Sarah's Take: Injuries may stifle streaking Dodgers

LA will lean on its high-performing pitching staff and an improved defense

Sarah's Take: Injuries may stifle streaking Dodgers

On June 8, the Dodgers trailed the Giants by 9 1/2 games, but Los Angeles caught San Francisco on Sunday. Losing 15 out of their last 19 games, the Giants appear to have lost the edge on the National League West. Although the Dodgers are in a tie for first place, they have suffered recent injuries that will weaken the team.

Juan Uribe, who had been out with a strained hamstring, returned on Thursday from a six-week stint on the disabled list. With Uribe out, Justin Turner played solidly at third base for the Dodgers. While Uribe had around a .300 batting average with satisfactory power, Turner performed better offensively -- especially with runners in scoring position. The exemplary play of Turner helped Los Angeles erase an overwhelming deficit in the NL West.

On Saturday, in a 9-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, Turner pulled a hamstring on a run-producing double. Manager Don Mattingly took him out of the game in hopes of preventing a more serious injury. On Sunday, the Dodgers placed Turner on the 15-day disabled list, and they are hoping that Turner won't be out beyond that period.

Although the Dodgers recalled infielder Carlos Triunfel from Triple-A, they don't have a satisfactory backup for Uribe unless Mattingly moves Miguel Rojas from shortstop to third base. Chone Figgins, a capable utility player, remains on the disabled list with a left quad strain, and it is unclear when he will return to the active roster. Recently coming off the disabled list, Uribe will likely need periodic rest to lessen the risk of reinjuring his hamstring. Since neither Triunfel nor Rojas are known for their offensive prowess, Mattingly will weaken the offense every time he decides to rest Uribe.

Also on Saturday, Hanley Ramirez strained his calf yet again. While the Dodgers were in Philadelphia, Ramirez had the same calf issue that prevented him from playing during that series. Although Ramirez didn't need a stint on the disabled list, the injury appears to be more serious this time.

Prior to Saturday, Ramirez had missed four games with shoulder inflammation, which wasn't the first time this season that Ramirez had an inflamed shoulder.

Although no team likes to place an everyday player on the disabled list unless it's absolutely necessary, the Dodgers should put Ramirez on the disabled list to give him adequate rest until after the All-Star break. Los Angeles will need Ramirez more after the All-Star break than it does now. With the exception of the Detroit Tigers, the Dodgers don't play a team with a record over .500 until after the All-Star break. This is the perfect time to give Ramirez an extended period of rest to heal his various aches and pains.

Last year, whenever Ramirez played, the Dodgers won frequently. But this season, he doesn't seem to contain last season's magic. In 86 games last season, Ramirez had a .345 batting average and hit 20 homers. However this season, in 74 games for the Dodgers, he has a batting average of .272 with 11 home runs. During his career, he has never been known for his defensive mastery, and this year has been no different.

At the beginning of the season until June, the Dodgers struggled defensively. Their errors and plays that should have been made cost Los Angeles a handful of victories. Now, the Dodgers have turned the defense around, after Mattingly showed the team that he thought having good defense was crucial for success.

When Mattingly transferred Matt Kemp, a two-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder, to left field because he disliked how Kemp played in center after his ankle injury, Mattingly sent a message to everyone that unless they improved their defense, he would find a better defensive player. Mattingly began to replace Ramirez in the late innings when the Dodgers had the lead with a better defensive shortstop. Since then, Los Angeles has started to win at a nice rate.

With the improved defense, the Dodgers' pitching staff has had less stress on it, and has performed impressively. The starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the Major Leagues. In six June starts, Clayton Kershaw won all six decisions, including pitching the first no-hitter of his career and posting 28 consecutive scoreless innings. Josh Beckett, who must be the front-runner for the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, has pitched great and deserves a trip to the All-Star Game. Since becoming a Dodger, Zack Greinke hasn't struggled, but this season, his control and the rest of Los Angeles' starting rotation's control have been excellent.

At the beginning of the season, the Dodgers' bullpen was nerve-wracking, since they pitched poorly and couldn't hold onto a lead without giving everyone watching a good scare. Los Angeles' bullpen currently has the 10th-lowest ERA in the NL, and general manager Ned Colletti wants to improve the bullpen at the Trade Deadline if possible.

The Dodgers' offense has become more consistent, but it has room for improvement. The play of Dee Gordon, which warrants a start in the All-Star Game, has enabled the Dodgers to get early leads. On Sunday, when Adrian Gonzalez bunted for a single to defeat the opposing infield shift, it was a terrific sign. If he can bunt successfully a few more times, the opposition will probably stop putting all of its infielders on the right side, which takes away Gonzalez's ability to pull an inside pitch for a base hit.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.