There’s parity in major league baseball. Just look at the standings and you’ll see that pretty clearly. But the question we ask is, is there a great team? If we go by Bill Parcells’s philosophy of “You are what your record says you are,” then the Dodgers and Astros are the best teams in baseball.
I would rank the Dodgers ahead of the Astros.
Folks in Houston and Washington might debate this and make a case for their teams. The Red Sox, Indians, defending champion Cubs, upstart Brewers, and better-than-expected Diamondbacks and Rockies could also make a case. But as the second half begins, Dave Roberts’s Dodgers might be the closest thing to a great team.
“I think what they have is a lineup where they have a few guys who can play multiple positions and that’s extremely valuable,” said Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon. “They have a great closer [Kenley Jansen], a great starting pitcher [Clayton Kershaw], and a whole staff of pitchers that are pretty tough.”
Not to mention the fact that they have resources coming out of their eyeballs. If they need something, whether the cost be money or prospects, they can go get it, though the Dodgers are trying to be more frugal on both fronts. The days of taking on $260 million in salaries —
And really, the Dodgers have waited long enough to reach this point. They’ve teased their fans for a few years now and haven’t delivered. But they may be on the verge of delivering.
It doesn’t hurt having Kershaw at the head of their rotation, or that Jansen is the most dominant closer other than Craig Kimbrel. It doesn’t hurt that the Dodgers have a minimum-salaried rookie in Cody Bellinger who has stood LA on its head since he was called up in April, and a heck of a third baseman in Justin Turner. They have super-utility player Chris Taylor, who has three grand slams among his 10 homers in a surprise season.
Bellinger has filled in at first base for the injured Gonzalez and will likely shift to the outfield when Gonzalez returns.
“It’s just been so much fun to be a part of,” Bellinger said. “We have a good group of guys who root for each other and pull for each other. We have guys who can play different positions and play them well. We have great pitching and defense.”
And they’re in the toughest division in baseball, contending with the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and yes, the Giants, who are having a poor season but remain an intense rival of LA.
“We have to keep it going,” Jansen said. “We all have a job to do and I think that’s the way we approach it. I’ve got to do my part at the end of the game.”
Jansen ended the first half with 57 strikeouts and just two walks in 37⅔ innings.
“I hate walks,” Jansen said. “I’m just the type of pitcher that would rather come at you and pitch in and out to try to get you out. Walks are never good.”
The Dodgers allowed 300 runs in the first half, fewest in the majors and 44 fewer than Arizona, which ranked second in that category. LA culminated the first half by wining 26 out of 30 games for a 61-29 record, a half-game better than the Astros (60-29).
The culture created by the upbeat Roberts — a Red Sox hero in 2004 — has also been a huge factor.
“I think he’s a great manager,” Bellinger said. “Everybody loves playing for him.”
The Astros have that explosive offense and they hit a lot of home runs. The Nationals have a great offense and great starting pitching, but they lack a closer. Both the Astros and Nationals play in inferior divisions.
Who knows if the Cubs, who recently acquired Jose Quintana from the White Sox, can find the magic again. Who knows if the Red Sox will emerge as a flawless team if their Big Three of Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello pitch lights-out and their offense finds consistency.
There are those in baseball who believe there is no great team right now. But the Dodgers are making a case to the contrary.
CONTENT IN CINCINNATI
Votto still quite happy where he is
How does Joey Votto stay so focused while the Reds are bottom-feeders and won’t likely be competitive for a while?
Votto said he sees hope, and that keeps him going.
“We keep getting better and that’s all that really matters,” he said. “It’s been great. I didn’t expect 16 straight years of winning. I thought there’d be some give and take, and right now we’re giving back, but we’ll be back.”
Votto, 33, is one of the best hitters in baseball. At the break he had 26 homers, 68 RBIs, a .315 average, and a 1.058 OPS. His 10-year, $225 million deal runs through 2023, when he’ll be 40.
The Canada native has always been rumored to be going to the Blue Jays. The rumors were hot last year. But Votto can veto any deal. He appears to love Cincinnati enough that even a potential deal to the Blue Jays would be something he’d have to think about.
His salary, obviously, is a major deterrent to a trade. Last offseason, Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams was often asked about the possibility of Votto being dealt as the Reds try to rebuild, but Williams kept saying that he had no plans on dealing Votto, and he’s been true to his word.
Votto is bound to eclipse his career high in homers, 37 in 2010. He said the one area of his game he feels he can improve in the second half is his defense (even though he’s been charged with only one error this year).
Votto said he hopes to stay the course in Cincinnati and enjoy the team’s rise over the next couple of years.
“Just play and compete and do it that way,” Votto said.
Apropos of nothing
1. MLB says the balls aren’t made differently. Pitchers tend to disagree. There are apparently a lot of inconsistencies from ball to ball. “If I don’t like the feel of a ball I just throw it out,” said Rays pitcher Chris Archer, who said some balls have high seams and others have low seams. Archer didn’t want to get too deep into the controversy because “that’s probably something I shouldn’t get into.”
2. Got to see 91-year-old Braves scout Tom Giordano and 88-year-old Red Sox scout Joe McDonald in Tampa. McDonald cracked, “I’m so old the candles cost more than the cake.”
3. We forget that Nick Swisher basically got the Yankees Aaron Judge. Swisher signed with Cleveland as a free agent in January 2013 and the Yankees received a sandwich pick as compensation. They selected Judge with the 32nd pick. Every team passed on Judge in the first round, including the Yankees, who selected Eric Jagielo with the 26th pick.
4. It was great to watch Brad Mills manage in the All-Star Game, albeit at the expense of an ailing Terry Francona. We’re all about people being rewarded for paying their dues. Mills, who was Francona’s bench coach when the Red Sox won it all in 2004 and 2007, took a beating as manager of the Astros from 2010-12 (.384 winning percentage).
5. Thanks to MLB Network’s Jim Kaat for some nice comments he made about this weekly column on Twitter. His book “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the New York Yankees Dugout, Locker Room, and Press Box” is a must-read.
6. A few weeks back we wrote about the resources the Phillies have to be active in trades or free agency. We mentioned the possibility of them taking on Giancarlo Stanton’s contract while also having interest in Christian Yelich. Well, the Yelich part is heating up. There are conflicting stories on whether the Marlins have the OK to trade away major talent as the franchise is being sold, but it looks like the Phillies will pursue this.
7. David Phelps is someone you could see in a Red Sox uniform at some point. The Marlins reliever has a lot of traction on the trade market. He was described by a Marlins official as “versatile, powerful, and effective” as a setup man. The Red Sox may be in need of such a pitcher.
8. Two managers who have done incredible work — Torey Lovullo in Arizona and Craig Counsell in Milwaukee.
9. Kenley Jansen on Judge: “He’s not human.”
10. Bill Chuck on Pablo Sandoval: “Nineteen times he was on first when a single was hit and 19 times he only reached second. Seven times he was on first when a double was hit; six times he reached third and once he was thrown out . . . he never scored.”
Updates on nine
1. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers — His comment at the All-Star Game was telling: “Liking Texas and signing a deal are two different things . . . It’s all business.” Darvish will get plenty of attention in free agency and don’t rule out Texas dealing him if it falls further out of wild-card contention. Cole Hamels could be on the go, too, but the Rangers first want to see how they start the second half.
2. Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers — General manager Al Avila might prefer to deal Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander, but Fulmer is the pitcher he’s getting the most calls about. “I think Al is being forced to listen,” said one NL executive. “The Tigers could get a huge haul for Fulmer, but they’re trying to get their payroll down and get younger. Trading Fulmer is not necessarily the way to do it.”
3. Justin Wilson, LHP, Tigers — The Astros appear to be the hottest team on Wilson at the moment, but the Nationals and Red Sox are also very interested. The 29-year-old lefty would be a superb setup man in front of Craig Kimbrel.
4. David Ross, Cubs special assistant/ESPN analyst — Given that he’s in the best shape of his life after his “Dancing With the Stars” experience, there’s some talk about Ross returning to the Cubs to solidify their catching. But it appears there’s no truth to it. But the Cubs’ pitching staff certainly performed better with Ross than without him.
5. J.D. Martinez, RF, Tigers — The Cardinals, Dodgers, and Royals seem to be the favorites to land Martinez, an impending free agent. The Tigers would only receive a fourth-round pick as compensation if they lose him to free agency.
6. Sonny Gray, RHP, A’s — Gray could be the next big name to move before the trade deadline. The Brewers have shown the most interest and they have the prospects to make it happen. The deal to sell off Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox last December turned out to be a brilliant move by GM David Stearns, who, by the way, had a hand in building the Astros. Stearns acquired Travis Shaw from Boston about a week after he signed Eric Thames. They are major cogs in the Brewers’ lineup.
7. Dave Robertson, RHP, White Sox — GM Rick Hahn has received a wealth of excellent young players in deals for Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton, and he isn’t done. He’s been extremely patient in his approach and will continue to be. Robertson could be the next chip to fall, and a decent amount of teams could be in pursuit, the Nationals and Astros to name two.
8. Zach Britton, LHP, Orioles — Britton is back and he looks healthy again. His situation hasn’t changed — he’s a free agent after next season and the Orioles likely won’t be able to afford him. He looks to be a top trade candidate, and there have already been inquiries directly and through back channels, according to a major league source. Look for the Nationals to have interest as Britton could be huge for them down the stretch and in the postseason.
9. Josh Harrison, 3B/2B, Pirates — The versatile infielder, who said he also likes to play the outfield, could be on the trading block. When asked if he thought he might be traded with the Pirates out of the race, Harrison said, “Do you think the season is over? There’s plenty of baseball left. I’ve heard the rumors but they’re just rumors until something happens. I’m just enjoying my time here.”
From the Bill Chuck files: “Prior to the break, the Diamondbacks and Phillies had each faced 3,347 batters. Arizona, heading to the postseason, had allowed 704 hits, while the Phils, heading to October golf, had allowed 797 hits.” Also, “The aggressive Red Sox runners have been thrown out on the base paths 44 times this season, most in the majors; the D-Backs have been thrown out only 17 times.” . . . A belated happy 77th birthday, Darrell Brandon.
Halfway to perfection
Alex Wood didn’t begin the season in the Dodgers rotation but he’s since formed one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball with ace Clayton Kershaw. In fact, Wood did Kershaw one better, becoming just the fifth pitcher since 1940 to enter the All-Star break with at least 10 wins and no losses.