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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Blockbuster deal likely puts Dodgers into playoffs

Justice: Big deal likely puts Dodgers into playoffs

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Blockbuster deal likely puts Dodgers into playoffs

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Don't focus on the money. It'll just confuse things. If the Dodgers aren't going to worry about it, why should we?

Let's look only at the baseball angle. Will this trade make the Dodgers better than the Giants?

Maybe not. More on that later.

OK, would they be good enough to pass the Cardinals or Braves to snag one of the National League Wild Card berths?

Yes, most likely.

The Dodgers didn't acquire Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett just to qualify for the NL Wild Card game. Remember they made an impact move earlier by trading for Hanley Ramirez.

Still, if they end up in the World Series this fall, no one will care how they got there.

Here's the issue.

The Giants are very good. Until we see how everything shakes out, they're still the favorites in the NL West. Even without Melky Cabrera, they've found a catalyst at the top of the lineup in Angel Pagan.

Giants senior vice president and general manager Brian Sabean's acquisition of Marco Scutaro looks better by the day, and Pablo Sandoval is hitting .278 since coming off the disabled list.

Baseball teams are strange things, composed of a little bit of that and little bit of this. It's about making the pieces fit and putting players in the best environment to succeed. At the moment, things are clicking for the Giants.

Once Cabrera went down, it was important for the Giants to have some quick success just to show the remaining players that they could still go on.

They're 7-2 since Cabrera's suspension and averaging more than five runs per game. Their starting rotation allowed two runs in 20 2/3 innings during a three-game sweep of the Dodgers this week.

The Giants' front three of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong is as good as any. Tim Lincecum has pitched well in four of his past five starts, and if he finishes strong, it's tough to imagine anyone catching the Giants.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers still have concerns. Chad Billingsley's elbow injury could be huge, and potentially devastating. If he's gone for any length of time, the Dodgers will need Beckett to find some of his old magic.

Gonzalez is the biggest name in this trade, but Beckett is the guy who could decide the NL West.

He came to symbolize almost everything bad that happened in Boston. He was part of last season's collapse and had won one of his last 13 starts with a 5.77 ERA.

But Beckett is only 32 years old and may benefit from a change of scenery. He'll be with a pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt, who has been through a little bit of everything as a player and coach. Honeycutt has a knack for saying and doing exactly the right thing, and Beckett will love him.

He'll love manager Don Mattingly, too. Donnie Baseball has created a great environment in the clubhouse. Mattingly asks only that players give maximum effort and respect the game.

Beckett will also love being on a staff with Clayton Kershaw, who is thoughtful and competitive and who works relentlessly to get better.

Beckett shrugged off the booing at Fenway Park, saying he didn't pay any attention. He'll hear cheers in Los Angeles and will be playing home games in the most beautiful setting in baseball.

This may end up being one of the best things that ever happened to his career. Don't be surprised if he thrives.

Perhaps the same can be said of Gonzalez. He's only 30 years old and clearly struggled at times in the stress and drama that followed the Red Sox this season. His power diminished, too, and so he should benefit from a lineup that has Matt Kemp, Ramirez and Andre Ethier around him.

With the Braves having lost six of seven and the Cardinals showing little consistency, there appears a playoff berth there to be won. There's no way of knowing how the new Dodgers pieces will fit, but there's no question they got better.

As for the NL West, the Dodgers and Giants play each another six more times, including the final three regular season games of the year at Dodger Stadium.

If we're really lucky, there'll still be something on the line for those final three games. Baseball is better when the Giants and Dodgers are both good. The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series in 24 years, and after a couple of seasons off the radar, they're again the most talked about team in the game. Something about that feels right.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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