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White-hot Dodgers are staying focused

Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers

Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers follows through on a sixth inning two run home run against the New York Mets at Citi Field on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 in the Queens borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It’s not even a full week past the non-waiver trade deadline, and the Dodgers already have more wins than 11 teams did all of last season.

So to call this season special would be quite an understatement. After Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Mets, they are 78-32 and have 14 more wins than the next-best team in the National League, the Nationals. They are on pace to win 115 games, one shy of the all-time mark set by the Chicago Cubs in 1906 and Seattle Mariners in 2001.

After winning 43 of their last 50 games, the Dodgers aren’t worrying about what lies ahead. Even as the media numbers grow larger by the day and the national attention increases, they remain focused on daily improvements.

“I think that’s the thing that makes us good,” shortstop Corey Seager said. “Nobody pays attention to that. Nobody is worried about that. Nobody is worried about the win streak, all that other stuff. It’s been our philosophy from the beginning to just grind out [at-bats], grind out series, be as relentless as possible, and it’s just paying off.”

The Dodgers ranked third in the National League in runs and home runs, second in slugging percentage and fifth in batting average entering Saturday. Then they hit five home runs against the Mets.

Former Met Justin Turner leads the National League in average (.347). Despite playing in only 90 games, rookie Cody Bellinger has hit 31 home runs. Yasiel Puig has the most homers (21) he’s hit in his five seasons in Los Angeles. Seager, the 2016 National League Rookie of the Year, is having another strong season, batting .306 with 19 home runs, 55 RBIs and 69 runs scored. All four players homered Saturday at Citi Field.

“They’re loaded,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “They’ve done a great job of having enough backup plans that if something happens, they got a quality replacement.

“That’s what happens when you’re firing on all cylinders,” he added. “You can run away with some things, and they’re certainly doing that.”

And it’s not just the everyday lineup. The Dodgers’ pitching staff leads baseball in ERA and opponents’ batting average, leads the National League in strikeouts and has surrendered the fewest walks in baseball.

Despite the back injury that has sidelined three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw since July 23, the Dodgers have had productive seasons from Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu. As if that talent wasn’t enough, they traded for Yu Darvish before last Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

“Obviously it’s exciting,” said Seager, who thinks the team now has three “elite” pitchers. “We’re never going to be mad about getting better. You can always improve somewhere along the line. Whether it’s yourself, your teammates, helping someone out, there’s always room for improvement.”

Hill, a 13-year veteran playing for his eighth major-league team, credits the mix of youth and veteran presence in the clubhouse for the team’s success.

“It’s something that’s very unique in this clubhouse that you might not necessarily see everywhere, but it’s a cool thing because it cultivates a learning environment,” he said. “It cultivates creativity. Guys are allowed to be themselves and clubhouses that I’ve been in that are most successful are the ones where you can come in and be yourself on a day-to-day basis.”

With an Opening Day payroll of more than $242 million that led baseball, according to CBS Sports, the Dodgers haven’t been afraid to spend money on free agents or bring players in via trades, something the players appreciate.

“They show you how much they want to win and they show you also that they understand how tough it is to win,” said closer Kenley Jansen, who has 28 saves and a 1.33 ERA this season. “To get to the playoffs, it’s tough. Just to win the division is tough. To get there is tough and to go to the next round is even tougher.”

Despite four straight seasons with at least 90 victories, the Dodgers advanced past the Division Series in only two of those years and haven’t reached the World Series since 1988. But for now, the Dodgers are less focused on end-of-season goals and more concerned about playing their best baseball every game.

“Playing with conviction, that’s the day-to-day goal,” Hill said, “and wherever the wins and losses fall at the end of the year, that’s where they’ll be.”

New York Sports