Dodgers' offense prepares for test
L.A. will have something to be proud of if it can continue to hit against Philadelphia
CINCINNATI -- As a reporter, my job is to filter through all the conflicting messages being presented by the different sides to bring you the real story. When it comes to this Los Angeles Dodgers offense, however, I must confess that for the moment, I don't have the real story, as I am unable to figure out which version of the Dodgers is the authentic one.
Is it the team that struggled for all those weeks, clawing for every run and seemingly doomed the minute it fell behind? Or is it the team we have watched over the past week, the one whose 9-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds before 28,327 on Sunday at Great American Ball Park marked the fifth time in the Dodgers' past seven games that they have scored at least seven runs?
The bad news is, I don't know. The good news -- or perhaps it isn't good news at all -- is that we are about to find out.
The suddenly high-flying Dodgers, who now have won three consecutive series to creep back to within shouting distance of the .500 mark, celebrated their seventh win in their past 11 games by boarding a plane to Philadelphia, where they will begin a three-game set Monday night against what the standings say is the best team in the National League.
If you're looking for an advantage, well, the Dodgers won't have to face Roy Halladay, the Phillies' ace and the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, because his spot in the rotation won't come up. But when you're dealing with the Phillies, it doesn't really matter what the luck of the draw is, because there never really is any luck to the draw.
Like I said, we are about to find out. But if the Dodgers can take comfort in nothing else, they at least can feel like they have some momentum behind them going in.
"Everybody is doing their job," said Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who went 7-for-11 with three home runs, eight RBIs and five walks in the Reds series. "Everybody on this team is capable of putting up big numbers and doing great things. I think it starts with our leadoff guys, Jamey Carroll and Aaron [Miles]. Those guys are getting on base. They need to keep doing that, and the guys in the middle need to keep doing our jobs and driving them in."
Indeed, with the Dodgers having lost Rafael Furcal to yet another injury Friday night, Carroll, who was hitting first, and Miles, who was hitting second, combined to reach base 13 times in 24 plate appearances in the final two games against the Reds. The Dodgers scored a total of 20 runs in those games.
But Miles likely will return to his role as a utility infielder. Juan Uribe is expected to be activated from the disabled list just before Monday's game, whereupon he presumably will reclaim his spot as the everyday second baseman. That means third baseman Casey Blake probably will move back into the 2 hole and become one of those table setters, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Blake is hitting a rather pedestrian .276, but he has a .376 on-base percentage, which is far more important at the top of the order.
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Carroll and Blake getting on base probably is the key to the Dodgers' ability to prolong the run they are on. It is difficult to imagine anyone this side of Cy Young himself being able to silence Kemp right now, so if he can keep getting RBI chances in one of the league's most hitter-friendly parks, the Dodgers might be able to make some noise offensively.
But as we saw Wednesday night, when they were shut out on four hits by previously winless former Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, this Dodgers explosion can be briefly interrupted by the right pitcher. On paper, at least, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels all would seem to be the right pitcher.
So should we feel confident that the past week is a more accurate representation of the Dodgers' offense than all those weeks of misfiring?
"I can't really ... say [that] at this point," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "I was sure we were capable of putting some runs up, and obviously this park didn't hurt. We hit some balls that probably wouldn't have gone out at our place. But it was nice to win, and we're going to get some guys back [Monday]."
Some of what we witnessed over the past few days from the Dodgers (28-32) was aberrational, of course. They're usually not going to get a home run and a double from their starting pitcher, which they got from Chad Billingsley (5-4) on Sunday, and they can't count on coming back from a five-run deficit in the eighth inning, as they did on the strength of Kemp's grand slam Saturday.
The rest of it, though, could be a sign of things to come. Or not. The truth might set the Dodgers free, or the truth might hurt. Either way, the truth is coming.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.