The most eye-popping stat of all the eye-popping stats we’ve seen lately about the Los Angeles Dodgers is the one that Elias put out late Wednesday: The Dodgers had won a record 44 straight games in which they held a lead of any kind.
That’s just flat ridiculous, but it also identifies the No. 1 item on your “How to beat the Dodgers” to-do list, which is to not let them get a lead.
Clearly no one in Los Angeles is going to sprint down Sunset Boulevard in sheer panic. No one thought the Dodgers were going to finish 133-29, even though there have been times lately when they looked flat unbeatable. They can be beaten. It’s baseball.
For all the depth and high-quality redundancy on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, if you want to squint hard enough to find an area for possible upgrade at trade-deadline time, it’s in the rotation.
That’s written with the understanding that any problem the Dodgers might have is of the first-world variety. I think Los Angeles would remain the World Series favorite even if Andrew Friedman and his staff decided to sit tight at the end of the month.
But consider this: After the big three atop the rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood), whom do you want to send out for the one game in which you probably need a No. 4 starter in a seven-game postseason series?
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Thursday marked the fourth time in 29 games a Dodgers starter had failed to go five innings. Three of those outings were by McCarthy, whose ERA (3.84) has been propped up by fortunate homer-to-fly ball rates and L.A.’s MLB-best defense. And yet, McCarthy has pitched at a similar level to Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Any of those three could get on a roll and make everyone comfortable with the Dodgers' rotation entering the playoffs. Still, given these choices and also the ongoing worry over Hill’s blister problems, another mid-rotation starter would make a lot of sense for a roster that is oh-so-close to perfect as it is.
Slamming the door
Just look at the outfield, which we were so high on entering the season:
RF Gregory Polanco is hitting .404 with nine extra-base hits in July.
CF Andrew McCutchen remains hot, having reached base in 25 of his past 26 games.
And, of course ...
LF Starling Marte is back from his PED suspension to resume his place atop the batting order.
Nevertheless, the breakout star of the Pirates’ hot stretch has been closer Felipe Rivero.
Rivero is a personable, power lefty who has blossomed under the tutelage of prized pitching coach Ray Searage. He has a ridiculous 0.70 ERA and converted all nine of his save chances. According to FanGraphs, Rivero’s average pitch velocity (98.4 mph) is the highest in baseball among pitchers with at least 50 innings.
... and we're back— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) July 21, 2017
Whit sends one to the bullpen 💪 pic.twitter.com/oo1uttjO26
Every time you think you can safely cross the Kansas City Royals off the list of possible contenders, they seem to spring back to life and remind everyone why they won two pennants in the very recent past.
Kansas City got back to .500 and closed within 1½ games of the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central with a 16-4 pounding of the Detroit Tigers. It’s an outcome made all the more surprising by the fact the Tigers sent Michael Fulmer to the mound to start things. Last year's AL Rookie of the Year gave up a career-high eight runs and didn’t make it out of the third inning.
Detroit’s three first-inning errors didn’t help.
The Royals had eight players record multi-hit games, the first time they’ve done that since 2005. Now Kansas City has a weekend series against the scaled-down Chicago White Sox coming up, a great opportunity to really put the heat on the Twins and Indians ahead of them.
The Seattle Mariners got an encouraging outing from Felix Hernandez, who gave up one run in seven innings with a season-high nine strikeouts, though he was outdueled by the dynamic Luis Severino in a tough loss to the New York Yankees. But Hernandez received some serious help from his defense in the form of this catch in center field by Jarrod Dyson, which Statcast gave a 21 percent probability of becoming an out.
Dyson, if you haven’t noticed, is fast. According to the new sprint speed metric from Statcast, Dyson is tied for 16th in the majors by covering an average of 29 feet per second in “max effort” situations. That might strike you as surprisingly low. If so, you might also be surprised by whom Dyson is tied with: Cubs rookie Ian Happ.
The sweep in Pittsburgh made for a rough week for the Brewers, who suddenly find themselves clinging to the National League Central lead they’ve held since May 27. Now, with the Cubs poised to reclaim first, the Brewers head to Philadelphia for a weekend series.
On one hand, that seems like a golden opportunity to right the ship. On the other, if Milwaukee can’t turn it around against the woeful Phillies, they then head to Washington to play the Nationals while dealing with a serious esteem crisis.
The Pirates, at 107 degrees, are now the hottest team in the non-Dodgers division of the major leagues. Again, that measure of “hotness” is based on a Bill James formula, where 72 degrees is average.
Out like a Lamb
The Diamondbacks bludgeoned the Reds 12-2 on Thursday behind another big day by third baseman Jake Lamb and an unusual degree of efficiency with their baserunners. Lamb hit two homers and drove in six in his third multi-homer game of the season.
Lamb has quite simply emerged as one of the better lefty hitters in all of baseball. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, since the start of last season, Lamb is one of five lefty sluggers to top 50 homers and 150 RBIs, joining Robinson Cano, Jay Bruce, Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto.
Arizona put up its 12-spot with just 13 baserunners -- on nine hits and four walks. No other National League team had done that since the Braves on July 13, 1979, against the Pirates. Bob Horner hit two homers in that game for Atlanta. There’s only one other NL team on that list during the live ball era -- the 1921 New York Giants, who did it against the Phillies on May 30 of that year.
By the way, newly acquired J.D. Martinez sat out to rest the left hand he injured when he was hit by a pitch on Wednesday.
A proportional response from MIN: About to upgrade their rotation by adding Jaime Garcia for a minor-leaguer, at relatively low cost.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 20, 2017
The Braves hoped to catch a little lightning in a bottle during the offseason by adding veteran starters Jaime Garcia, Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey to stabilize the rotation, since the top arms in their system didn’t figure to be big-league ready in 2017.
The Minnesota Twins seem to be following the same path, literally. After signing Colon after Braves released him a couple of weeks back, they reportedly reached an agreement on Thursday to acquire Garcia.
While it remains to be seen if the gamble on Colon will pay off, especially since he’s contemplating retirement, Garcia should give Minnesota the quality innings they need. Garcia has been Atlanta’s most consistent starter, with an xFIP of 4.23. (From FanGraphs, xFIP is a version of fielding-independent ERA with homer-to-fly ball percentage normalized.)
That’s better than anyone in the Minnesota rotation, even outstanding rookie Jose Berrios and All-Star veteran Ervin Santana. Minnesota is just a half-game back of Cleveland in the AL Central, by definition putting the Twins in the thick of the division race.
Minnesota has the worst run differential in the division (minus-61), but that’s a bit misleading because of a disconnect between their overall bullpen depth and the credible job their relievers have done in high-leverage spots.
It’s not the splashiest move we’ve seen this month, but given the tepid cluster of teams in the Central divisions of both leagues, it might be a little move that tips the scales. Garcia is a rental, so why not?
Down on the farm, hard-throwing White Sox prospect Michael Kopech had an excellent outing for Double-A Birmingham. Kopech went a career-high eight innings, allowed no runs or walks, gave up just four hits and struck out eight.
The Orioles clubbed four homers while completing a four-game sweep of a Texas Rangers club that can’t find a foothold in the AL wild-card race. The Baltimore homers broke a historical tie: Entering the game, the O’s had hit 2,490 homers at both Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the old, egg-shaped Memorial Stadium. Also, since I know you’re wondering, the franchise hit 2,786 homers from 1909 to 1952, when they played as the St. Louis Browns at old Sportsmans Park III.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera drove in his 1,600th career run in Kansas City, breaking a tie with Nap Lajoie for 35th on the career RBIs list.