The Los Angeles Dodgers’ ride atop the NL West this season came crashing down hard this week, as the San Francisco Giants came flying past them and took a game and a half lead (pending the outcome of Sunday night’s Dodgers-Mets game on ESPN). Frisco has won seven of the last ten, including a three-game sweep of the Dodgers earlier this week.
San Francisco is continuing to get good hitting from Melky Cabrera, who batted .304 in the month of June, as the Giants gradually picked up steam, and they’ve benefitted greatly from the return of third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who has a .354 on-base percentage. Buster Posey has a stat line of .379/.483 in on-base percentage & slugging percentage for the month. But those are the reliable of the San Francisco offense. A real surge would have something extra, and the Giants got it from first baseman Brandon Belt. The young kid the franchise is waiting on to break out, delivering a .400 on-base percentage in June, and his four home runs keyed a .563 slugging percentage.
With more offense than they’re accustomed to, the San Francisco starting rotation took over. Matt Cain’s perfect game on June 13 against Houston was the highlight of a month that saw him go 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA. Ryan Vogelsong also went 4-1 with an ERA in the low 2s, while Madison Bumgarner swept all five of his decisions at a 2.42 ERA. If there’s a concern with San Fran’s pitching it’s that Barry Zito is starting to show some cracks, with a monthly ERA of 4.54 and Tim Lincecum isn’t showing any signs of a return to form at 5.16 just for the past month.
Ultimately though, while San Francisco has played better baseball it doesn’t explain a sudden takeover of the NL West. The shift in the standings is the fruit of the Dodgers’ collapse. Back on June 7, Los Angeles completed a four-game sweep of Philadelphia to push their record to 37-21, then won two of three series following. But after that, the Dodgers were swept at Oakland, dropped a series to the Angels, took the aforementioned sweep to the Giants and the ensuing losses to the Mets.
No one in Don Mattingly’s lineup is hitting. The power is non-existent and the only notable stat for June is the .380 on-base percentage by catcher A.J. Ellis. But he’s only hitting .222, so I guess we can say that watching Ellis get a walk has been the highlight of the month for Dodger fans. And the pitching has not picked up the slack. No one in the starting rotation had a June ERA under 3.44, and this is a staff that works in a great pitcher’s park. Chad Billingsley’s 4.35 ERA continues to mark him as underachiever, although as this goes on year after year, maybe this is really all he is.
Whatever he is, the Dodgers have come down to earth, the Giants are riding high again…and lurking in the background, just five games is out is the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team TheSportsNotebook has been urging readers not to write off too quickly.
Around the rest of baseball..
*This is excruciatingly painful to write, but I’ve got to give New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi credit. He’s been down Mariano Rivera most of the year, he’s been down Brett Gardner in left field, he lost Michael Pineda in spring training and now he’s got C.C. Sabathia on the disabled list. And yet Girardi’s Yankees are threatening to blow away the AL East. They’ve moved out to a six-game lead. And even on a slump of late, the Baltimore Orioles are still in second place, with Boston breathing heavily down their neck and Tampa Bay sliding down to fourth in the wake of news that Evan Longoria’s return from the disabled list has been delayed.
*Cleveland took three of four from Baltimore this weekend and has stayed within a game and a half of Chicago in the AL Central, while Detroit continues to struggle along sub-.500, but just three games out in this division where no one would be in the top half of the American League if they opened it up and played a balanced schedule.
*The Los Angeles Angels are 44-35 and would host the wild-card game if the season ended today. In spite of their steady climb up the playoff picture, they haven’t been able to do more than hold on for dear life in the AL West race. Texas has won five straight and with a 50-29 record is easily the best team in baseball.
*With a five-game losing streak, Philadelphia has dropped to 36-45, 11 games out of first in the NL East and 7.5 out of the wild-card race. The Phils’ invested heavily in a win-now approach with their entire roster and have seen the window close faster than anyone expected.
*St. Louis is hanging within 2.5 of the lead in the NL Central, chasing a Cincinnati team that lacks depth to its everyday lineup and has to rely heavily on first baseman Joey Votto, and a Pittsburgh team that has no one beyond Andrew McCutchen to turn to. And the Cardinals are getting healthy, with more help still on the way by the end of the month in the form of Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter coming off the disabled list.