MLB-best Dodgers remain atop Rankings
AL trio of Yankees, Rangers and Rays nipping at LA's heels
Vin Scully said it best, as he often does. Paraphrasing the legendary broadcaster the other night as the Dodgers were busy notching yet another comeback win, Scully called them "a team of wonder," adding something along the lines of, "You wonder how they're doing this!"
It's hard to argue. Los Angeles has been without star center fielder Matt Kemp for weeks. Second basemen Mark Ellis and Justin Sellers are on the disabled list, as are starter Ted Lilly, relievers Matt Guerrier, Javy Guerra, Blake Hawksworth and Rubby De La Rosa. So, naturally, all they do is keep winning.
The never-say-die Dodgers began Monday with a Major League-best record of 42-25. But does that mean they're the best team in baseball?
Well, it wouldn't be wise to count out the Yankees right now, not with the club on a season-high nine-game winning streak that has given it control of a tough American League East.
Then again, an argument could be made for the Texas Rangers, who are still in the AL West driver's seat after a good week that includes a three-game winning streak. They should get Josh Hamilton back this week, and injured starter Derek Holland might return.
Maybe it's the Tampa Bay Rays, who are only 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees and are watching their best offensive player, injured third baseman Evan Longoria, get closer and closer to rejoining them from the disabled list.
What about the Reds? They've won six in a row and are comfortably ahead in the National League Central now. And the Nationals? Can they keep their momentum going or even get stronger despite being swept by the Yankees over the weekend? And look at the Orioles. They're still hanging in there, only 1 1/2 games behind the surging Yanks.
For the third season, MLB.com has set up a panel of experts to vote on the top 15 teams each week. Three former Major League players -- Larry Dierker, Mitch Williams and Frank Thomas -- are part of the process, as are columnist Peter Gammons and Carlton Thompson, vice president and executive editor of MLB.com. Former general manager and current MLB.com analyst Jim Duquette, along with MLB.com columnists Mike Bauman, Hal Bodley, Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice, Matthew Leach and Jesse Sanchez, are also part of the group.
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So, exactly how are they doing this? Well, the third-highest batting average (.265) in the NL isn't bad, but it isn't the key. That would be the pitching. The Dodgers carry a 3.13 team ERA into Monday's play, which ranks second to Washington in the NL.
Everything seems to be coming together in the Bronx. Take Sunday's win. Starter Ivan Nova took the lead from Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes and notched his fifth straight victory. The scary thing? The Yankees went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position in the game and continue to struggle in that area. If they turn that stat around ...
Wow. What an offense. The Rangers' team batting average of .283 is 16 points higher than their nearest pursuers in the AL, the Red Sox and Tigers (tied at .267). Their 358 runs scored are 28 more than Boston's second-place total of 330. Now they need Holland to come back and lower the club's still-respectable ERA of 3.59.
One has to wonder how a team with a .235 team batting average can stay afloat in the AL East, but the Rays are pitching well (3.50 ERA and 550 strikeouts in 594 1/3 innings through Sunday) and do what it takes late in games. Longoria can only help the scuffling bats.
Dusty Baker's boys are putting it together on both sides of the ball. Joey Votto (.489 on-base percentage) is having a historic season, and ace Johnny Cueto (8-3, 2.38 ERA) is doing a great job of setting the tone for a young staff.
There's no shame in losing a few games to the hottest team in baseball, and the young Nats fought hard in the home sweep to the Yankees. The pitching (3.00 team ERA) has been otherworldly and deservingly well-documented. The hitting (12th in batting in the NL at .242) needs help, and Bryce Harper should do just that as his maturation process progresses.
Baltimore is going to need contributions from all 25 men to keep this remarkable surprise of a season going, and it seems to be continuing. Jason Hammel threw a one-hitter last week, for example, and on Sunday it was rookie starter Wei-Yin Chen's turn to shine. Behind it all is crafty Buck Showalter, who seems to be molding another winner.
Robin Ventura's club had a bit of a rude awakening in dropping two of three to the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine over the weekend, but the pieces seem to be in place for success in the AL Central. The White Sox held the lead in the division despite a clunker from starter Chris Sale, who has emerged as one of the better young pitchers in the game.
What's wrong with Tim Lincecum? It's a valid question, but take that away and you're looking at a very solid team. Matt Cain threw a perfect game last week, after all, and the continued stellar play by new addition Melky Cabrera has galvanized a team that doesn't need much offense with all that pitching.
We all figured it was just a matter of time until the Angels started winning games, and now it's happening with greater regularity. Leadoff man Mike Trout might be just 20, but he's been the spark for Mike Scioscia's offense, and Albert Pujols seems to be heating up with the weather. Mark Trumbo continues to rake, and the pitching staff has been holding its own without Jered Weaver. Last week featured an Ervin Santana one-hitter and a great Sunday performance by Garrett Richards.
Atlanta's lost two in a row and six of its last 10, and things didn't get better with right-hander Brandon Beachy, who has been a cog in the club's rotation and is the NL's ERA leader (2.00), about to undergo an MRI to see what's wrong with his ailing elbow.
Pedro Alvarez hit two homers and drove in six runs on Sunday. If the third baseman with star potential continues to produce like that, there's no telling how far this Cinderella story can go. Then again, the club lost Charlie Morton to elbow surgery, which hurts the pitching staff.
Derek Lowe's feuding with Dusty Baker, Shin-Soo Choo still hasn't caught fire at the plate, Justin Masterson is 3-6, and somehow Manny Acta's team is hanging in there in the Central. It doesn't hurt that Jason Kipnis (11 homers) is breaking out in his second season.
Where would this team be without R.A. Dickey? It's hard to imagine, especially after the knuckleballer's one-hitter last week improved his record to 10-1, lowered his ERA to 2.20, and kept him in contention for an NL All-Star Game start. Another tough break came with Jason Bay's concussion, but Terry Collins still has these guys playing hard and in the NL East mix.
After witnessing last year's unbelievable comeback and World Series win, it's difficult to count this team out at any time in the season. Injuries are really hurting Mike Matheny's team, but one positive has been the quiet, recent improvement of Adam Wainwright, who looks like he's finally all the way back from Tommy John surgery.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.