MIAMI — The Dodgers, left for dead not so many days ago, could be emerging as the team to beat in the National League West.
Says who? Says the San Francisco Giants -- or, at least, says Manager Felipe Alou.
"While they've been bringing guys in and sending guys out, they've had a winning streak," Alou told the San Francisco Chronicle. "That's not a good sign for the rest of the division."
The Dodgers are undefeated since Ned Colletti imported Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. They extended their winning streak to eight on Saturday, with Rafael Furcal driving in three runs and Chad Billingsley and Giovanni Carrara combining for 12 strikeouts in eight innings of a 10-2 rout of the Florida Marlins.
There was no party in the clubhouse after the game, no dancing or yelling or any other indication that what happened on the field was anything out of the ordinary. For Lugo, marooned with the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays for four years, the attitude among the Dodgers players represents a striking change.
"They take it more seriously here," Lugo said. "They come to play. The way they handle themselves, the way they carry themselves, getting ready to play -- it's totally different."
If Lugo had shown up a couple of weeks ago, of course, he might have wondered if he would have been better off in Tampa Bay. The eight-game winning streak immediately follows an eight-game losing streak, and the Dodgers needed the winning streak just to climb back to .500.
The last time the Dodgers won eight consecutive games? That would be last April, to cap a 12-2 start, and neither Jim Tracy nor Paul DePodesta is here to remind you what happened after that.
So the winning streak guarantees nothing, but the Dodgers gather encouragement from little things within the streak. Manager Grady Little says he likes the crooked numbers on the scoreboard, with big innings possible when everyone is hitting.
For example, the Dodgers staked Billingsley to a 5-0 lead by scoring once in the first inning and batting around in the second.
Furcal had the key hit, a bases-loaded triple that extended his hitting streak to 12 games, a span in which he is batting .417. Kenny Lofton and Andre Ethier each is batting .429 on this trip, J.D. Drew is at .389 and Russell Martin at .350.
During the winning streak, the bullpen has a 1.29 earned-run average.
Yet the single most encouraging performance Saturday might have been delivered by Billingsley, the rookie summoned from the minor leagues in June. He has pitched erratically, but his promise is so bright and his recent outings so tantalizing that the Dodgers kept him in the rotation when they acquired Maddux, instead bumping veteran Aaron Sele to the bullpen.
In his first two starts after the All-Star break, Billingsley pitched 12 scoreless innings, but his pitch count remained stubbornly high.
In the first four innings Saturday, he set a career high with seven strikeouts. He also made 91 pitches. But he settled down by slowing down, throwing nine pitches in the fifth and seven in the sixth, with better command at 91 mph than 94 mph.
"If he could do that all the time, it would help him a lot," Martin said.
He finished with a nice line -- six innings, one run, three hits -- and consecutive victories for the first time in his brief career. In five starts since the break, he is 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA.
"I couldn't be happier," he said. "I'm still here, I'm having a blast, and we're playing unbelievable right now."