Joe Torre sat down his team and reminded them to keep a little perspective on the big picture after losing three of four to the Atlanta Braves at home.
The team was headed to San Francisco to play the second-place Giants, who now trailed by just 5.5 games in the division. The teams last met on May 10 when the Giants won in 13 innings and crept to within 4.5 games of the Dodgers.
That means in three months, the Boys in Blue had gained only one game in the standings.
Torre told the club that although the week had been rough, they were still in a position of envy to the rest of the National League. They still held the best record on the Senior Circuit and controlled their own destiny within the NL West.
Forty-eight hours later, the Los Angeles Dodgers have already accomplished what they traveled to the Bay Area for: a series win against the San Francisco Giants.
Although ace right-hander Tim Lincecum (12-3, 2.20) will stand in the way of a series sweep tomorrow afternoon, the Dodgers hope to string together another big inning or two to take a third straight game from the team with the best record at home in the Majors (38-20).
Los Angeles’ four runs in the fourth inning on Monday night were all they would need to notch a 4-2 win; in the second game, they scored four in the fifth and five in the seventh during a 9-1 routing.
Centerfielder Matt Kemp has played an important part in the rallies both nights.
Kemp has batted seventh the past two games in Torre’s new lineup and is making the move pay dividends already, lashing a three-run double into the left field corner on Monday and a long, three-run homer to centerfield on Tuesday.
Torre bumped Russell Martin up to the second spot to reward him for performing well at the plate since the All-Star break. Martin is batting .323 with a .392 on-base percentage since July 20.
Martin’s declining power numbers from the past two seasons have made him a quality option for batting second.
After struggling for the first few months of the season, Martin has shortened his swing and become a threat to pound singles into the outfield grass and provides an excellent bridge to Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez in the middle of the order.
In the shift, Ethier has moved to third and Ramirez to the cleanup spot.
It was important to keep Ethier in front of him because of the elevated production he has shown with Ramirez as protection, batting .326 (17-for-52) with five doubles, three home runs, and 13 RBI in 12 games since moving in front of the slugger on July 31.
The lineup adjustment gives Ramirez more opportunities to drive in runs for a team that has really had difficulty with runners in scoring position as of late and had scored two or fewer runs in six of the last 14 games entering the San Francisco series.
Aside from the slumping offense, the biggest concern that emerged heading to San Francisco was the state of the starting rotation. The big innings absorbed by Hiroki Kuroda and Randy Wolf the past two nights have provided a welcome departure from the daily routine of a staff that ranks 12th in the NL in average innings per start.
Each worked late into the game and allowed just one run to cross the plate.
Kuroda went 6.1 innings, the lone run coming on a home run from Travis Ishikawa; Wolf went eight innings and surrendered a run on an RBI groundout. The key pitching performances came within hours of news that Chad Billingsley will miss Wednesday’s start and possibly even next Monday’s.
Tomorrow afternoon, Jeff Weaver (5-4, 3.90) is going to fill in for Billingsley and take on Lincecum.
The 32-year old Weaver is not expected to go deep into the game, which makes the outing by Kuroda and Wolf so much more valuable. He last started on July 11 against the Milwaukee Brewers, when he tossed just 3.1 innings and gave up four runs.
Weaver will have to focus on locating his fastball on the corners in order to setup his breaking pitches. He usually likes to throw a lot of two-seam fastballs before turning to his slider and curveball because the fastball is not overpowering.
He sometimes gets into trouble on his breaking pitches when his arm angle drops too low and the ball tends to Frisbee out over the plate. This makes it extremely easy for hitters to take advantage and drive pitches for extra-base hits but can avoided if Weaver works hard to control his release point.
Torre had spoken yesterday that James McDonald would be second in line tomorrow during the multiple pitcher effort, but McDonald worked the ninth inning of Tuesday’s victory.
In place of McDonald, the Dodgers will use knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, who has been called up from triple-A Albuquerque, to fill the void in long relief.
Haeger was 11-6 with a 3.55 ERA in triple-A and has appeared briefly in the Majors with the Chicago White Sox in ’06 and the San Diego Padres in ’07, but Dodgers’ fans will get their first look at Haeger on Wednesday.
Should the Dodgers pull of the win and sweep the Giants, they will sit 8.5 games up in the NL West, and no less than 6.5 in front of the second-place Rockies.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers