Dodgers do better than 'hold serve'

Dodgers do better than 'hold serve'

LOS ANGELES -- When the season opened two weeks ago with four key players on the disabled list, Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said that he hoped his club would simply "hold serve" in the National League West until the walking wounded returned.

The Dodgers have bettered that by a moon shot, winning nine of their first 11 -- including their first five games at Dodger Stadium -- and thus earning the right to control the early stages of a race they secured last year on the next to the last day of the regular season.

During a year in which the Dodgers are honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1955 Brooklyn team that defeated the Yankees to win the World Series for the first time, the 9-2 start is the second best in franchise history. The '55 Brooklyn (Trolley) Dodgers opened 10-1. The home start is the best since 1950. How's that for neat symmetry?

"I have a lot of confidence in this team," said Frank McCourt, who along with his wife, Jamie, purchased the storied franchise only about 15 months ago. "They need to stay loose. Stay focused. Go out there and have fun and just let their talent show. You're just beginning to see what this team is capable of."

The Dodgers have simply defied baseball logic. They opened the season without starting left fielder Jayson Werth, starting pitcher Brad Penny, and Eric Gagne, one of the preeminent relievers in Major League Baseball. In the ensuing two weeks, they've also had little production out of free agent signee J.D. Drew and first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, who are batting about a buck-fifty apiece.

Still, newcomer Jeff Kent is hitting .415 and has been smoking up the league with four homers, 13 RBIs and has also scored at least one run in 10 consecutive games. And the Dodgers, who opened the season with new players at six starting positions, are making a mockery of a thing called chemistry.

Two Dodgers starters -- Derek Lowe and Jeff Weaver -- pitched a pair of complete-game shutouts this weekend against the Padres, matching the total complete games of the entire staff all last season.

They're averaging seven runs a game, which should be measured against the 3.5 runs the Dodgers scored two years ago when such local favorites as catcher Paul Lo Duca, third baseman Adrian Beltre, second baseman Alex Cora and right fielder Shawn Green were the core of the team.

Every one of those players has been dispatched since the McCourts took over and Paul DePodesta replaced Dan Evans as general manager. In fact, among the regulars, only shortstop Cesar Izturis remains from the band of Blues Brothers that Evans put together. Even Milton Bradley became a Dodger under DePodesta's watch just a few days before the start of the 2004 season.

Some of this may be the luck of the Boston Irish -- Frank McCourt's heritage. Since his stewardship began, the Dodgers won their first division title since 1995, his beloved Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, and every move the Dodgers have made on and off the field seems to have come up golden.

That includes just about every shedding or acquisition of a player; the on-going renovation of 43-year-old Dodger Stadium -- which most observers predicted wrongly he would ultimately abandon, or the recognition of baseball and franchise icon Jackie Robinson with more than just the usual praise.

The donation of $105,000 each year by the Dodgers to the Jackie Robinson Foundation for the funding of scholarships to aid local minorities was long overdue from the franchise that 58 years ago signed and designated Robinson as the African-American best suited to shatter MLB's horrific color barrier.

Good things come to good people, as the first two weeks of the season have proven in Chavez Ravine. McCourt has been sitting in the new box seats drinking it all in.

"My job is to make Dodger Stadium the finest, most entertaining family-friendly venue in the entire country and make this organization healthy again," McCourt said. "As the great historians say, 'The past is prologue to the future.' This organization has had a tremendous past. But I firmly believe our finest days are ahead of us."

Amid all this good tiding and cheer, the disabled Dodgers are slowly starting to mend. Penny was scheduled to pitch a rehab start on Monday night in Las Vegas and seems to be the closest to returning, Tracy said, although it will be a while before Werth and Gagne are ready to play again.

Werth, who is recovering from a broken hand, still can't even swing a bat. Gagne has a sore right elbow and is still weeks away from throwing, the same state he's been in since sustaining the injury on March 31.

As good fortune would have it, the Dodgers have endured precious few save situations with Gagne on the shelf. The last two years, as Gagne fashioned a record 84 consecutive successful save opportunities, the Dodgers lived and died on the knife-edge of his live right arm.

Not so this year. Not at least for the first two weeks, which have been so reminiscent of the old Los Angeles days when Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda once mused that God himself probably bled Dodger blue.

"I don't think this was anything we envisioned, but let's keep it going," Tracy said. "When the opportunities are out there to win, let's take them. Why not?"

As always, these Dodgers will undoubtedly suffer through the ebbs and flows of a long season. But harkening back to the days when a tree and a championship finally grew in Brooklyn, one has the sense that McCourt is right. For this year's Dodgers, the finest days may indeed be ahead of them.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.