There’s perhaps no team in all of baseball right now that’s as talked about as the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And now the Dodgers -- and everything that goes with them -- have hit Wrigley Field for a four-game series this weekend against the Cubs.
The reason for all the hubbub over the Dodgers is not necessarily their offseason free-agent spending spree that figured to be one of baseball’s biggest storylines this season. Instead it’s their incredible resurgence from 9 1/2 games out of first place to a 2 1/2 game lead in the National League West.
And they’ve done it in just over a month’s time, boasting a 27-7 record since June 22.
“It goes unsaid they’re the hottest team in baseball,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said before his team opened the set Thursday. “They’ve got two guys: (Yasiel) Puig’s cooled off a little bit, but Hanley Ramirez kind of goes under the radar with what Puig’s been doing. But Hanley’s been tearing everything up, no matter what you’re throwing up there he’s tearing it up. You’ve got to hopefully keep him away from beating you, but obviously they’ve got other guys in the lineup.
“Their pitching, their bullpen, their closer -- it all adds up to what they’ve done in the last month or so. It’s obviously the best team in baseball right now, so we’ve got to play our best to beat them.”
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Oh yeah, remember Yasiel Puig?
Amid the amazing stretch, Puig-mania -- the fever that gripped the baseball world before the All-Star break -- has quieted down a bit. He hit .287 with a .352 on-base percentage in July after breaking through with a .436 average and a .467 on-base percentage in June. Of course, Puig’s numbers are still great. Entering Thursday’s game, he’s got a .364/.410/.579 slash line with 10 home runs and 23 RBIs. The danger is certainly there, and Sveum knows it.
“All we’ve seen is obviously TV,” Sveum said. “We talk about his hitting as much as everything. The way he plays, reckless abandon and trying to routine singles into doubles. He can do a lot of things like that. You appreciate it, but they know they’ve got to throttle it a little bit so he’s not making all these outs on the bases. Maybe we can take advantage of that aggressiveness and he doesn’t take advantage of us.”
Fujikawa looking forward to 2014
Tommy John surgery has knocked reliever Kyuji Fujikawa out for the season, but the 33-year-old Japanese import still has his sights set high. He’ll just have to wait until 2014.
Fujikawa made an appearance in the Cubs clubhouse Thursday and gave an update on his recovery.
“I think it’s progressing well at this point, and hopefully I can come back strong next year and be a part of the team,” Fujikawa said through a translator.
“I’m just right now kind of following the protocol that goes after Tommy John. The important thing is not to rush it.”
The reliever briefly held the closer’s job this year before being hurt, but with Carlos Marmol traded and Kevin Gregg slated to be a free agent, the opportunity could again arise for Fujikawa to be the Cubs’ ninth-inning man.
“I think that was the goal when I first came to this team,” he said, “so hopefully I can come back strong and kind of work toward that goal when I am actually back pitching.”
The right-hander will be back in the minds -- and hands -- of Cubs fans later this home stand, when the Cubs give away Fujikawa bobbleheads on Saturday.
“I can’t pitch anymore this season but hopefully I can come back strong next year,” he said, “and hopefully the fans that received the bobblehead will be happy that they kept it.”
A few things
-- The Cubs made the signing of international prospect Eloy Jimenez official Thursday. The 16-year-old Dominican outfielder will get a $2.8 million signing bonus.
-- With their win over the Brewers on Wednesday, the Cubs completed a 14-13 month of July, the team’s first winning month of baseball since last July, when it went 15-10.
-- The Cubs won just 12 games against NL West opponents last season, but they’ve already matched that total in 2013. They’re 12-12 with 10 games to go after going 12-22 in 2012.