Sep 19, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis (17) celebrates with left fielder Scott Van Slyke (33) and third baseman Juan Uribe (5) after beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6 at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

DIVISION CHAMPS! Los Angeles Dodgers Clinch N.L. West In Arizona

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Sep 19, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Members of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6 at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

 

Like Vin Scully said in the telecast, it wasn’t easy…

On June 22, the Dodgers, with a payroll of $230 million – the largest in history – were languishing in dead last place in the National League West, nine and a half games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Quite a few of their key players, such as Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, and big free agent pickup Zack Greinke, were injured, and there was talk that manager Don Mattingly’s days were numbered and that a change would come any day.

Three months later, the Dodgers were splashing in the right field pool at Chase Field in Phoenix (to the anger of the D-Backs, who issued statements about how classless they were) as the N.L. West Champions after a come from behind 7-6 victory that saw Ramirez hitting two home runs, including a tying blast in the 7th inning, and catcher A.J. Ellis smacking the go-ahead homer in the 8th.

This is the first division title for L.A. – and their first time in the postseason – since 2009, and as some of the players were saying afterwards in their champagne-drenched locker room, it took the whole roster to achieve this.

Three things, in my view, were the biggest catalysts to this crown:

1.  The arrival of Yasiel Puig

All the young Cuban did after arriving at Dodger Stadium on June 3 was tear the league up with his shotgun throws, his reckless abandon in the outfield, and his devatsating power as the likely National League Rookie of the Year is currently batting .332 – after a blistering start in which he batted well over .500 – with 17 home runs, 39 runs batted in and 11 stolen bases in just three months.

The 22-year old galvanized the Dodgers and their fans, and when he matures and curtails his mistakes, he will have a long and wonderful career.

2.  Key players got healthy

Particularly Ramirez and Greinke as despite Kemp missing more then half the season with hamstring and ankle problems, Ramirez and Grienke more than took up the slack as the Dodger shortstop’s batting average is .351 with 20 homers.

As for Greinke, he came back with a vengance after suffering a broken collarbone in that brawl with San Diego earlier this year.

Sep 19, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis (17) celebrates with third baseman Michael Young (10) after hitting a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The right-hander is now 15-3 with a 2.75 earned run average, complementing Clayton Kershaw (more on him and the rest of the pitchers in a bit) quite nicely and giving L.A. an excellent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.

Which will serve them well for the playoffs.

3.  The pitching, particularly the relievers, was lights out

In other words, they came through BIG time.

With his 1.94 ERA, the only thing that might prevent Kershaw from winning his second Cy Young Award is the fact that he has lost nine games to go with his 14 wins, which isn’t completely his fault as the left-hander has gotten less-than-great run support.

As for the relievers, led by Kenley Jansen’s 26 saves and 1.94 ERA, they are a significant reason why L.A. will play in October as nearly everyone in that bullpen contributed.

Brian Wilson – AKA The Beard – proved to be great as a setup man as he sports a 1.06 ERA after being out of baseball for a year due to a wrecked arm, and guys like Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell have been lights out as well.

Let’s not forget other key players like Adrian Gonzalez, whose 21 homers and 98 RBIs lead the club, and Juan Uribe and Andre Ethier, who played steady all year and more than picked up the slack when Carl Crawford, Kemp and Ramirez went down.

Now that this West has been won, if Dodger fans think that there’s nothing left to play for until the National League Division Series begins, they need to think again.

They can still clinch home field advantage in the N.L. playoffs as they are two and a half games behind the Atlanta Braves.

With nine regular season contests left, the Dodgers need to keep their key guys sharp, especially Kemp, who has played only 66 games so far and will need to be at his best for the postseason.

L.A. has three more games at Petco Park against the Padres, followed by three dates with the Giants in San Francisco before finishing up their 162 games against the Colorado Rockies at home.

It is imperative that the Dodgers, while not burning anyone out or getting anybody hurt, stay sharp in these last few games.

In the meantime, much congrats to this team! It was a hard-earned title, and Dodger fans should feel most happy about this.

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