Daily Distractions: Accept it, Dodger fans: Your team is the big favorite.

Dodger fans

Fans take in a recent Dodgers game. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

This non-native Southern Californian is about to make a broad observation about Dodger fans. Try to hang with me for two minutes before returning the favor in the comments section.

The updated 2013 World Series odds were released today by online oddsmaker Bovada. The Dodgers are the strong favorites at 13:4. The Detroit Tigers are second at 19:4. This represents a shift since the last time Bovada released its odds on Aug. 16, when the Dodgers were the cautious 9:2 favorites, edging the Tigers (5:1) for the first time all season.

In the National League, the Atlanta Braves (11:4) are given the best chance of knocking off the Dodgers (3:2) for the pennant.

Rather than liking those odds, fans offered feedback in step with the I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it pessimism that’s prevailed since … well … you tell me.

Quick psychological litmus test: When the Dodgers fell short of the playoffs last season, did you accept your inevitable fate or feel genuinely disappointed? When the Dodgers became the first team since 1942 to go on a 42-8 streak over 50 games in July and August, did you start looking forward to October or wonder how your team would manage to blow it? Would you have fired Don Mattingly by now?

If you’ve worn off the paint on the PANIC button to the point it’s become PC, today’s odds probably come as little comfort. Maybe a little skepticism is healthy. It’s not unearned. But if the Dodgers’ bandwagon were a Walmart, some crusty old guy would be standing front and center, restraining a smile and greeting new visitors with a reminder about no World Series appearances since the 1988 championship. Or so I imagine.

In the early days of sports blogs, DodgerBlues.com was among my favorites. Maybe it’s a sign of newfound optimism that the site hasn’t been updated in a year and a half (and that the last blog entry portended hope — a symbolic death of “Dodger blues”?). It’s also telling that the site exists at all, and that the Kirk Gibson fist-pump clock is still rolling.

Accept it, Dodger fans: Your team is the big favorite now. Whatever that means.

Some bullet points for a Newspaper Carrier Day:
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Daily Distractions: The National League’s best record is within the Dodgers’ reach.

Brian Wilson

The Dodgers are two games behind the Atlanta Braves for the National League’s best record. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

While I spent the weekend at a wedding in which two bridesmaids went chasing after a tossed bouquet like a a couple of defensive linemen going after a fumbled football (congrats Darryl and Amanda!), the Dodgers spent the weekend looking ahead to October.

How else to view the Michael Young trade, with the Phillies unloading their primary third baseman to a Dodgers team that might or might not use him extensively off the bench?

Looking ahead in a way the Dodgers won’t publicly, the best record in the National League is within their reach the next three days in Denver. If the Dodgers sweep the Colorado Rockies, and the New York Mets sweep the Braves in Atlanta (stranger things have happened; the Metropolitans are 4-3 in Atlanta this year), the best record in the National League belongs to the Dodgers. Atlanta is currently two games ahead of the Dodgers, 83-53 compared to 81-55.

The National League team with the best record on October 1 will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason until the World Series, thanks to the American League’s All-Star game victory. All those Dodger wins in July and August that had us reaching for the record books, searching for the best 40- and 50-game stretches in baseball history, might actually mean something after all.

So far as we can tell, the last time the Dodgers held the NL’s best record outright as late as Sept. 4 was in 1978.

And so the journey into scarcely charted territory continues.

More bullet points for Labor Day:
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Dodgers’ Matt Kemp on track for second rehabilitation game tonight in Rancho Cucamonga.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp is scheduled to play his first game in center field tonight with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Kemp went 0 for 5 and grounded into two double plays last night. (Rachel Luna / Staff Photographer)

Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp is scheduled to play his first game in center field tonight, the second day of his rehabilitation assignment with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.
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Daily Distractions: Ricky Nolasco would like to re-sign with the Dodgers.

Ricky Nolasco

Dodgers pitcher Ricky Nolasco becomes a free agent at the end of the season. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

Ricky Nolasco‘s next start will be his 10th in a Dodgers uniform. If the last two starts are any indication — the right-hander has pitched 16 innings and allowed zero runs against the Red Sox and Cubs, respectively — he’s grown quite comfortable pitching for his childhood team in a short amount of time.

While some professional athletes simply aren’t able to deal with the unique pressures of pitching near their hometown, Nolasco has adapted well, improving incrementally with each outing. A free agent at the end of the season, Nolasco chose his words carefully Wednesday when asked if he’d want to re-sign with the Dodgers.

“My teammates have been doing a great job of welcoming me here,” Nolasco said after blanking the Cubs. “As far as what the future holds, we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens. I’m from here, and this is where I want to be. We’ll just see what happens.

“I’ll focus right now on winning right now and all that will play itself out.”

The key words there — this is where I want to be — were easily lost yesterday, when Yasiel Puig‘s benching was the media focus after the game. (More on him in a bit.)

Since Magic Johnson and his Guggenheim Baseball Management cohorts bought the club, the Dodgers’ new owners have gone out of their way to show they are choosers, not beggars. This winter, they potentially can choose from a free-agent pitching crop that includes Nolasco, Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Tim Lincecum, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett and Jon Lester (for whom the Red Sox hold a team option worth $13 million). You can certainly argue that Nolasco, who turns 31 in December, isn’t the best pitcher in that group. He isn’t the worst. More importantly, would any accept the job of fourth starter more willingly, with lower contract demands, than the Rialto right-hander?

That question ignores the Dodgers’ plans for Josh Beckett, prospect Zach Lee, and Chad Billingsley, who’s due to return from Tommy John surgery at some point next season if his rehab goes well. (All three would love to have a permanent spot in the Dodgers’ 2014 rotation behind Kershaw-Greinke-Ryu.) But it’s a question that the Dodgers will have to ponder if Nolasco continues to force his way into the team’s long-term blueprints.

Some more bullet points for an off day:
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Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp will begin rehabilitation assignment tomorrow in Rancho Cucamonga.

Kemp ankleDodgers manager Don Mattingly said that center fielder Matt Kemp will begin his long-awaited rehabilitation assignment tomorrow with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.

Kemp is scheduled to be the designated hitter in the Quakes’ 7 p.m. home game against the High Desert Mavericks.

“He passed all the tests,” Mattingly said.

Kemp sustained what’s believed to be a severe Grade 2 ankle sprain on July 21 in a game against the Washington Nationals. It was Kemp’s first game back after missing 15 days with inflammation in his right shoulder.

Wednesday was Kemp’s second straight day running the bases and making cuts in the outfield at close to full speed.

“It seems like it’s taken a while but we’re there. We survived,” Mattingly said. “Hopefully we get Matt sharp and it gives us options on our players.”

Kemp left without speaking to reporters after the game.

Matt Kemp runs the bases, ready for minor-league rehabilitation assignment.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp confers with the Dodgers’ medical staff and manager Don Mattingly on the infield after running the bases Tuesday afternoon. (J.P. Hoornstra via Instagram)

Matt Kemp is at least two days away from beginning a minor-league rehabilitation assignment after running the bases at close to full speed Tuesday.

“I was a little skeptical. It turned out to be really, really good,” Kemp said. “It was pretty fun to go out there and run. It’s been a while.”

Kemp has been on the disabled list since sustaining what is believed to be a severe Grade 2 ankle sprain on July 21. Running the bases at game speed was the most significant milestone Kemp needed to clear before he could be sent out.

There was some question as to when and where Kemp’s rehab stint would begin, but that was cleared up with his positive prognosis Tuesday.

(View our video interview with Kemp on Tout here and here)

“I’m not going to the spring training complex,” Kemp said. “I’ll go to Rancho (Cucamonga) or wherever they send me, but I’ll be around here in Cali somewhere.”
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Daily Distractions: Will Juan Uribe win his first Gold Glove award this year?

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe’s fielding percentage at third base (.985) is second in the majors. (Getty Images)

When the Miami Marlins placed third baseman Placido Polanco on the 7-day disabled list prior to their series against the Dodgers, it spoiled a possible matchup between … wait for it … the top two candidates at third base for a Gold Glove award in the National League.

The Dodgers’ Juan Uribe ranks second among MLB third basemen with a .985 fielding percentage in 93 games (73 starts) at the hot corner. Uribe has committed just three errors in 200 total chances in 655 innings at third, behind only Polanco (.988) for the top fielding percentage by a third baseman this year.

Amidst two seasons (2011-12) of execrable offense in Los Angeles, Uribe’s play in the field was often the only valid reason to have him in the lineup. This year he’s been even better, particularly at the plate but also in the field. Uribe has committed fewer errors at third base than he did in twice as many games at the position last year (four errors in 46 games).

In 13 major-league seasons, the 34-year-old has never won a Gold Glove award. A shortstop early in his career with the White Sox and Rockies, Uribe finally played a plurality of his games at third base beginning in 2008 in Chicago. He moved back to the National League the following year, signing with the San Francisco Giants, then the Dodgers in 2011.

Five different National league third basemen have won the award the last five years, including Polanco in 2011. That often helps create a wide-open race, as voters tend to err on the side of history. It also helps that Uribe, who’s batting .283 with seven home runs, has some semblance of a swing this season (which for some reason matters in the Gold Glove selection process).

Some bullet points for a Thursday morning:
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Daily Distractions: Gauging Brian Wilson’s progress.

Brian Wilson

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes had fun with this photo on Instagram yesterday. When Brian Wilson was asked for thoughts on his Single-A manager, the pitcher replied “he’s a dinosaur.” Not really. That’s my fake caption.

A reporter said to Brian Wilson yesterday, “The clock had you throwing at 91. Is that satisfying for you?” Wilson, the most-watched Rancho Cucamonga Quake in a while, replied, “for now.”

Wilson is expected to make his next rehab appearance on Friday for Triple-A Albuquerque after his 8-pitch, 1-2-3 inning last night at Rancho Cucamonga.

Eight pitches is enough for a photo op, but not really enough to draw a conclusion about the type of pitcher he will be if (and when) he pitches for the Dodgers. During the 2011 season, the last time Wilson was an effective major-league pitcher, his fastball was in the 88-97 mph range and his slider 83-95 – often with tremendous movement. Yesterday, Wilson’s slider was clocked in the 86-87 range, his fastball at 91-93. Good enough to pitch a 1-2-3, 8-pitch inning at the Single-A level. Sure, that’s good enough for now.

But the better test — maybe with less media attention — will come at Albuquerque.

Some bullet points for a Taiwanese father’s day:

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Is Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez coming to Los Angeles or Albuquerque?

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes won’t be eating as well tomorrow as they have the past two days. That much is certain.

Hanley RamirezAs for when rehabbing shortstop Hanley Ramirez — who foot the bill on the Quakes’ clubhouse spread this weekend — will return to the Dodgers, that’s less certain. It might come as early as tomorrow, when the Dodgers host the Colorado Rockies.

“I think anything’s possible, the way he looked last night,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

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Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez expected to begin rehab tomorrow at Rancho Cucamonga.

Hanley Ramirez will play his first rehabilitation game tomorrow with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers’ Single-A affiliate, the Dodgers’ shortstop confirmed on Twitter this afternoon.

The assignment was contingent on Ramirez emerging healthy from a pregame routine that included taking ground balls at shortstop, playing catch in the outfield from approximately 100 feet — the longest he’s thrown since having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb March 22 — and taking part in a round of batting practice.

Apparently, Ramirez made it out OK.

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