Using bank, Dodgers laughing all the way to playoffs
Since June 22, Los Angeles seeing big returns on investments doubted by many
The Los Angeles Dodgers are small-market teams' worst nightmare.
They are a big-market team.
They are spending money.
And they are winning.
Oh, and the new ownership group is just getting its feet wet. The Dodgers have begun to revamp the scouting and player development system so they can create a constant in-house flow of talent to the big leagues.
The butt of jokes in the baseball world for the first two months of this season, the Dodgers have turned the NL West race into a runaway and are showing no signs of slowing down.
The Dodgers entered Wednesday night's game against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field with a six-game winning streak and a lead of 13 1/2 games over second-place Arizona in the NL West.
It was the second-biggest lead in the big leagues, as Atlanta carried an advantage of 14 1/2 games over Washington in the NL East.
But from where the Dodgers have come to where they are, and how they have enjoyed the benefits from a series of high-priced additions that raised eyebrows throughout baseball can't be ignored.
Think about it.
Hanley Ramirez, acquired from Miami on July 25, 2012, is making $15.5 million this year with another $16 million in 2014.
Los Angeles is paying Boston ex-patriots Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett a combined $56.75 million this year, and Gonzalez has more than $106 million coming over the next five seasons, Crawford $82.5 million over the next four and Beckett $15.75 million next year.
Offseason free-agent addition Zack Greinke is making $19 million in the first year of a six-year, $147 million deal, and this year's in-season addition, right-hander Ricky Nolasco, is making $11.5 million and headed to free agency.
Those six players alone combine for a base salary $102.75 million, which is more than the Opening Day payrolls of the entire rosters of 16 Major League teams.
There were giggles in the baseball world initially. The Dodgers, two games out at the time of their Aug. 25, 2012, acquisition of Crawford, Beckett, Gonzalez and Nick Punto from the Red Sox, went 17-18 to finish the season, finishing eight games behind San Francisco in the NL West, and lost 60 of the first 107 games after that trade.
And the struggles continued into 2013.
But then. …
Sitting in last-place in the NL West with a 30-42 record after a 5-2 loss to San Diego on June 21, the Dodgers have since rattled off a 53-13 record. It is the fourth-best 66-game stretch in Major League history and the best since the 1938 New York Yankees went 53-12-1. The 1906 Chicago Cubs went on a 56-10 binge on their way to a franchise-record 116 wins, and the 1912 New York Giants had a 55-10-1 run en route to the second of three consecutive NL pennants.
The Dodgers climbed in the standings past San Francisco (24-41 since June 22), San Diego (24-40), Colorado (28-37) and Arizona (29-35). The Dodgers have won 53 games? The second-best record in the big leagues since June 22 belongs to Atlanta (42-22). Detroit (41-26) is the only other big league team with more than 38 wins.
The Dodgers have lost back-to-back games only twice in the 56-game stretch.
Oh, there was a pitfall. Beckett had shoulder surgery in July after having made only eight starts and going 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA.
But the other veterans have been key factors in the Dodgers' surge, even if the bulk of the attention has been on the the arrival of Yasiel Puig in early July.
Consider that during the Dodgers' 53-13 surge, in which last year's MVP contender Matt Kemp has been limited to 11 games because of injuries:
• Greinke is 11-1 with a 2.08 ERA, and he also leads the team with a .367 batting average.
• Nolasco has gone 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 11 starts since joining the Dodgers, who are 9-2 in his starts.
• Ramirez has hit .327 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs, leading the team in both average and home runs over 54 games. He also leads the team with nine stolen bases.
• Gonzalez has hit .281 with 11 home runs and a team-best 42 RBIs.
• And Crawford has worked his way through injuries to appear in 48 of the games, hitting .289, providing veteran stability in the leadoff spot.
And the Dodgers?
Well, they are feeling so good about where they are with 24 games remaining in the regular season they are making sure they get the key players the proper rest.
On Tuesday, missing from the lineup were Puig, Ramirez, catcher A.J. Ellis and shortstop Juan Uribe (who did pinch-hit in the eighth).
On Wednesday, Hyun-Jin Ryu had his start pushed back to Friday to give him two extra days of rest, and the Dodgers decided to take a look at recently added Edinson Volquez, who was not only dumped by San Diego but was 0-4 with a 13.08 ERA against the Rockies this year with the Padres, and he was 1-4 with an 8.39 ERA in seven career starts at altitude.
Manager Don Mattingly may have been on the firing line three months ago, but right now he has the luxury of being able to get a glimpse of where the spare parts could fit for the Dodgers in the postseason.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.