It wasn't in the papers because it only happened for a couple of hours, but if the Dodgers management stops messing around, it will happen again soon enough. For a short time on Friday, LA's lead in the Western Division of the National League reached 20 games.
The Dodgers entered Friday 19½ games ahead of San Francisco. When they beat the Braves, the lead went to 20. The Giants later beat Arizona, sending the margin back to 19½. The Dodgers lost Saturday and the Giants won, and both teams lost Sunday, so that mark is now 18½ games, but still a lot of room for the Dodgers to play with.
Play with it they did, though. After earlier messing around with the idea that outfielder Joc Pederson could play first base, manager Dave Roberts and the powers that be decided a redhead named Dustin May, who had never pitched out of the bullpen in his professional life, should be tried out as a reliever. The immediate result was a grand slam by Rafeal Ortega, and a Braves 5-3 win. Yes, when you have plenty of wiggle room, you can try new things, but when it comes against a team you may likely see in the playoffs, one can't help but wonder what's going on.
So now that we're done venting about the Dodgers, and if we're going to wonder what else is going on, how about all those home runs we're seeing? Not just by the Dodgers, who lead the National League in homers and are third overall in baseball (Twins, Yankees) and just hit a record 22 home runs in five games, but all over the majors. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, balls were flying out of the yard like crazy, and we liked it. That is until we found out that guys like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, hailed as heroes during their 1998 bashfest, were literally on something, making the feat not only less special, but utterly disappointing.
We pointed out a couple of weeks ago that we'll likely see more than a thousand more home runs hit this year than last year. Ten were hit in Oakland Friday night, Washington hit eight by themselves on Sunday against Milwaukee after a 15-14, 14-inning loss on Saturday that saw 12 long balls from the two teams combined. Cody Bellinger hit his 40th of the season Thursday in Miami, and now leads the majors with 42. Pete Alonso of the Mets set an NL rookie record when he hit his 40th Sunday. Four players now have 40 or more homers this season, 17 have hit 30 or more, and 82 players have hit at least 20. And Labor Day is still two weeks away.
It's not steroids this time, folks, but it can't just be launch angle or global warming either. During the All-Star break, Commissioner Rob Manfred admitted the balls are different, but downplayed it, and said there was no conspiracy or intent by the big leagues to add home runs. That seemed to be done, end of story. No one seems to be crying foul here. The line from the commercial (during the steroid era) of 'Chicks dig the long ball' still seems to play true, even if a multi-home run game by a team or a player doesn't mean as much as it used to.
And adding more evidence to support the question of 'why can't starting pitchers last longer in games?', this stat from TBS' Ron Darling. Relievers in baseball have a combined earned run average of 4.52—the highest in the game since the year 2000. That also happened to be, as Darling pointed out, during the height of the steroid era.
Play by play Ray: Oakland A's TV play-by-play man Glen Kuiper was off Saturday because the A's were on FS1, but he also missed Sunday's game to attend his father's funeral. In his absence, radio guy Vince Cotroneo moved to the TV booth, leaving veteran Ken Korach to team up with analyst Ray Fosse on the radio side. Fosse also did play-by-play in what would normally have been Cotroneo's innings, and did a nice job. Fosse talks fast, but you knew where the ball was, which is something you can't always say of a veteran Dodger broadcaster (Charley Steiner).
TV love: Yes, the A's are in a post-season race, currently just behind Tampa Bay in the wild card hunt, but they can thank the Yankees and the Little League World Series for two national TV appearances this week. Because of the youngsters playing in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, ESPN's national telecasts this week feature the later west coast starting times. The Worldwide Leader will have Yankees at A's Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
More TV: After leaving Oakland, the Yankees move on to LA for a weekend once-every-three-years series with the Dodgers. Friday night's game inexplicably isn't on national television (MLB Network can't do a 'showcase' game in the Pacific time zone?), but Saturday's game will be on FS1 (big Fox too busy for baseball with college football getting started), and Sunday will be the ESPN game.
Disappointing but astute observation: Next weekend is Players Weekend, which means cool T-shirt like jerseys with nicknames on the back instead of the traditional uniforms, but TBS' Brian Anderson pointed out in the Sunday Dodgers-Braves game that he had one problem with that. The Dodgers and Yankees will forego the most traditional unis in baseball, just so we can see names like 'Belli' or 'Judgey' on their backs.
And this...: The Baltimore Orioles (now 39-86) were the first team mathematically eliminated from a division race over the weekend. They trail the Yankees by 43½ games in the American League East. Detroit could be eliminated n the AL Central tomorrow.