It has been precisely one month since the fateful day, June 22, when everything changed.
The Dodgers’ magic carpet ride continued with a road sweep in Washington coming out of the All-Star break that gave them 20 wins in their last 25 games and carried them to the threshold of first place.
There’s really not much you can nitpick when a team beats Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in three straight on the road. The Dodgers got ace-like starting pitching, perfect relief and, on Sunday, an attacking, deep lineup.
In the Dodgers’ happiest imaginings over the spring and winter, this is the team they envisioned.
It was as if Matt Kemp had all this pent-up energy as he waited to join the feast and he dug in wholeheartedly, with three hits, including a home run and a double Sunday. Just his luck, he also injured his ankle and could be lost for at least a few days.
But the Dodgers certainly look capable of giving it a healthy go without the man who was their best player going into April and might one day be again.
In fact, the Dodgers now are perfectly capable of withstanding the loss of Kemp and Yasiel Puig, the Cuban sensation who has come simmering back down to earth in a nasty slump.
Hanley Ramirez, who hit .486 with two home runs in the series, just can’t be stopped right now. It’s more than him, though. Mark Ellis is warming up, Carl Crawford looks like he’s snapping out of his funk.
This is a dangerous team and it could be more dangerous if Kemp can manage to stay on the field and Puig isn’t in some lasting tailspin.
Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke did what they’ve been doing lately, pitching the Dodgers into position to win, but the bullpen, collectively, had the most impressive showing. Dodgers relievers, much-maligned for three months, didn’t allow a run over the weekend and have had a blistering July.
Oh, and Kershaw also pitched a scoreless inning in the National League’s All-Star game loss.
General manager Ned Colletti continues to search other teams’ rosters for a veteran reliever before the July 31 trade deadline and Carlos Marmol continues trying to work his way back, but if Brandon League can get his issues ironed out, the Dodgers are showing signs they could have all the arms they need. Young hard throwers Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez have solidified things considerably.
And, until Ramirez’s fifth-inning error Sunday, the Dodgers -- typically sloppy in the field -- managed to catch and throw the ball without incident.
Who knows, the Dodgers’ best decision this season might have been inactivity. Just when it seemed the public pressure would be too much to bear, team president Stan Kasten and general manager Ned Colletti withstood it and declined to fire manager Don Mattingly.
Mattingly still has his detractors. It's just that fewer people are listening to them now that the Dodgers have made up nine games in the standings in 30 days.
Mattingly had a fairly quiet series, which is as it should be. He benched Puig for Sunday’s game, which seemed reasonable given his cold streak and the fact Kemp again gave him four healthy everyday outfield options. Now that Kemp is out for a while, the Dodgers hope Puig can make an adjustment or two and tap back into his power.
Then, maybe Mattingly will have another riddle to solve. So far, the four-outfielder dilemma has been a mirage because they've rarely all been healthy at once.
One thing that can make a team intimidating to opponents is a bullpen filled with high-velocity guys. Teams know that, if they don’t get to the starter, they’re going to have nothing but uncomfortable at-bats as they try to rally.
With Withrow and Dominguez added to the mix, the Dodgers have five relievers who can either work in or touch 95 mph. That’s grit.
STATE OF CONTENTION
With the probable exception of the San Diego Padres, anybody really could win the NL West. The Dodgers’ move has simply tightened things up even further, with the San Francisco Giants in fourth place, but just 5 ½ games out of first place.
What the Dodgers have going for them, of course, is momentum. As long as that lasts, it looks like it would be foolish to bet against them reaching the postseason. They’ve also made the wild-card standings relevant again now that they sit just one spot out of a spot, 4 ½ games behind the Cincinnati Reds, who come to L.A. next week.