How the Los Angeles Dodgers Have Gone from Laughingstock to NL West Contender

Joe GiglioContributor IJune 28, 2013

On the morning of June 21, Dodgers fans woke up to this sobering realization while perusing the baseball standings: Only three franchises—the Houston Astros, Miami Marlins and New York Mets—owned a worse winning percentage than the .417 mark (30-42) coming out of Chavez Ravine.

Despite a payroll over $200 million, the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers were a bad baseball team through 72 games, sporting a run differential of minus-51, sitting nine games out of the loss column in a mediocre division and battling with the Angels for moniker of the most disappointing team in Los Angeles.

Since that moment, the Dodgers haven't lost a baseball game, surpassing the Toronto Blue Jays as the hottest team in the sport and the latest incarnation of a group that looked dead, only to emerge with new life.

Through a combination—or if you prefer, perfect storm—of opportunity and roster changes, the Dodgers have vaulted themselves back into consideration for competition in a division they were supposed to own.

From the play of Cuban rookie phenom Yasiel Puig to the health of former stars to a one-two-three punch atop the starting rotation to the sorry state of the NL West, Los Angeles' win streak has revived its season and set the fanbase up for a summer of meaningful baseball.

First, of course, is the play of Puig. The Cuban sensation hasn't stopped hitting from the moment he arrived, vaulting himself into the Rookie of the Year race. If his magical season continues, the accolades could grow larger.

On Thursday evening, Puig won the game with an at-bat that is sure to stick in the minds of pitching coaches around the league this summer. Simply put: Hitters aren't supposed to have plate coverage like Puig displayed in beating the Phillies bullpen.

While he's not the most disciplined hitter, the ability to turn pitches into game-changing hits is rare. Somewhere, Vladimir Guerrero is smiling.

But as we learned during Puig's first week in the big leagues, his talent and flair for the dramatic can't carry the team alone. That's why the recent returns of Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp have lengthened the Dodgers lineup, giving manager Don Mattingly at least four high-caliber hitters to deploy on a nightly basis in Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Ramirez and Kemp.

From a run-prevention perspective, Los Angeles finally has one of the National League's top starting rotation trios together and taking consistent turns for the staff. While the third member may still not be a household name, the ability to throw Clayton Kershaw (2.08 ERA, 2.67 FIP), Zack Greinke (3.94 ERA, 3.75 FIP) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (2.85 ERA, 3.27 FIP) on consecutive nights is a great way to garner series victories and long win streaks.

Talent, health and production were bound to match at some point this summer for Don Mattingly, but perhaps the biggest reason for the group leapfrogging back into the NL West race is the overall mediocrity of the division.

At 42-36, the Arizona Diamondbacks, currently the leaders in the clubhouse, own the least impressive record of any division leader. Picking Arizona to hold on and capture the NL West pennant isn't crazy, though. Currently, it is the only team in the division above .500.

That's why the Dodgers have hope to rise quickly, perhaps setting up a race with Arizona, along with more fallout from the beanball war involving Greinke and Ian Kennedy, by the All-Star break.

Los Angeles is only six games back of the division lead, yet the more startling number may be how far it lies out of second place, currently held by the 39-40 San Diego Padres: two, as in games out of the loss column.

This Dodgers season is far from out of the woods and likely will feature a few more downs before a smooth summer ride, but by Monday, there's a chance that only one team will stand between the underachievers and first place in the NL West.

Comment below, follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page to talk all things baseball!