Dodgers Ready For First Real Test

That was fun… but now it’s time to get real.

Fairly or not, a 9-1 start means that there’s certain expectations placed upon you, and after fattening up on the dregs of the National League (the Pirates & Padres have just five wins between them, and combined have scored only two more runs than the Dodgers have), LA is finally going to see some real competition when they head into Milwaukee for a three-game series starting on Tuesday. Not only that, but they’re going to have to do it without Clayton Kershaw, who started in the series finale against San Diego on Sunday and won’t pitch again until he sees Houston on Saturday.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether the favorable schedule is really responsible for the fantastic Dodger start, and there’s truth on both sides of that. It’s hard to think that the Dodgers would be 9-1 if they were playing teams with any prayer of competing this year, and not only are the Pirates & Padres bad, having to travel to San Diego hardly counts as a road trip; today’s flight to Milwaukee is the first time the club has been to the airport since they left Arizona. On the other hand, the Dodgers did win those games, which isn’t to be taken lightly. It was pointed out in the comments over the weekend that if the Dodgers merely go .500 for the rest of the season, they’ll finish with 85 wins, a total which would put them squarely in the playoff race.

Still, I need to see how this team matches up against a better opponent, and we should be able to see that this week. The Brewers may be just 4-6 after being handed a tough road trip through St. Louis & Atlanta, and they might not have Prince Fielder any longer, but they still have Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, & Aramis Ramirez on offense, John Axford & Francisco Rodriguez in the bullpen, and Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, & Randy Wolf lined up for the three-game set. Post-Fielder, they’re probably not as primed to be real threats as they were last year, when they won 96 games, but they’re still a massive step up over the embarrassingly bad San Diego club we just watched the Dodgers smack around.

So if we’re to believe the Dodgers are for real, continuing their hot start on the road against a solid Milwaukee team would be a good way to do it – as would getting any sort of offensive contribution whatsoever aside from Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and A.J. Ellis, who are the only three regulars who are contributing at even league-average levels.

Of course, even if they don’t do well in Milwaukee, the schedule keeps on giving gifts. Houston, universally acclaimed as the worst team in baseball headed into 2012, hosts the Dodgers for three this weekend, followed by three back in Los Angeles against the enigmatic Braves. Then things finally get tougher when the revitalized Nationals come to town ahead of a three-game set in Colorado, where the Dodgers rarely play well.

Everything, so far, has lined up perfectly for the Dodgers, and we haven’t even talked about the fact that they’ll be officially free of Frank McCourt two weeks from tomorrow. Can they keep it going once the breaks stop going their way and the opposition stiffens? There was a small part of me heading into the season that wasn’t sure if it’d ever even matter. Now, it does, and I can’t wait to see how they respond.