Manny's return is timely for the Dodgers

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

LOS ANGELES – If you didn't know better, you'd think the Los Angeles Dodgers were beginning to wonder where Manny was.

You'd think after all those wins, all those winning streaks, all that running away with the West, they weren't too sure of themselves anymore.

Like they'd held up about as long as they could, and now can hear the San Francisco Giants coming, and the Colorado Rockies coming, from all the way back there.

If you didn't know better, that is, because the race has been over for a month. Right?

So now that the Giants are pitching better than the Dodgers, and the Rockies (along with most other teams recently, including the Giants) are hitting better, maybe what Joe Torre has on his hands is a clubhouse counting Xs on the Manny suspension calendar and staring at the door.

"I know what you're going to say," Torre said before his guys needed 13 innings to beat the Rockies on Monday night. "I don't know. I'll certainly mention it when we talk today. With all the conversation about it, maybe."

Good thing for them, Manny will be in left field and, presumably, in the three hole Friday night in San Diego for the first time since May 6. When last we saw enig-Manny, he was batting .348 and reaching base almost half the time and the Dodgers were putting the wood to a sad, soft division.

And if you parachuted into the season today, this would all look pretty good for the Dodgers – the seven-game lead, the world's best record, the perfect pink and orange sunsets over Dodger Stadium.

Except, well, Manny's about to waft into the season too, and with only 12 minor league plate appearances over eight weeks. And the Dodgers have been losing almost as often as they win for about a month. And almost no one looks at their pitching staff and believes it is built for six months, let alone a playoff series. What's never let them down is their defense, and we all know Manny won't be an upgrade there.

Meantime, the Giants are showing some (OK, a little) pop, have a superior starting rotation, are six games back in the loss column and would be leading any other division in the National League. And the suddenly capable Rockies had made up eight games in 24 days before the Dodgers' Andre Ethier(notes) homered in the 13th inning Monday night. They'd outscored the Dodgers in June by 60 runs before that swing.

"We're not great," Rockies first baseman Todd Helton(notes) said. "We're just winning."

Either way, the division might get interesting again before long, and could stay that way at least until the Dodgers' offense starts to go again. Even then, general manager Ned Colletti will have to ponder adding a pitcher or two, and at least check in on Roy Halladay(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes), because he could use a top-end guy. And let's not forget it took Manny a couple weeks to hit his first home run and get his batting average above .300 to stay after a truncated spring training. He had a lot more work then than he's had lately. So maybe he doesn't walk into Petco Park on Friday – or Citi Field after that – and do his Manny thing, and the Dodgers keep scoring two or three runs a game until he starts making solid contact again.

Admittedly, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp(notes) said, he'd seen that the Giants and Rockies weren't as far behind as they once were. Yes, he said, it was impossible to miss the Rockies' recent run, those 20 wins in 23 games under old acquaintance Jim Tracy, the 2009 June that looked an awful lot like that 2007 September/October.

"We watch the games, the highlights," Kemp said. "Just gotta keep playing the way we've been playing. Sometimes you get a little lost in this game, but we always get back to where we need to be."

The Rockies do know something about a ballclub losing its way. They won only 20 games in the first two months of the season, in the process scaring off much of their paying public and getting their manager fired. Almost nobody was hitting and the team's ERA was in the 5s. Clint Hurdle's future became a daily conversation topic, as did general manager Dan O'Dowd's and Troy Tulowitzki's(notes) and Huston Street's(notes) and, well, go ahead and name your man in purple and black.

But they showed up in L.A. this week with some conviction. They'd wearied of Hurdle's style and message and were pleased to fall in with the likable Tracy, who told them he believed in them, and would until further notice. In his first team meeting, Tracy reminded them that their job (like his) is results-based. He asked for better decisions, greater determination, higher expectations.

"Sometimes so much of this is understood," Street said. "But it needs to be said out loud. And it did needed to be said out loud."

And in case anybody missed it, Tracy, in that meeting, left them with one final thought.

"We're not going to coddle anyone anymore," he announced. "We're going to find a way to get it done or we're going to find somebody new."

What happens from here, three months out, has a lot more to do with the Dodgers than the rest of the division, given a seven-game head start over the Giants and 8½ over the Rockies and one of the planet's great hitters on his way back. Just like last year, when they needed him the most, here comes Manny. And, it seems, none too soon.

"Hey, that's what everybody expects him to do," Kemp said. "Even if he doesn't start off raking, he's still going to worry pitchers. He's still another big bat."

Kemp grinned. Yeah, he sees 'em all back there. He knows.

"But we're good," he said. "We're not going to change anything."

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