Here are five interesting stories in baseball this week:
Dodger doings: Hill pulled with perfect game; Puig cheers on team
The Los Angeles Dodgers saw their five-game National League West lead trimmed to three after they lost two of three to the Marlins in Miami over the weekend. In Game 2 of that series, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled starter Rich Hill after seven innings and 89 pitches. That’s seven perfect innings. Roberts’ rationale: Hill has battled a blister on his throwing hand, and he didn’t want to risk injury by allowing him to continue. A valid concern, but the decision didn’t sit well with the man who made it. “I feel sick to my stomach,” said Roberts. Hill was diplomatic about it. “Obviously, I didn’t want to come out of the game,” he said. “But I think there is a bigger picture here and we all know what it is. Dave was in a very difficult position. You look at it and move on. That’s all you can do.” Now the Dodgers move on to New York for three with the red-hot Yankees, winners of seven of eight. But hey, with their newest cheerleader, Yasiel Puig (see video) in their corner, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Speaking of the Yankees...
Someone forgot to tell the Yankees they were out of the playoff race. New York dealt closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, setup man Andrew Miller to the Indians, outfielder Carlos Beltran to the Rangers, right-hander Ivan Nova to the Pirates and jettisoned Alex Rodriguez. Then they climbed back into contention. Catcher Gary Sanchez is the poster boy for the resurgence. He has 13 home runs, 24 RBIs and is hitting .341 in 129 at-bats. He was the American League’s Player of the Month in August. Luis Cessa has filled Nova’s spot in the rotation, and went 3-0 in August with a 4.30 ERA. Dellin Betances has filled the void at the closer spot, converting 10 of 11 save opportunities since Aug. 1. Their seven-game winning streak ended with a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Let’s see what they can do when they meet up with their old foes, the Dodgers, starting Monday.
Are the Giants back from the dead?
Life was looking pretty good for San Francisco Giants fans at the All-Star break. The team was a major-league best 57-33, with a 6 1/2 -game lead on the Dodgers in the N.L. West. Then came the collapse. They are 20-32 since the break. Fans may have thought it couldn’t get worse after closer Santiago Casilla blew a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning against the Cubs on Sept. 4, a game the Giants lost 3-2 in 13 innings. Three days later, it got worse, when the Giants carried a 5-3 lead into the ninth in Colorado, only to see Casilla give up a homer and a single to leave with the score 5-4. Josh Osich and Joe Nathan couldn’t stop the tide, and another blown save was added to San Francisco’s list. Manager Bruce Bochy went to Casilla again on Friday, asking him to protect a 6-5 lead over Arizona in the 10th. Nope. He gave up a homer. But the Giants won that game in 12 innings, then proceeded to sweep the Diamondbacks and cut the Dodgers’ lead to three in the West. Hunter Pence caught fire in the Diamondbacks series, going 8 for 11, scoring eight runs while driving in three. He also made a diving catch near the fence in right. The Giants hold the top spot in the N.L. wild-card standings, with a 1 1/2-game lead on the New York Mets. The St. Louis Cardinals are a half-game behind the Mets. Are they ready to put this train wreck of a second half behind them? Wait and see.
Strasburg’s immediate future up in air
Nationals star right-hander Stephen Strasburg left last Wednesday’s start in the third inning. Tests determined he has a strained flexor mass in his throwing elbow. Strasburg had Tommy John surgery on the elbow five years ago, but the injury is not related to the ligament. The Nationals are in cruise control with a nine-game lead on the Mets in the N.L. East. Strasburg hopes to make it back this season. “I’m just trying to get back healthy. Hopefully, we’re still playing baseball,” he said. For now, the Nationals turn to … right-hander Mat Latos, who was pulled off the scrap heap when the White Sox let him go in June. Good luck with that one.
Beasts in the A.L. East
The A.L. East race has been a real tight one this season. With 20 games left, the Boston Red Sox hold a two-game lead on the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles and a four-game lead on the Yankees, who have crept back into the discussion. The Orioles open a three-game series in Boston on Monday. Boston took two of three from the Blue Jays in Toronto over the weekend. Baltimore took two of three from the Tigers in Detroit. Meanwhile, in the A.L. wild-card race, the Blue Jays and Orioles are tied for the top spot, with the Tigers and Yankees lurking two back. The Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners are 3 1/2 games back, and defending champion Kansas City is four back. It promises to be a memorable hunt for October in the A.L.
Compiled by Chris La Marr with information from The Associated Press