Dodgers, Astros on top of game

Both teams on pace to win over 100 games this sea­son

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Jay Co­hen Stephen Dunn, Getty Im­ages

The Washington Na­tion­als have Bryce Harper an­chor­ing one of base­ball’s best line­ups, and a glar­ing hole at the back of their bullpen. The Bos­ton Red Sox are en­joy­ing life with Chris Sale, and miss­ing David Or­tiz at times. The Chicago Cubs are search­ing for an­swers for their pesky cham­pi­onship han­gover.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Hous­ton Astros are look­ing down at the rest of the ma­jors right now, and it’s quite a gap at the mo­ment.

With the All-Star Game in the rearview mir­ror and the trade dead­line inch­ing closer, the World Se­ries fa­vorites are as clear as the beau­ti­ful blue waters of Mi­ami that hosted base­ball’s best play­ers for the past cou­ple days. The Dodgers and Astros are each on pace to win 100-plus games, some­thing that hasn’t hap­pened for two teams in a sin­gle sea­son since the St. Louis Car­di­nals and New York Yan­kees in 2004.

“I don’t think there’s one key, but I think that’s prob­a­bly why we’re do­ing so well — is that there’s not one spe­cific thing you can hone in on as to why we’re play­ing so well,” Dodgers ace Clay­ton Ker­shaw said.

Los Angeles leads the ma­jors with a 61-29 record, one game bet­ter than Hous­ton and 7 ½ ahead of sec­ond­place Ari­zona in the loaded NL West. The Dodgers’ plus-163 run dif­fer­en­tial is the best in Na­tional League his­tory at the All-Star break, ac­cord­ing to STATS LLC.

Ker­shaw has been, well, Ker­shaw, and Ken­ley Jansen re­mains one of the ma­jors’ best closers. But rookie Cody Bellinger has pro­vided an un­ex­pected lift with 25 homers, and left-han­der Alex Wood is 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA.

“Ev­ery night it’s some­body different, and that’s a sign of a good team,” Dodgers man­ager Dave Roberts said. “It seems like I say depth ev­ery sin­gle night, but that’s prob­a­bly been the big­gest rea­son for our suc­cess.”

The Astros are feel­ing pretty good, too. Led by All-Stars Carlos Cor­rea, Jose Al­tuve and Ge­orge Springer, they top the ma­jors in runs, hits, home runs, RBIs and bat­ting av­er­age. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, they also have a whopping 16 ½ -game lead in the AL West, al­low­ing them to go slowly with Dal­las Keuchel af­ter the 2015 AL Cy Young Award win­ner was shelved by a neck in­jury.

“You don’t think you’re go­ing to play that well but you don’t think you’re go­ing to play badly ei­ther,” Springer said. “I’ll take it.”

A year ago, the Cubs were in the same po­si­tion as the Dodgers and Astros, on top of the game head­ing into the sec­ond half of the sea­son. They went on to their first World Se­ries cham­pi­onship since 1908, but their ti­tle de­fense has been one bumpy ride so far.

Ham­pered by in­juries and in­con­sis­tency, the Cubs are un­der .500 and trail sur­pris­ing Mil­wau­kee by 5 1/2 games in the NL Cen­tral. The Cleve­land In­di­ans, who lost to Chicago in the World Se­ries, have ex­pe­ri­enced some of the same prob­lems, but they are in po­si­tion for an­other Oc­to­ber run at the top of the AL Cen­tral.

“We def­i­nitely be­lieve in our­selves as a team. We know what we have here, what we’re ca­pa­ble of,” Cubs sec­ond base­man Ben Zo­brist said. “Just got to ex­e­cute bet­ter in the sec­ond half and re­ally turn on the burn­ers.”

An­other start­ing pitcher also could help the Cubs, so ex­pect Theo Epstein and com­pany to be work­ing the phones all the way to the non-waiver trade dead­line on July 31. The Astros, Brew­ers, Rockies and sweet-swing­ing Yan­kees also could be on the look­out for ro­ta­tion help.

Some pos­si­bil­i­ties in­clude White Sox left-han­der Jose Quin­tana, Ath­let­ics right-han­der Sonny Gray and Tigers star Justin Ver­lan­der. Any one of those pitch­ers on the right team could help close the gap with the Dodgers and Astros.

“We’ve had a lot of in­juries, a lot of guys go­ing down,” Yan­kees slug­ger Aaron Judge said. “We’ll get a cou­ple guys back so I’m look­ing for­ward to the sec­ond half.”

Washington needs an­other arm or two for its bullpen, and Bos­ton could look for a power-hit­ting third base­man be­fore the dead­line. While Or­tiz seems to be en­joy­ing his re­tire­ment very much, the AL East-lead­ing Red Sox have an AL-low 92 homers at the break. The Na­tion­als bashed their way to a big lead in the NL East, but they have 14 blown saves and a ma­jor league-worst 5.20 bullpen ERA.

One shrewd move by ei­ther team, and they could turn into a le­git­i­mate chal­lenger to the front-run­ning Astros and Dodgers.

“We’re hav­ing fun, we’re play­ing con­fi­dently,” Bellinger said. “When it all clicks like it is now, it’s fun.”

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