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Dodgers are confident but not complacent

Dodgers taking no chances

You have to give the Los Angeles Dodgers credit for taking no chances, leaving no stone unturned and generally acting like a group that is trying to win not only a division title but a World Series.

Heading into September with a 5 1/2-game lead in the National League West, the Dodgers, rather than simply taking their chances with the existing roster, expanded their chances with three additions to the roster.

They picked up a capable starting pitcher, a Hall of Fame-caliber home-run hitter and a useful utility infielder. That's three areas of improved depth and added options, a significant haul for any point in the season, but particularly for late August.

The Dodgers gave up young talent in each case, but the argument could easily be made that they will get plenty of mileage out of the starting pitcher in question, Jon Garland.

Garland is 29, and he is healthy. He made 32 or more starts in every season from 2002 through 2008. He has a winning record -- 114-100 -- and he was an important part of a World Series-championship rotation with the 2005 White Sox. He won 18 regular-season games for that club, threw a complete-game victory in the American League Championship Series and finished with a 2.25 postseason ERA.

Garland's 8-11 record with the D-backs this season says more about Arizona's problems scoring runs than it does about Garland's performance. There were at least seven starts this season in which Garland pitched more than well enough to deserve a victory but did not get one.

The Dodgers have had some issues filling out the fifth spot in their rotation this season. Garland is better than a fifth starter, but one way or another, he provides the Dodgers with additional quantity and quality in the rotation.

Infielder Ronnie Belliard has been a capable defensive player and a reasonably productive hitter through most of his career. He had a very slow start to this season with the Washington Nationals, but he picked up the pace offensively in August.

Belliard should have a new and improved lease on life, going from the team with the NL's worst record to the team with the league's best. The home run he hit in his first at-bat as a Dodger on Monday night could be a solid indicator that he'll be at his best for this opportunity.

The most intriguing personnel move the Dodgers made was the acquisition of Jim Thome in a trade with the White Sox. Thome is 12th on the all-time list with 564 career home runs, but he no longer plays first base. At age 39, he appeared to be an AL player at this point in his career, but the Dodgers will happily use him as a left-handed bat off the bench.

This kind of move seems to say: "Postseason." Not that Thome won't help the Dodgers in the final month of the regular season, but you can easily envision him making all the difference in a late-inning situation in a crucial October game. And with the postseason schedule this year, you could also envision him making all the difference in a late-inning situation in a crucial November game.

And on the intangible side, Thome has been known at every stop in his career as a terrific teammate. He'll be reunited with another former Cleveland star, Manny Ramirez, who has described Thome as "a great guy in the clubhouse." With Thome and, for instance, Mark Loretta and Brad Ausmus, the Dodgers will be difficult to beat when it comes to having veterans with true character.

Thome, Belliard and Garland will all be eligible for the postseason. Job one for the Dodgers, of course, will be getting from here to there, trying to fend off the substantial challenges of the Giants and the Rockies.

The argument could be made that the Dodgers might have won the division even without these three additions, but that is a chance that the club no longer has to take.

Credit general manager Ned Colletti with taking all possible steps toward fortifying his team, not only for the stretch run but potentially for the postseason as well. These are the kind of moves made by a team that is confident in its chances but at the same time refuses to become complacent.

A good situation just became better for the Dodgers, for September and beyond.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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