Dodgers finally fulfilling the formula

ST. LOUIS -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is no mathematician, but he knows a good baseball team when he sees one. When he sat down with his coaching staff during spring training and laid out the Dodgers' roster and mapped out the schedule, he didn't see any reason why the team couldn't win 100 games this season.

"I think we always knew we were capable of doing something big," Mattingly said. "When we left spring training, we talked about 100 wins. That was our goal. I don't even know what our record is right now. I don't know if that's possible."

After Thursday's 5-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Dodgers are 64-50 and would need to go 36-12 the rest of the way to reach 100 wins. It might seem impossible, but the Dodgers have gone 34-8 in their past 42 games, their best stretch of that length since 1953.

"Well, if we win every day though ..." Mattingly said with a smile when told 100 wins was still within reach for the Dodgers this season. "That's kind of part of the plan, to win every day."

Mattingly actually had a plan in place for the Dodgers to get to 100 wins, and then, well, the season started.

"The first part of the season wasn't looking good," he said. "I had a formula for 100 wins and this wasn't it. It wasn't to win every game the second half of the season. It went from being consistent to being fire hot."

Mattingly's formula would have made sense, and may have even come to fruition, had the Dodgers been healthy. His simple formula for winning 100 games was winning 10 out of every 16 games, which doesn't seem like a lofty goal for a team with the highest payroll in baseball.

"I think it was like 3-2, 3-2 and 4-2," Mattingly said. "It doesn't seem that hard to go 10-6 to me if you got a good club. Just win 10 out of 16 games during the course of the season. It doesn't seem that hard. Obviously it is, but that was my goal."

Mattingly's goals in terms of wins and losses have obviously changed since the start of the season when the Dodgers opened 30-42 and in last place in the NL West. Thankfully for Mattingly and the Dodgers, they won't need to win 100 games to win the division this season.

"That's one of those things you talk about in spring training when you're setting a goal as a team," Mattingly said. "It tells you as a team you have to be consistent throughout the course of the season. You want your team to get out of the box and play well. You talk about the season in terms of a marathon. Everybody thinks you jog it, but some of those world-record guys are running, so if you want to be one of the best teams it's not a sprint, but it is a pretty good run. We want to run like that and stay at that pace."

The Dodgers began their marathon season with a wounded limp, sending 15 players to the disabled list and patching together 58 different lineups through the first 60 games of the season. Since June 21, however, L.A. has won 34 of 42 games and has won 17 of its past 18 road games. It's a scalding stretch of baseball that Mattingly doesn't expect will get much better even when Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp return to the lineup.

Ramirez should blend in seamlessly at shortstop when he returns next week, but what happens when Kemp comes back later this month? How does Mattingly work him back into an outfield that already has Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford?

"We can only play so many guys at a time," Mattingly said. "So if I have four outfielders and all four of them are swinging the bat good, I can still only play three. We're playing well so I don’t think I can sit here and say we're going to play even better. It helps us if we get everybody back because we have different combinations of guys we can play. It changes your lineup and makes you deeper and we can load lineups against righty, lefty easier. It makes us more flexible."

One player who will not be affected by Kemp's eventual return is Puig. He's the one player who will not be removed from the lineup anytime soon as long as he's healthy. Puig is not only batting .377 this season with 11 home runs and 25 RBIs in 57 games, but he has taken his game to another level recently, as scary as that might sound. He batted .480 during the Dodgers' 7-1 road trip and has a seven-game hitting streak. He's also getting smarter at the plate. After just seven walks in his first 42 games, Puig now has 12 walks in his past 14 games.

"He's a guy who's going to make adjustments," Mattingly said. "That's the one thing we've seen is that he's getting more and more patient up there and less emotional. Early on, it seemed like he was so emotional and he'd swing at a high fastball and then he'd try to swing harder. If you can play, you better make adjustments because once you see what they're doing to you, it got around quick. One team did something to him and it didn't take long for the next team it try it and it worked again and everybody was doing it. Just like that. Now he's not chasing anymore. He's a lot more patient."

Puig's struggles began in San Francisco last month and continued throughout July as he chased pitches out of the zone. Since then, however, he has adjusted his approach, has become more patient and is playing almost as well as he did during his record-breaking first month.

"He's forcing them back to the plate now," Mattingly said. "He's never had any problem with balls on the plate. It's the balls out of the zone that are a problem. He's making adjustments. It's cat-and-mouse all the time with the guys like him. You're going to see pitchers try things and if it works they're going to keep trying it, and if it doesn't work they'll try something else until they can start figuring him out. He's just getting smart."

The Dodgers have been hot since Puig was called up two months ago, and the rest of the league is still trying to adjust to them the same way they are to Puig, with even less success. Labeling what the Dodgers are doing as simply a "hot streak," however, is slowly becoming obsolete. The reality is that this isn't just a hot team, but a championship team that's finally playing like one.

"You can call it anything you want," Mattingly said. "I just call it a win. I'm just talking about turning the page and being ready to play tomorrow night. You keep turning the page and keep winning games and keep pressuring everyone else."