Weekend Buzz: The new NL West favorite is ... the Dodgers?
The Dodgers are still in last place, but they've looked so good lately that some people are calling them the favorite to win the AL West.
The Weekend Buzz while you were wondering how June can already be over:
1. The best team in the West? The Dodgers are in last place. They've been in last place every day since the first week of May. A week ago, they had the same record as the Cubs, and a worse record than the Mets.
So why do so many people all of a sudden think they're going to win the National League West?
A lot of it has to do with the division itself, and a complete lack of belief in any of the other four teams. But some of it has to do with how the Dodgers look, now that Hanley Ramirez is back from the disabled list (and hot), now that Matt Kemp is back from the disabled list (but not hot), now that Yasiel Puig is ... well, he's Yasiel Puig.
"Now that I've seen the Dodgers, I think they're as good as anyone in that division," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, as his team was on the way to losing three of four over the weekend at Dodger Stadium.
He's not alone. When I asked three scouts who follow the NL West who wins the division, all three said "Dodgers." Small sample size, yes, but how often does anyone pick a team that's in last place at the 81-game mark to finish in first?
The last team that finished June in last place and finished the season in first was the 1995 Mariners, who had the advantage of a late start to the season (they'd played only 60 games through the end of June, and were 30-30) and an Angels team that would collapse (blowing an 11-game lead).
The Dodgers played their 81st game on Sunday. They won't need anyone to collapse; the division is already so bad/balanced that while the Dodgers are still in last place, they're now only four games out of first place. They're closer to first than the Nationals, Reds, Yankees or Rays, among other teams.
It was a little funny last week to think of the Dodgers as a trade-deadline buyer. It's not funny now, and general manager Ned Colletti admits to pursuing another starting pitcher (although he won't say how hard he has pursued Ricky Nolasco).
The Dodgers think Carl Crawford could return from the DL by the end of this week, which will leave them with one too many outfielders. The way things are going now, they figure that problem -- and everything else -- will work itself out.
2. The best team anywhere? We've been cautious in judging the Pirates, because of what they did in the first half each of the last two seasons -- and because of what happened in the second half. But scouts who follow the National League Central have been saying this Pirates team is different, and it might be time to start believing that.
Friday, the Pirates moved into first place by themselves. Saturday, with their eighth straight win, they became the first team in the big leagues with 50 victories. The last time the Pirates were the first to 50? That would 1960, the season that ended with Bill Mazeroski's home run.
Sunday, they made it nine straight, beating the Brewers in 14 innings.
3. Hey look, the Tigers find another closer to hate (and not their own): The Tigers didn't fix their bullpen over the winter. They didn't fix their bullpen in spring training. Perhaps they'll fix their bullpen over the next month.
They're an amazing 2-9 in extra-inning games, but at least after the latest loss they had something else to talk about. The Tigers took offense to an up-and-in pitch Rays closer Fernando Rodney threw to Miguel Cabrera in the 10th inning Saturday, and they spent Saturday night vowing to do something about it. Sure enough, Rick Porcello hit Ben Zobrist with a pitch on Sunday.
"[Cabrera] is outstanding, he's wonderful," Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters. "I just wish he wouldn't cry so much."
4. Hey look, the Indians are tied for first place: Two weeks back, I think I said on a radio show that the Tigers could win the AL Central even without solving their bullpen issues. They're trying to prove me wrong. The Indians are trying to prove me wrong.
Friday, the Indians swept the longest doubleheader (without extra innings) in baseball history. Saturday, the Indians swept back into a first-place tie with the Tigers.
5. Hey, at least they finally beat the Astros: The Angels have the best record in their division over the past three weeks. The Angels have a six-game winning streak, and their first perfect road trip of at least six games since 2002.
So why are we talking about the Dodgers winning their division and not talking about the Angels winning theirs?
Simple: The Angels play in the American League West, and despite their recent success, they're still nine games out of first place.
But, yes, they did finally beat the Astros. They swept them over the weekend in Houston, after losing two out of three in May and four straight in a series in Anaheim that began on the final day of May.
6. Shipping back to Boston? For all their bullpen problems, the Tigers didn't lead the major leagues in blown saves in June. The Red Sox did, with seven, the latest on Jose Bautista's ninth-inning home run off Koji Uehara on Saturday. So ... what if they could get Jonathan Papelbon back? "I really don't see that happening," one Red Sox person said.
7. He could start the All-Star Game ... or close it: Our Matt Snyder put together a nice roundup of the pitchers who could start the All-Star Game for the National League. I'd lean toward hometown guy Matt Harvey, but I wouldn't blame Bruce Bochy if he chose Adam Wainwright. Not only did Wainwright beat the A's Saturday for his 11th win, but it was his fourth complete-game win. No other pitcher has more than two. Oh, and Wainwright has yet to allow a run in the ninth inning this year.
8. Ricky Nolasco is ... still a Marlin, for now: The Marlins want to trade Ricky Nolasco, as soon as they can. Plenty of teams want Nolasco, as soon as possible, including just about everyone in the National League West. But no deal got done last week. One reason: While the Marlins really liked the prospects the Rockies were willing to offer, Rockies ownership wasn't interested in taking on the $6 million or so remaining on Nolasco's contract. So there's a better chance that he goes to the Dodgers, Giants or Padres.
9. Yasiel Puig is ... still going: As he watched the Puig show last week, Bochy seemed to be softening on the idea that Puig shouldn't take an All-Star spot away from a player who had spent the whole season in the major leagues. And every day, Puig gave Bochy and others more reason to take him. The latest amazing stat: Puig's 44 hits in June are the second-most ever for a player in his first big-league month, trailing only Joe DiMaggio's 48 in May 1936 with the Yankees.
10. Yes, but can he save the Phillies? John McDonald began spring training with the Diamondbacks. He was traded to the Pirates. Then he was traded to the Indians.
The Diamondbacks are in first place. The Pirates are in first place. The Indians are tied for first place.
Friday, John McDonald joined the Phillies. They're not in first place. But they did beat the Dodgers 16-1 the night Johnny Mac showed up.
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