By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Such has been the extraordinary dominance of the resurgent Los Angeles Dodgers over the past two months that a series loss to the Boston Red Sox over the weekend barely dented their collective stride.
The Dodgers were beaten 8-1 by the Red Sox in the rubber match of a three-game series in Los Angeles on Sunday, the first series they have lost since June 14-16 at Pittsburgh.
During that span, they had won or split 18 series in a row to set a franchise record.
"It's a series," Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez told reporters in matter-of-fact fashion after his team had 'slipped' to 76-54 for the season. "You're going to win some, you're going to lose some."
Despite Sunday's defeat by the Red Sox, the Dodgers stayed a commanding 9-1/2 games ahead of the second-placed Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League (NL) West, having been 9-1/2 games out of first place on June 22.
During a stunning renaissance which has been underpinned by brilliant pitching, reliable batting depth and important contributions from 'rank-and-file' players when needed, Los Angeles have piled up 46 wins in 58 games.
Zack Greinke, who has gone 12-3 this season with an earned run average of 2.91, and Clayton Kershaw (13-7, 1.72 ERA) have been the standout pitchers.
"They're on a roll that baseball hasn't seen in many, many years," said Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum, whose team take on the Dodgers in a three-game set starting at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
"Part of it is, obviously, the offense. But when you have Greinke, Kershaw going two out of five days, you're talking about two guys who can win Cy Youngs in any given year or throw a no-hitter on any given day."
Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett, sidelined since having rib surgery on July 10, has gained an even greater appreciation of Kershaw's talents while watching him on television.
"I tell everybody that as good as you think he is, he is better than that," said Beckett, who was a World Series champion with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and with the Red Sox in 2007.
"And that's hard to do, because everybody thinks he's really good. I know he hasn't been doing it that long, but he could possibly be the best pitcher ever - he's that good.
"Coming over here last year, I knew he was good, but he exceeded my expectations," added Beckett, who joined the Dodgers in a block-buster multi-player trade on August 25, 2012.
Left-hander Kershaw leads the majors with his 1.72 earned run average and is a prime contender to win the NL's Cy Young Award for a second time. He previously won the accolade in 2011 as the NL's best pitcher.
These are certainly heady days for the Dodgers who fell into bankruptcy in 2011 as owner Frank McCourt and his wife battled in divorce court before a comeback was sparked when Guggenheim Baseball Management, a group of investors including basketball great Magic Johnson, acquired the team in early May last year.
The new owners spent heavily to sign free agents like Greinke, trade for players such as Gonzales, Beckett and former National League batting champion Hanley Ramirez and add emerging talent in the shape of South Korean star pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin.
Most recently, the promotion to the majors of muscular Cuban refugee Yasiel Puig on June 3 gave the Dodgers an electrifying boost as the 22-year-old with the home run swing and rifle arm compiled 44 hits in his first month with the team.
Add in excellent contributions from the bullpen and key roles played by some of the 'lesser' players and you have a perfect recipe for the astonishing turnaround delivered by the Dodgers over the past two months.
"Clayton Kershaw at the top, all the way to the back end of the bullpen, it's just been so outstanding," said Dodgers infielder Nick Punto, before he also heaped lavish praise on the team's batting lineup.
"A big reason we're playing as good as we are is that we have a lot of guys having good years."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)