It is not yet September, division races undecided, pennants far from being unfurled, World Series tickets a long way from being ordered.
Yet with 29 games to play, the Dodgers have already equaled their victory total for all of last season.
In winning their 71st game Wednesday night with a 7-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium to maintain a three-game lead in the NL West, the Dodgers again demonstrated that the only similarity between this year’s team and last season’s 71-91 club is the uniforms. It was the Dodgers’ fifth win in a row and 21st in August to tie the club record for a month since moving to Los Angeles.
After laboring to beat the Reds in 16 innings the night before, the Dodgers coasted behind a solid all-around performance by right-hander Greg Maddux (12-11) and an uncharacteristic display of power with three home runs in one inning.
Maddux’ victory was the 330th of his career, moving him past Steve Carlton into sole possession of 10th place on the all-time list.
“It’s kind of cool,” Maddux said of passing Carlton. “I got to watch him in a few games when I first came up and I always admired and respected what he did on the mound.”
“Climbing into the top 10 says a lot about this guy,” Dodgers Manager Grady Little said of Maddux. “And he is an outstanding fielder and executes the fundamentals at bat nearly every time.”
It was all on display Wednesday night.
Need a starting pitcher who can reduce the opposition to a lineup of awkward swingers and off-balance lungers?
Maddux was the man, throwing a full assortment of fastballs, sliders and changeups, pitches that barely nudged the speed gun into the mid 80s.
He gave up two runs and eight hits in seven innings.
Need a pitcher who can do more than just wave at liners and grounders zooming past him on the mound, his glove used for more than disguising his pitches?
Maddux was the man, looking every bit the 15-time Gold Glove winner as he started two double plays and got three other assists, one inadvertently when a ball caromed off his shin to third baseman Wilson Betemit, who threw the runner out.
Need a pitcher who isn’t merely a spectator at the plate while the pitcher and catcher toss the ball back and forth, using his bat to do more than fan the umpire?
Maddux was the man. He might have brought a .113 season average into the game, but he had two significant at-bats.
In the second inning, after Andre Ethier had walked and stolen second, Maddux hit a liner past shortstop Royce Clayton into center field to drive home the first Dodger run of the night.
It was the 80th career run batted in for Maddux.
The Dodgers right-hander got a second run home in the sixth after back-to-back singles by Betemit and Russell Martin put runners at the corners. Maddux put down a well-placed bunt to squeeze home Betemit.
Two other Dodger runs came home on a single by Martin in the fourth and a triple by J.D. Drew in the fifth.
And finally, in the eighth, the coup de grace. Beginning play Wednesday with 114 home runs, lowest total in the league, the Dodgers hit three in one inning for the first time this season, Betemit getting his 16th, Olmedo Saenz his 10th and Rafael Furcal his ninth.
Aaron Harang (13-10) took the loss as the Reds dropped their sixth in a row.
While impressed with the pitching and hitting, Maddux says the key to this Dodgers team is its defense.
“They catch the ball as well as any team in baseball,” he said.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, to have a reliable glove out there on the mound.
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With their 7-3 win Wednesday night, the Dodgers swept the season series with Cincinnati. A look at the teams they have fared the best against:
* vs. Cincinnati 6-0
* vs. Milwaukee 3-0
* vs. Colorado 10-3
* vs. Florida 5-1
* vs. Pittsburgh 5-2
VS. ALL OTHERS 42-56