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Dodgers in the thick of mediocre division race

Los Angeles Times writer Andy McCullough and columnist Dylan Hernandez talk about the Dodgers' good luck and how close they are to being first in the NL West.

This is why a team should never be declared dead in the first six or seven weeks of a season.

After an inactive winter by an overconfident front office that bordered on irresponsible, after losing Corey Seager for the season and Clayton Kershaw for about a month, and after dropping successive series to the bottom-dwelling Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins, the fourth-place Dodgers are only 3 1/2 games out of first place.

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The Dodgers have won six of their last seven games, including a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.

They still haven't changed the perception they're not very good. What has changed is the other teams in their division have revealed themselves as equally unremarkable.

"I think we're very fortunate," manager Dave Roberts said.

No kidding.

The Dodgers were five games under .500 and nine games out of first place on May 1. They are still five games under .500 but have somehow reduced the gap between them and the top of the National League West by 51/2 games.

"Teams ahead of us are going through some of the things we went through," Roberts said.

The most notable are the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had the best record in the NL on May 8. They have dropped to second place after losing an astounding 13 of 14 games since, which allowed the Rockies to overtake them for first place in the division.

They are bad enough to where they have become comedic fodder for their local newspaper, with Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writing after their most recent defeat, "Perhaps the Diamondbacks deserve credit: They have said all along they were focused on run prevention."

Because, you know, they can't score.

The Diamondbacks averaged fewer than two runs and batted .174 over their 14-game free-fall. They collected only 10 hits over a three-game series in Milwaukee this week in which they were swept.

Their only reliable source of offense, A.J. Pollock, is sidelined with a broken thumb. They also haven't played the Dodgers in two weeks, depriving them of the opportunity to further pound a team against which they are 8-4 this season.

As for the division-leading Rockies, they have yet to experience the kind of extended stretches of misery the Dodgers and Diamondbacks have endured. But it seems like only a matter of time before they do.

The Rockies are the rare Colorado team that can't score runs. The Dodgers were below the league average in runs per game entering Wednesday. The Rockies were considerably worse, fifth from the bottom in the NL.

A quick glance at their roster explains why. They are extremely top-heavy, their lineup consisting of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and no other player who could crack the Dodgers order.

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The Rockies had only four hits Wednesday in the series finale against the Dodgers.

The only other team between the Dodgers and a sixth consecutive division championship are the San Francisco Giants, an old team that became even older in the offseason by adding 30-somethings Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria.

With the Dodgers being as close as they are to first place, their disabled list has become an increased source of hope.

Expectations were tempered when Justin Turner returned from a broken wrist on May 15, as the Dodgers entered the day 71/2 games out of first place.

The deficit felt too large for any one player to overcome.

Not so with the gap at less than half that. Activating Kershaw, Rich Hill or Hyun-Jin Ryu could be the move that erases the 31/2-game margin.

"I still believe in our guys and expect us to win the division," Roberts said. "I think that's the most important thing. Whether it's a runaway or it's a one-game situation, I don't know. But I still feel good about our club."

Over a 162-game season, talent wins out "more times than not," Roberts said. He remained confident his team has the most talent.

Outfielder Matt Kemp said of the suddenly positive outlook, "You guys were the ones that were panicking the most out of everybody."

Oh, come on, you couldn't have possibly guessed the Diamondbacks would suddenly lose a bunch of games.

"No, but this season's just a game of ups and downs," Kemp said. "We're playing better."

Kemp acknowledged the team had to maintain a certain degree of consistency. He wasn't about to claim victory, not with the Dodgers only two games ahead of last-place San Diego.

"We still have a long way to go," he said.

Considering how the Dodgers have played, they are a lot closer than they deserve to be.

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez

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