in five innings, and Casey Fien had a rare rough night out of the bullpen -- giving up three runs, while recording only one out -- but the offense was able to carry this one.

“You never know what can happen in this stadium, but our guys swung the bats,” Norris said. “I think everybody in the lineup had a hit, so that’s big. It was just a great way to start the second half.”