Until they swept an important four-game road series recently against the first place Atlanta Braves in the National League West, the defending World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers had been in a kind of self-imposed vacuum. Dodger players had made so many errors of omission and commission that they had become their own worst enemies.
But now, finding a sudden flair for come-from-behind victories, the Dodgers, along with the San Diego Padres, are back within challenging distance of Atlanta. Another encouraging sign is that L.A.'s offense, which had ranked eighth in a league of 12 teams, has started to boom again.
Earlier in the season there had been weeks of frustration while the Dodgers worked to get their won-lost record up to .500; then an even greater struggle to stay there. Frequent physical and mental lapses in the field were often followed by repeated failures by the bullpen. That is, except for left-hander Steve Howe, who continues to pitch well.
When L.A. had to put starter Burt Hooton on its 21-day disabled list in July because of a knee injury, it reduced Manager Tommy Lasorda's Big Four to a Big Three of Fernando Valenzuela, Jerry Reuss, and Bob Welch.
Lasorda's reaction was to go into a juggling act, in which he made spot starters out of two of his bullpen pitchers, unpolished Dave Stewart and 39 -year-old Vicente Romo, who is himself currently out with injuries. Tom has also occasionally asked Valenzuela, Reuss, and Welch to work with only three days' rest, the wisdom of which can only be determined further down the road.
The Dodgers, however, may have found an answer to a fifth starter in right-hander Joe Beckwith, who began the year in Albuquerque after missing all last season with eye problems. Despite a relatively high earned-run average with the Dukes, L.A. decided to promote Beckwith anyway, and the result so far has been encouraging.
Whether Los Angeles is finally for real gets its next test on Thursday, when Lasorda's defending champions begin a four-game series with Atlanta at Dodger Stadium.