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Real or not? Best Dodgers team ever, Yankees in trouble

Think the Atlanta Braves would like Alex Wood back?

Back at the trade deadline in 2015, the Braves, Dodgers and Marlins made a complicated three-team deal that included 13 players. The meat of that deal was Wood going to the Dodgers and Hector Olivera going to the Braves. Olivera was a Cuban free agent the Dodgers had signed for $62.5 million, including a $28 million signing bonus.

Olivera played only 30 games for the Braves and was suspended after a domestic violence dispute. (The Braves later flipped him to the Padres for Matt Kemp when the Padres wanted to dump Kemp's contract).

Wood, who had a 3.10 ERA in his three seasons with the Braves, battled a foot injury in 2015 and then elbow chips in 2016, when he made only 10 starts and won one game. He began the season in the bullpen, joined the rotation, missed a couple of weeks because of a sore shoulder and now looks like one of the best starters in baseball.

After beating the Diamondbacks 1-0 on Wednesday, he's now 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA. He has struck out 97 in 80 2/3 innings and given up only two home runs. With Clayton Kershaw starting Sunday and thus ineligible to pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game, Wood is the best option to replace him on the roster.

One key for Wood has been increased use of his changeup -- apparently on the advice of Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers' analytics department. From a Bill Plunkett piece in the Orange County Register in May:

But Wood also credits a conversation with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman with turbo-charging his return to a prominent role.

"When I really started to take off last year was after we had a conversation about pitch usage and that kind of thing," Wood said. "I won't go into too much detail but that along with my mechanics getting back to where they were most of my life has made everything work better."

With the Braves in 2015, Wood threw his fastball 66 percent of the time. This season he's down to 52 percent, with his changeup percentage increasing from 15 to 25 percent. Opponents are hitting .127 against it. Of course, they're also hitting .190 against his fastball and .195 against his curveball.

The Dodgers have now won 22 of their past 26 games, and Wood's emergence as a strong No. 2 behind Kershaw leads me to this question: Could this be the best team in Los Angeles Dodgers history? Their current run differential of plus-154 would be the second highest in National League history at the All-Star break, behind only the 1944 Cardinals, and they're on pace for 107 wins.

For context, here are the best seasons since the franchise moved from Brooklyn in 1958:

  1. 2017 Dodgers: 57-29, .663

  2. 1974 Dodgers: 102-60, .630

  3. 1962 Dodgers: 102-63, .618

  4. 1963 Dodgers: 99-63, .611

  5. 1977 Dodgers: 98-64, .605

As much success as the Dodgers have had -- including the past four NL West titles -- it's surprising they haven't had more super teams. They haven't won more than 95 games since that '77 squad did it 40 years ago. I imagine most Dodgers experts would point to the 1963 team, led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, as the best because it swept the New York Yankees in the World Series.

The 1974 team that had the highest winning percentage led the NL in both runs scored (798) and fewest runs allowed (561). That team featured Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, who pitched a remarkable 206 innings in relief, plus MVP Steve Garvey (although Jim Wynn easily led Garvey in WAR and 20-game winner Andy Messersmith topped Marshall). The Dodgers lost the World Series to the A's.

This team has a chance to top those two, especially given the weak slate of opponents on its schedule the rest of the way. Of their 76 remaining games, 47 are against teams currently with losing records, just 29 against winning teams. Of their first 36 games after the break, 30 are against losing teams. The Dodgers have the best rotation ERA in the majors. They lead the NL in bullpen ERA. They're second only to the Nationals in the NL in runs. They have the best closer. They have Cody Freakin' Bellinger.

It's not a question of winning 100 games, but how many wins above 100.

Gray's anatomy. A reminder of why we need a pitchers' Home Run Derby: Rockies starter Jon Gray belted his first career home run, and this 467-foot blast that was not only the longest of the season for the Rockies but also longer than any hit by six of the eight Home Run Derby participants (only Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have gone deeper):

I love the little Sammy Sosa-like hop there as well. The more important result for the Rockies was the 5-3 win over the Reds. The offense is still struggling -- Gray and backup infielder Pat Valaika both hit two-run homers -- but Nolan Arenado is still doing amazing things in the field:

Aaron Judge update. He hit his 29th home run, tying Joe DiMaggio's Yankees rookie record. He leads the AL in home runs and RBIs, and is just a few points behind in the batting race. Oh, he also leads the majors in walks, and you know that makes my heart swoon. His OBP is .449; DiMaggio's career-high OBP was .448.

The Yankees lost to the Blue Jays, however, as Dellin Betances came on with the score tied in the eighth inning and promptly walked four of the five batters he faced. Betances made the All-Star team but didn't deserve the nod, as he's in a massive mechanical slump. He has now walked 26 batters in 27 1/3 innings and given up nine runs over his past 4 2/3 innings.

The eighth inning is suddenly a big problem for the Yankees, who haven't won two games in a row since June 12. The Yankees led the division by four games on that date. They've gone 6-16 since, and while they still lead the wild-card race, there is now a pack of teams right behind them. Given the mediocre state of their rotation, they need a lockdown bullpen, and that hasn't been the case of late.

Madison Bumgarner returns and it wasn't pretty. OK, it was only his first rehab start in the California League, but ... umm, wow:

He ended up giving up nine runs and four home runs in four innings. And, no, he has never given up four home runs in a major league game.

Baseball ... you can't predict it.