Dodgers return home from 7-1 Road Trip, The Blog Comes Off Brief Hiatus

Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu might come from different cultures and speak different languages, but when it comes to baseball, the rookies are helping to carry the Dodgers with a combination of youthful swagger and shocking veteran-like poise in their approach to the game. Could the Dodgers feature Co-Rookie Of The Year Award winners this season? (Images source: Associated Press at http://binaryapi.ap.org/4dbaaf85d8844b42af6462650c17e9bf/512x.jpg)

Good Morning Dodger Fans,

Well, even the most dedicated of writers needs a couple days off now and then, but The Blog is back in time for this weekend’s series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

As you are all probably very well aware, the Dodgers are returning from a road trip in which they swept the Chicago Cubs and then took three out of four from the St. Louis Cardinals.  Yasiel Puig raised his average 13 points to .377.  A.J. Ellis hit another one of his legendary clutch home runs.  And of all the pitchers to lose a game in the series, Clayton Kershaw was the only Dodger to lose on the trip.

A.J. Ellis doesn’t have eye-popping stats, but he does the little things that make the difference in this 2013 season. The clutch hit. Last night’s 3 run homer that blasted the Dodgers out to a 4-1 lead in St. Louis. And of course who can forget his late-inning heroics with a bases-clearing double in San Francisco on July 7th? The Dodger catcher continues to build his own legend while playing with a tenacity that reminds The Blog of another Dodger great: Mike Scioscia. (Image source: True Blue Crew at http://www.thetruebluecrew.com/assets/070212-aj-ellis.jpg)

By the way, Hyun-Jin Ryu bolstered his case for the National League Rookie Of The Year award last night with 7 innings of one run ball.  His record stands at 11-3.  Could a co-Rookie-of-the-Year award be a possibility?  Between Ryu and Puig, the Dodgers have two incredible first year ballplayers who have brought energy, enthusiasm, and most importantly some quality performances to the team the entire time they’ve been here.

Regardless of whether or not any Dodgers win individual awards, they come home 14 games over .500 with a 5 1/2 game lead in the National League West and every member of the team regardless of age from youngsters like Puig, Ryu and Paco Rodriguez all the way to grizzled vets in utility roles like Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston, Jr. are contributing to what is now a 34-8 run since spring turned into summer as they charge toward what once appeared to be an improbably fall.

After taking three out of four on the road against one of the few teams in the league who have a better record than them, the Dodgers immediately come home for one of two remaining series against tough American League East teams, and the Tampa Bay Rays have been nearly as hot as the Dodgers over the past two months, though they got cooled off a bit in the desert in a two game set in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks earlier this week.

Of course, the Dodgers’ 7-1 road trip wasn’t as easy as it looked.  Aside from getting past a very good St. Louis Cardinals team who’s pitching rivals that of the Dodgers, who feature one of the best defenses in the Major Leagues, and who’s manager Mike Matheny is in many ways a cerebral descendent of long-time Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, they played a Chicago Cubs team that has been generating some heat of its own and has a young star of its own who has displayed some very Puig-like tendencies.  Outfielder Junior Lake received his chance to make his impact on the Windy City, and what an impact it has been.  He showed his offensive and defensive prowess against the Arizona Diamondbacks, then launched two home runs against the Dodgers in the opening game of their four game set.  He followed that game up with a four hit game.  Puig and Lake went back and forth with efficient hitting performances and highlight reel defensive performances.

As for the Cardinals, they suffered two injuries to their pitching staff that were very unfortunate.  Shelby Miller left the game after just two pitches on Wednesday night when Carl Crawford lined a ball off his arm.  Jake Westbrook pitched valiantly in emergency relief, but on short rest he got rocked around by a hungry Dodger offense and became more of a bullpen saver than someone who could legitimately win the game for the Cardinals.  Still, Westbrook’s effort should be noted, saving Matheny from burning out his bullpen while giving Carlos Martinez a chance to make an emergency start in Westbrook’s place.

Martinez, for his part, was absolutely electric for about the first three innings.  Frankly, if the kid becomes disciplined and either becomes primarily a reliever (which he could be with his 100 MPH heat, which moves well and is absolutely electric,) or learns to dial it down a notch so that he has some gas in the tank as games move along, he could be a pretty good Major League pitcher.  Unfortunately, by the fifth inning Martinez had lost his best fastball and Ellis hit a 3-1 offering that clocked in about 93 MPH and lacked Martinez’s earlier movement into the bullpen out in left-center field, giving the Dodgers a 4-1 lead they would not relinquish.

The team comes home now to begin their series against the Tampa Bay Rays tonight at 7:10 at Dodger Stadium.  Chris Capuano (4-6, 4.16 ERA) has pitched well of late and seems to have held onto the fifth starter spot for now.  He’ll be facing David Price (6-5, 3.36 ERA.)  James Loney will also be making his first trip back to Dodger Stadium since last August’s trade that sent him to Boston as part of a package that netted the Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.

Tonight’s game is expected to be well-sold, so please be patient when entering the ballpark tonight and try to arrive early if possible.

By the way, the Magic Number to clinch the division is 43.  Any combination of Dodger wins and Diamondbacks losses which add up to 43 (assuming that no team moves past the Diamondbacks in the interim) will result in the Dodgers being the 2013 National League West Champions and qualify them for the NLDS.

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