The Los Angeles Dodgers have been playing so well lately that Las Vegas has taken notice and made the Dodgers favorites to win the World Series


But they were far from being favorites to even win their division a couple of months ago. The Dodgers were 30-42 and in last place in the National League West on June 22, 9 1/2 games behind Arizona.

But Los Angeles went 42-10 since (through Monday) to take over first place, 7 1/2 games in front of the Diamondbacks. The Dodgers have been especially hot in the second half, going 25-5 going into Tuesday’s game for a 72-52 record.

“The plan is intact, just win every night,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said recently. “I want to win every day.”

Los Angeles has had winning streaks of six, four, five and 10 games in the second half while sweeping five series and not losing a series out of nine total. Its 3-2 loss at Philadelphia on Sunday snapped a 10-game winning streak, and ended a string of 12 straight victories in one-run games and 30 straight when scoring first.

Pitching has been a key for the Dodgers, who threw their sixth shutout of the second half and 16th of this season in a 5-0 win at Philadelphia. Clayton Kershaw (12-7) allowed three hits while striking out eight and walking one.

Kershaw leads the major leagues with a 1.80 ERA, and the Dodgers are third overall with a 3.25 ERA. Kershaw also ranks second in NL strikeouts with 182.

“One thing he does is he attacks the strike zone just pitch after pitch,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s going to be around it and he’s going to make you hit him, and it’s not like he’s going to waste a lot of pitches.”

Zack Greinke (11-3) has won three consecutive starts and Hyun-Jin Ryu (12-3) has won six straight games.

“The pitching, the defense, the hitting and bullpen have been great,” Greinke said. “We’ve won a lot of close games. You expect to win. That’s how it’s been.”

Adrian Gonzalez has been handling much of the offensive load, batting .295 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs through Monday. Rookie sensation Yasiel Puig is hitting .351. Los Angeles ranked fourth in batting in the majors at .267 going into Tuesday’s contest.

“The Dodgers are having a lot of fun right now,” shortstop Nick Punto said.

It’s been 25 years since the Dodgers last won a World Series, but if Vegas is right, they’ll end that drought this year.

Manuel fired: Charlie Manuel has won more games than any other manager for the Philadelphia Phillies, but that didn’t keep him from getting fired last week. Manuel, who won his 1,000th game as a manager last week, was replaced by third base coach Ryne Sandberg, who will be the skipper on an interim basis for the rest of the season.

“I never quit nothing and I didn’t resign,” Manuel said.

Manuel was 780-636 with the Phillies, leading them to a World Series championship in 2008 and five straight NL East titles from 2007-11.

“I definitely enjoyed Charlie and liked playing for him,” Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee said. “I thought he did a good job. It’s definitely our fault. We weren’t getting it done.”

The Phillies were 5-19 in the second half before Manuel was let go. Now Sandberg, a Hall of Fame second baseman with the Chicago Cubs, gets his shot at managing after paying his dues as a minor league manager in the Cubs system.

“These guys are professional players, they’re getting paid well,” Sandberg said. “Sometimes players have to dig deeper, play with pride, play with heart and for the name on the front of the uniform.”

All’s right again with Wainright: If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to overtake the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central, they’re going to need Adam Wainwright.

Wainright (14-7) won his first game since July 21, beating the Chicago Cubs 6-1 at Wrigley Field on Sunday. He struck out 11, walked one and allowed one run in seven innings.

“It’s as good as he’s been all season,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “His curveball was as sharp as we’ve seen it. That made the difference.”

Wainwright defeated the Cubs for the first time since April 13, 2012.

“I just went out there in attack mode,” Wainwright said. “I wanted to let everybody on the field know that I was in charge out there, so to speak. It’s a team that’s given me trouble over the last few years.”

Dempster drills A-Rod: Whether it was something personal, or done on behalf of players who don’t like Alex Rodriguez, Boston’s Ryan Dempster hit the Yankees slugger with a pitch in Sunday night’s game at Fenway Park.

After failing to hit Rodriguez on his first three pitches to him in the second inning, Dempster finally landed one on Rodriguez’s left elbow.

“I was just trying to pitch inside,” Dempster said.

The crowd chanted “You’re a cheater” to Rodriguez during the at-bat.

“Whether you like me or hate, that was wrong,” Rodriguez said. “That was unprofessional and silly.”

Rodriguez got revenge by hitting a home run off of Dempster in the sixth inning of the Yankees 9-6 win.

Copyright ã 2013 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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