Today, the Dodgers are the hottest team in the league and hold a comfortable 7.5 game lead in the NL West. It wasn’t too long ago though, that everyone was saying the Dodgers had overspent and overextended in putting together a roster that just couldn’t gel. The boys in blue were in last place in their division, and the outlook for 2013 was pretty bleak. So what caused this drastic turnaround?
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Over the last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers made it known that they were after one thing, a World Series championship. Since their disastrous run with former owner Frank McCourt came to an end around the same time McCourt’s marriage did, the new ownership group has been wheeling and dealing through trades and free agency in an effort to field a championship team.
No, not actual magic. The Dodgers’ insane hot streak cannot be attributed to some kind of dark sorcery (at least we can’t prove it), but instead, can at least partially be credited to the members of their new ownership group, one of which happens to be Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Getting out from under the toxic cloud of their former owner has made for a noticeable attitude and culture change for the Dodgers, and while it took some time to come together on the field, it has certainly shown of late.
Just two months ago, as the Dodgers sat 9.5 games back in the NL West cellar, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Don Mattingly became the first high-profile casualty of the 2013 MLB season. Sports ‘experts’ everywhere were calling for his firing, quoting the age-old adage, “Something has got to change.” Nothing changed though, the franchise stayed faithful to their manager, and the team started winning games by the ass-load, becoming the first NL team to go 40-10 since 1975. Sometimes it makes sense to dance with the one who brought you.
While the Dodgers have been surging on the field, their season has been noticeably bereft of controversy off of it. No owners going through a bitter public divorce, no fans getting pummeled in the parking lots, no Rihanna. Despite their bumpy road in the standings, the Dodgers have been quietly going about their business and staying out of the papers for anything other than baseball. Also, it probably helps that Josh Beckett has been injured all season, otherwise we’d be seeing weekly headlines about his running a beer and chicken shack out of the locker room on game days.
When your team payroll is $220 million and you’re still somehow sitting in last place, critics will happily point out that you can’t always just go out and buy a winning team. However, string together a few of the year’s longest winning streaks and those critics will suddenly point out their admiration for your owners’ commitment to building a quality franchise. Over the last year, the Dodgers have added Beckett, Adrian Gonzales, Zack Greinke, Jamal Crawford, Nick Punto and Hanley Ramirez. All of whom, except for Beckett, have enjoyed a stellar 2013 season.
Well, you knew this was coming, but there’s no denying that the Dodgers’ turnaround has gone hand in hand with the arrival of rookie sensation Yasiel Puig. Yes, purists will be quick to point out all of the boneheaded plays he’s made like running into his own centerfielder for a ball that wasn’t his, or getting thrown out by a mile trying to stretch every grounder to right field into a double, but still, you’ve got to love this guy. Through 60+ games he’s still hitting well above .350, and he has injected the Dodgers with an undeniable, if sometimes misguided, passion and energy.