The Dodgers have erased a nine and a half game deficit in 21 days

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Less than a month ago, a lot of people were asking whether the Dodgers were in big trouble. Don Mattingly and Andre Ethier had a heated argument in the Dodgers dugout. Mattingly called his team “sh***y.” On June 8, they found themselves nine and a half games back of the Giants. This matched their biggest deficit of the 2013 season as well. Last year they went on a near-historic run to take control of the division and cruise into the playoffs. No such thing would happen again this year, would it? I mean, you can’t count and that kind of stuff happening two seasons in a row.

Except there they were when they went to bed last night, 21 days after getting to the bottom of that nine and a half game hole, tied for first place after winning 14 of 19 games.

On June 8, Clayton Kershaw helped the Dodgers beat Colorado 6-1. Yesterday he bookended things with a 13-strikeout performance. He has been a big part of the surge, going 6-0 with era of 0.82 in June and ending the month with a still-active 28-inning consecutive scoreless innings streak. Overall, Dodgers pitchers led the NL in team ERA for June with a 2.63 ERA.  Dodgers hitters were not as impressive, but you can be fifth in the NL in team OPS for a month when you got pitching like they have.

Also helping the Dodgers’ surge: the San Francisco Giants. They’ve been in a tailspin dropping 15 of 19 games. Their pitchers are 14th in the NL in ERA for the month, their hitters are eighth in OPS in June. Their defense has been among the worst in the NL. It’s going wrong for the Giants any way you slice it.

It may still be too much to ask for the Dodgers to replicate 2013. I mean, the surge so far has been nice, but it’d be hard to bet on them winning this division by 11 games again. The Giants won’t play this poorly all season. But no one saw that happening last year either. And as they’re showing at the moment, the Dodgers appear to have a higher gear the other teams don’t seem to have.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.