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NL East emerging as beast in Power Rankings

It's about time for Mets, Nats; Braves, Phillies coming into peak year
MLB.com @alysonfooter

Entering this season, we knew the National League East race was bound to be a dogfight that involved two teams. Two months in, the division is indeed one of the most competitive in baseball -- it just involves more than just the usual suspects, the Nationals and Mets.

Wouldn't it be something if come September, the two teams clawing their way through the stretch run were the Braves and Phillies? They are proving to be not only young, hungry and homegrown, but also talented and highly entertaining to watch.

Entering this season, we knew the National League East race was bound to be a dogfight that involved two teams. Two months in, the division is indeed one of the most competitive in baseball -- it just involves more than just the usual suspects, the Nationals and Mets.

Wouldn't it be something if come September, the two teams clawing their way through the stretch run were the Braves and Phillies? They are proving to be not only young, hungry and homegrown, but also talented and highly entertaining to watch.

Four teams in the NL East are playing better than .500 baseball and are within three games of each other. It's been a perfect case study: two teams that have been building toward this for years in the Braves and Phillies, and two that have been in win-now mode for quite a while in the Mets and Nats.

If early returns are any indication, the NL East may end up as the most competitive division in baseball.

Biggest jump: Two teams jumped six spots: the Brewers, from No. 11 to No. 5, and the Mariners, from 16 to 10. We talk about the Brewers below, so in this space, let's give a hat tip to the Mariners, who have weathered challenges and are very much in contention. It won't be easy without Robinson Cano, who's out for several months due to a PED suspension, and Seattle will have to stay away from injuries that have derailed past seasons. The club has had a very good week recently, winning five of seven, including taking three of four against the Tigers over the weekend.

Biggest drop: The Nationals dropped eight spots, from No. 4 to No. 12. This comes with a caveat, though -- they had a terrible, rain-soaked week that involved one suspended game, two postponements and a dreaded doubleheader. They didn't win any games during that stretch, losing twice to the Dodgers on Saturday before dropping the finale Sunday. The Nats sprung to life Monday against the Padres, however, topping them, 10-2. And how about the kid? Juan Soto, the 19-year-old rookie sensation, connected with the first pitch he saw for an opposite-field three-run homer.

Video: SD@WSH: Soto's first homer goes 422 feet to left

Power Rankings Top 5

1. Yankees (1 last week)
The Yankees' infusion of youth has been a perfect complement to their veteran core. While we hear more about rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, don't forget about Tyler Austin, who through Sunday ranked second among all Major League rookies with eight home runs and a .910 OPS. From the veteran side, Giancarlo Stanton continues to hit. Over his past 10 games, he is hitting .350 (14-for-40) with two homers and seven RBIs.

Video: NYY@KC: Austin belts 2 homers for 4 RBIs vs. Royals

2. Astros (2)
The Astros could easily have slid into the No. 1 spot on our rankings -- when it comes to the Yankees, Astros and Red Sox, a case can be made for any of the three. Through Sunday, the Astros' rotation ERA of 2.25 was more than a full run lower than the next-lowest in the American League -- the Indians, at 3.42. When Lance McCullers Jr. is considered a fourth or fifth starter, that's a sure sign that the Astros' starting pitching is in a class all its own.

Video: CLE@HOU: McCullers Jr. spins seven shutout innings

3. Red Sox (3)
Boston has the third-lowest rotation ERA in the American League, and the offense is positively scorching. Through Sunday, Mookie Betts is 30-for-75 (.400) with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 19 runs scored in his last 18 games. J.D. Martinez has reached base safely in 25 consecutive games and has 11 homers and 26 RBIs during that stretch. Andrew Benintendi is 16-for-36 (.444) with 11 RBIs in his last nine games.

4. Braves (9)
Welcome to the Top 5, Atlanta! The Braves were shut out by the Phillies on Monday, but before that, they had scored 18 runs over two games against the Marlins, including five to walk it off on Sunday. Through Sunday, the Braves had the fifth-lowest team ERA in the NL (3.51), the highest collective batting average (.266) and slugging percentage (.437), and the second-highest on-base percentage (.338). Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis are in the top five in batting average, and Ozzie Albies is one behind Bryce Harper among home run leaders with 13.

5. Brewers (11)
Also making their Power Rankings Top 5 debut are the Brewers, winners of nine of their past 13 through Sunday and in first place in the NL Central. Milwaukee has been getting contributions from all parts of its roster, but one reliever -- Josh Hader -- is making his own, separate headlines. The lefty has faced 95 batters this season and struck out a staggering 56. Hader, who has a WHIP of 0.51 and a 1.32 ERA, has appeared in 16 games, and the Brewers have won all of them.

Video: MIL@MIN: Hader strikes out 6 for final 6 outs

The rest of the Top 20:

6. Cubs (5 last week)
7. Phillies (12)
8. Cardinals (10)
9. Angels (8)
10. Mariners (16)
11. Diamondbacks (6)
12. Nationals (4)
13. Indians (7)
14. Pirates (13)
15. Rockies (14)
16. Mets (17)
17. Dodgers (19)
18. Athletics (21)
19. Blue Jays (18)
20. Giants (20)

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Yanks hit 5 HRs in historic win over Texas

Bombers tally at least 4 dingers for 3rd straight game
MLB.com @BryanHoch

ARLINGTON -- The most potent lineup in the big leagues continued to slug at a historic pace on Monday. Led by the first multihomer game of Gleyber Torres' young career, the Yankees cracked another five homers in a 10-5 slugfest victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Park.

Torres went deep in the second and sixth innings, Neil Walker hit his first homer of the season and Aaron Judge launched his 12th long ball as the Yankees tallied at least four homers for the third consecutive game, marking the first time in franchise history that the feat has been accomplished. Aaron Hicks added a two-run shot in the ninth.

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ARLINGTON -- The most potent lineup in the big leagues continued to slug at a historic pace on Monday. Led by the first multihomer game of Gleyber Torres' young career, the Yankees cracked another five homers in a 10-5 slugfest victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Park.

Torres went deep in the second and sixth innings, Neil Walker hit his first homer of the season and Aaron Judge launched his 12th long ball as the Yankees tallied at least four homers for the third consecutive game, marking the first time in franchise history that the feat has been accomplished. Aaron Hicks added a two-run shot in the ninth.

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Video: Must C Crushed: Torres pops 2 HRs off Bartolo

"It's awesome. It's fun," Hicks said. "Every time you go out there, you feel like you have an opportunity to win a ballgame. You know you're never out of a game, no matter how many runs they're up. It doesn't matter. I feel like we can attack from the top to the bottom, and everybody contributes."

Video: NYY@TEX: Hicks cranks 2-run homer to right-center

New York (31-13) won for the 22nd time in 26 games, continuing to own the best record in the Majors and moving a half-game ahead of idle Boston for first place in the American League East.

"The guys are swinging the bats very well," manager Aaron Boone said. "They're very tough on the opposing pitcher, and that's what these guys do best. They make that other pitcher work, and when we get a mistake, they're slugging it."

Video: NYY@TEX: Boone talks Torres' huge night at the dish

The first four of the Bombers' blasts came off right-hander Bartolo Colon, who allowed a season-high six runs and eight hits over 5 1/3 innings, just three days ahead of his 45th birthday.

At 21 years and 159 days, Torres became the second-youngest Yankee to enjoy a multihomer performance, standing alongside Mickey Mantle (20 years, 296 days).

Video: TEX@NYY: How old were Yankees when Colon debuted?

"The lineup is awesome," Torres said. "Everybody does their job, everybody helps the team. I just try to help my team, too, try to put in something, hit or defense. I try to help and try to win."

The runs supported Masahiro Tanaka, who completed five innings and was credited with the victory in a rather odd outing that saw him permit three hits while walking four and allowing four runs. Joey Gallo hit a solo homer, his 14th, in the second inning. Rougned Odor blasted a three-run shot, his first, to tie the game in the fourth.

"I did not have my split tonight," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Very inconsistent. There's a lot of frustration there, mostly because of how good we're playing, but [I have] not been able to pitch effectively."

Video: NYY@TEX: Tanaka strikes out Chirinos swinging

With Walker and Torres having each driven in two runs through the first four innings, Judge restored New York's lead in the fifth with a long drive to the center-field berm. Torres reached the same area in the sixth inning, and the Yankees poured it on against reliever Matt Bush. Giancarlo Stanton added a sacrifice fly and Didi Gregorius showed signs of busting out of his 1-for-48 funk with a run-scoring double.

Video: NYY@TEX: Gregorius lines an RBI double to left-center

The clubs combined for eight homers in the contest, including Ronald Guzman's seventh-inning homer off Chad Green.

Video: NYY@TEX: Walker launches 1st home run as a Yankee

"That lineup is a tough lineup," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "You look up and down their lineup, they are averaging 5 1/2 runs a game. That's a challenging lineup for most clubs. Bartolo threw some really good pitches but gave up some home runs, two to a young guy who is hot and swinging the bat well."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Judge had been in an 0-for-17 skid when he stepped to the plate in the fifth against Colon, teeing off on an 85.5-mph two-seamer that caught too much of the plate. The resulting drive landed on the grassy berm beyond the center-field wall, calculated to travel 436 feet by Statcast™ and providing the Yankees a lead that they would not relinquish.

Video: NYY@TEX: Judge gives Yanks lead with 436 ft. homer

SOUND SMART
The Yankees have recorded eight extra-base hits or more in three consecutive games, marking the first time in franchise history that they have accomplished the feat. It is the fourth such occurrence in modern Major League history, with the Yankees joining the Red Sox (June 27-29, 2003), Indians (April 9-11, 1999) and Senators (June 14-16, 1935).

"That shows you how difficult that is and how rare that is," Boone said. "When I heard about it, it was a little bit surprising."

Video: Yankees' power bats make franchise history

UP NEXT
Right-hander Domingo German (0-1, 4.26 ERA) will take the ball for his third big league start on Tuesday as the Yankees continue their three-game series with the Rangers at Globe Life Park. German did not record a decision in his last start, allowing a career-high six earned runs in New York's 7-6, 11-inning victory over the Athletics on May 12. Veteran left-hander Cole Hamels (2-4, 3.48 ERA), who has been rumored as a possible Yankees trade target, will be making his 10th start of the year for Texas.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees

11 players who could move at Trade Deadline

MLB.com @feinsand

As the calendar approaches Memorial Day, the trade season is drawing near. We're into the second quarter of the season, and although the bulk of the summer deals won't take place for two more months, there's always the possibility of a contender jumping the market in an attempt to separate itself from the pack.

So which players should we expect to see in new uniforms between now and July 31? Here's an early look at some names to watch:

As the calendar approaches Memorial Day, the trade season is drawing near. We're into the second quarter of the season, and although the bulk of the summer deals won't take place for two more months, there's always the possibility of a contender jumping the market in an attempt to separate itself from the pack.

So which players should we expect to see in new uniforms between now and July 31? Here's an early look at some names to watch:

Manny Machado, SS, Orioles
The Orioles' superstar was the subject of myriad trade rumors this offseason, and given Baltimore's deep hole in the American League East, Machado's name has already been the most popular on the rumor mill this season. A three-time All-Star who won't turn 26 until July, Machado will be one of the top free agents available next offseason. The O's are a long shot to retain him beyond 2018, so rather than settling for Draft-pick compensation, Baltimore will likely shop him to the highest bidder for the stretch run with the hope of landing two or three blue-chip prospects in return.
Potential fits: Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, D-backs

Video: TOR@NYM: Donaldson drives in a run with a single

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays' path to October won't be easy, especially after their recent 1-7 slide. The Yankees and Red Sox are pulling away in the division, meaning Toronto's best-case scenario would be to join a crowd of a half-dozen teams vying for the second AL Wild Card spot. If the season takes a turn for the worse, the Blue Jays could move Donaldson -- a pending free agent unlikely to sign back with Toronto -- to a contender and promote top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is knocking at the door to take over at third base. Left-hander J.A. Happ could also be on the block if the Jays become a seller.
Potential fits: Braves, Cardinals, Indians

Video: MIN@LAA: Dozier opens the scoring with a solo homer

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins
Dozier looked to be on the trade block before the 2017 season, but the Twins held on to the former All-Star as they made a surprising run to an AL Wild Card berth last year. Minnesota is hoping for a return trip to October, but given the team's subpar start, the progress being made by Nick Gordon (No. 4 on the team's Top 30 prospect list according to MLB Pipeline) in the Minors and Dozier's expiring contract, the Twins could move the soon-to-be 31-year-old by midsummer if October appears to be a long shot.
Potential fits: Brewers, Indians, Rockies

Video: NYY@KC: Herrera strikes out Gardner to collect save

Kelvin Herrera, RHP, Royals
The Royals watched Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain leave town this offseason, and while they have a number of players on one-year deals, Herrera will be headed to free agency for the first time after the season. We know how valuable relievers tend to be as the Trade Deadline approaches, so Herrera -- a two-time All-Star off to a fantastic start in 2018 -- could be one of the bigger bullpen arms available. Given Kansas City's last-place standing in the AL Central, the club figures to be one of the first teams to start selling.
Potential fits: Astros, Angels, Nationals

Zach Britton, LHP, Orioles
Speaking of relievers, Britton has the potential to be one of the more interesting players to watch as July 31 approaches. The Dodgers and Astros flirted with the Orioles last summer but ultimately passed on Britton, who hasn't pitched in a game this season as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon. The two-time All-Star is due back in early June, making him a prime trade candidate if the free-agent-to-be shows he can return to his previous form. Fellow Baltimore bullpenner Brad Brach -- another player with an expiring contract -- could also be on the move.
Potential fits: Astros, Dodgers, Angels

Video: TB@LAA: Colome records the save in the 5-3 win

Alex Colome, RHP, Rays
We finish our reliever run with Colome, the Rays' closer, who was the subject of myriad rumors during the offseason. The right-hander got off to a miserable start to 2018, but he's bounced back over the past month, converting all six of his save opportunities while posting 1.32 ERA and a 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 appearances. Tampa Bay is hanging in the AL Wild Card race, but if that changes, Colome could become the latest player shipped out by the Rays.
Potential fits: Angels, Dodgers, Nationals

Video: NYY@KC: Moustakas breaks bat, collects RBI

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
If the Royals become early sellers as suggested above, Moustakas could find himself playing for a contender down the stretch. The third baseman struggled to find a job this offseason before settling on a one-year, $5.5 million pact with Kansas City, and although there's a $15 million mutual option, it comes with an affordable $1 million buyout. Moustakas -- who already has 10 home runs and a solid .861 OPS -- might welcome a trade, giving him a chance to put his talent on display for a new team in what would be meaningful games. Either way, he won't be eligible to get a qualifying offer after the season, making it easier for him to sign next offseason.
Potential fits: Braves, Cardinals, Mets

Video: TEX@HOU: Hamels tosses 6 shutout innings vs. Astros

Cole Hamels, LHP, Rangers
Last summer, Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray were all moved to contenders, helping the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees go deep into the postseason. This year's crop of available starters doesn't figure to include any big-name front-line starters, leaving the 34-year-old Hamels as potentially the top arm on the market. Hamels might not be the same pitcher he was a couple years ago, but the Texas southpaw would still serve as a quality No. 2 or 3 starter for most contenders and has the postseason experience -- including National League Championship Series and World Series MVP Awards -- that teams covet every October.
Potential fits: Yankees, Angels, Brewers

Video: OAK@TOR: Davis homers on 4-hit night vs. Blue Jays

Khris Davis, LF, A's
The Athletics are in the mix in the loaded AL West, but they face an uphill battle when it comes to a postseason berth. We've seen the club deal big-name players for packages of prospects as they approach the final years before free agency, and given that Davis has only one more arbitration-eligible season before becoming a free agent at the end of 2019, Oakland could turn his powerful bat into a haul of young players.
Potential fits: Nationals, Mariners, D-backs

Video: TB@LAA: Archer strikes out five over 6 2/3 scoreless

Chris Archer, RHP, Rays and Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers
We'll group these two together as they are similar in a lot of ways, as young right-handers who are both under team control for a few years. The thin starting-pitching market makes both look attractive despite their respective performances declining the past three seasons. Archer has a 5.01 ERA in 10 starts, which would be a career high, while Fulmer's 4.35 ERA would also be the worst of his three big league seasons. On a positive note, Archer is under control through 2021 and owed just $27.5 million from 2019-21. Fulmer also comes with multiple years of control; '19 will be the first of his four arbitration-eligible seasons. It will likely take a sizeable package to pry either of these controllable arms away from their teams, so unless Archer and/or Fulmer begin pitching to their capabilities, it's tough to see any team paying that freight.
Potential fits: Brewers, Yankees, Angels, D-backs, Mariners

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.

Chris Archer, Zach Britton, Alex Colome, Khris Davis, Josh Donaldson, Brian Dozier, Michael Fulmer, Cole Hamels, Kelvin Herrera, Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas

This is how the Braves managed to shock MLB

MLB.com @JPosnanski

ATLANTA -- Twenty-seven years ago in this city -- but in the clubhouse of a different ballpark -- a young man named Tom Glavine was explaining that the Atlanta Braves were for real. Nobody really believed it. The Braves had lost 97 games the year before. It had only been a couple of years since the local newspaper held a contest asking people to come up with a good ticket-selling slogan for the team. The best entry had been: "Atlanta Braves baseball: Better than getting hit in the head with a hammer unless it's a doubleheader."

Somehow, the 1991 Braves were in first place.

ATLANTA -- Twenty-seven years ago in this city -- but in the clubhouse of a different ballpark -- a young man named Tom Glavine was explaining that the Atlanta Braves were for real. Nobody really believed it. The Braves had lost 97 games the year before. It had only been a couple of years since the local newspaper held a contest asking people to come up with a good ticket-selling slogan for the team. The best entry had been: "Atlanta Braves baseball: Better than getting hit in the head with a hammer unless it's a doubleheader."

Somehow, the 1991 Braves were in first place.

"This is a good team," Glavine insisted that day. "It doesn't matter if anybody out there believes in us. We believe in ourselves. They will find out soon enough."

Everyone did find out -- the Braves went to the World Series that year and again the next year. They reached the postseason every full season for 15 years.

I can't help but feel similar vibes about the Braves now. Atlanta lost 90 games last year, 93 the year before that and 95 the year before that. The club had a nightmarish offseason that included the forced resignation of general manager John Coppolella after MLB found that he and the team had committed significant rules violations in the international market (shortly after, Coppolella was permanently banned from the game). Yes, everyone knew the Braves had some exciting young talent -- Ronald Acuna Jr. was the talk of Spring Training -- but all that was future talk. This season figured to be another nonevent in Atlanta.

Instead, the Braves are in first place in the National League East (even after their loss to the equally surprising Phillies on Monday night). They lead the NL in runs. They have a better record than the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers -- the three teams that were supposed to dominate the league. And perhaps more than anything, they are thrilling, with a dynamic lineup that features a top four that rivals anything you can find in the game.

Sure, most people feel sure that the Braves will fade.

But everyone might find out soon enough.


"This is not a fluke," Brandon McCarthy said. He was saying this last Wednesday in the moments after the Braves beat the Cubs, 4-1, largely because two kids did what the irrepressible things they always seem to do. Ozzie Albies had led off the scoring by turning a single into a double through sheer speed and defiance. He scored the winning run after blasting a triple into the gap and coming home on Acuna's 108-mph rocket single that was past third baseman Kris Bryant before he could flinch -- whew, nobody hits the ball harder than Acuna.

"We see it every day," McCarthy said. "Those guys do things like that every day."

Video: CHC@ATL: Albies, Acuna Jr. combine to put Braves up

There is something about surprising teams that reminds a bit of the triumphant scene in "Field of Dreams," where Mark -- the brother-in-law who kept trying to foreclose on Ray's farm -- finally sees the ghost ballplayers. "Where'd all these people come from?" he asked.

That's how it is with Atlanta's lineup. For years, the Braves were a non-factor, a team few paid any attention to. Suddenly, they're loaded. Yes, the excitement builds around 21-year-old Albies and 20-year-old Acuna, but Freddie Freeman is one of the best players in baseball. Nick Markakis is hitting .341 and leads the Majors in hits. Dansby Swanson was the first pick in the 2015 Draft, and he seems to be coming into his own as a plus defender and solid hitter. Ender Inciarte is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner in the outfield, and after a sluggish start, he has started hitting (he also leads MLB in stolen bases). One catcher, Tyler Flowers, might be the league's best at framing pitches. Another, veteran Kurt Suzuki, just keeps on hitting.

Where'd all these players come from?

"You know it when you're around it," said 39-year-old relief pitcher Peter Moylan, who first came up to Atlanta in 2006. "These guys, especially the young guys, they know they're good. You can feel it when a team starts to believe in itself."

The belief begins with that lineup's top four -- Albies, Acuna, Freeman and Markakis. That gets the heart pumping.

Albies came up last season as one of the best prospects in baseball. He immediately held his own as a hitter, but who saw this year coming? Albies has been mashing the ball in ways that seem impossible for a 5-foor-8, 165-pound middle infielder. He was leading the NL in homers for much of the season; now his 13 homers puts him one behind Washington's Bryce Harper. Albies still leads the Senior Circuit in runs. He mixes speed and power with pure baseball joy in a way that reminds of another small middle infielder, one who happened to win the American League MVP Award last year.

"He's better than me when I was 21 years old," Jose Altuve told ESPN's Buster Only. "He's better at 21 than I am at 28."

Video: ATL@CHC: Albies opens scoring with 13th homer of year

Acuna is unlimited. There's no other way to say it. He's the No. 1 prospect in baseball and perhaps the most exciting prospect in the game since the young Mike Trout or Harper. Acuna is breathtakingly fast, he absolutely pounds the ball, he can play any outfield position and -- like Albies -- he exudes happiness in his play.

"I love to play," Acuna said. "It doesn't matter to me where they put me in the lineup, I'm just happy. But I like hitting after Albies and before Freeman."

Video: MIA@ATL: Freeman launches a 2-run homer to right

Freeman is one of the game's purest hitters. His teammates marvel at him, because he's not one of those players who sits in the video room studying his swing or breaking down pitchers. Freeman isn't someone who endlessly hits in the batting cage.

Freeman is hitting .324/.428/.561, and he thrives on the moment. With runners in scoring position so far, he's hitting .419.

Markakis has been the surprise. Everybody talks about how professional he is -- he shows up every day, plays every day, doesn't let bad at-bats or bad hitting luck affect him. Players like that can make a huge difference when teams are trying to shock the world.


The Braves might not end up leading the league in runs, but they should score plenty. Can the pitching hold up? So far it's been pretty good; the bullpen has been particularly effective, particularly middle relievers Shane Carle and Dan Winkler.

The long-term answers, though, probably will be provided by Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz. Newcomb was a first-round pick back in 2014, and he came over from the Angles in the Andrelton Simmons trade in November 2015. When Simmons began to add hitting to his otherworldly defense, this looked like a lost deal for Atlanta, especially as Newcomb struggled to find his rhythm.

Video: MIA@ATL: Newcomb holds Marlins to 1 run over 6 frames

Well, Newcomb has found it now. After an inconsistent April, he has been all but unhittable in May. Newcomb allowed two hits or fewer in his first three starts of the month and has given up one run all month. He doesn't dazzle you; he's mostly a fastball-changeup pitcher. But when Newcomb's command is sharp as it has been this month, he gets a lot of weak contact and a lot of ground balls. Hitters have only hit four Statcast™ barrels off him all year -- barrels being the ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle. If Newcomb can maintain that kind of command all year, look out.

With Foltynewicz, it's different. His pure stuff has had scouts drooling for years. Foltynewicz mixes a high-90s fastball with a deadly slider and an occasionally devastating changeup. He doesn't quite need Newcomb's razor-sharp command to succeed, but for whatever reason, it had not come together the past three years.

Video: ATL@PHI: Foltynewicz K's 5, allows 1 run in 6 innings

This year, Foltynewicz has made some adjustments -- he's throwing his four-seam fastball and slider more and trying to overpower hitters. It has been working so far. His strikeout percentage is way up. A big part of the reason is that Foltynewicz is finding the corners of the plate more. When he's throwing that fastball or slider on the corners, hitters are more or less helpless.

Their success will go a long way in determining just how long the Braves compete. Many think the pitching will fall apart and this team will fade into the middle of the division while the kids learn how to win. That might be faulty reasoning though. The kids look ready to win right now. And Glavine's warning from so long ago still rings.

"I wouldn't say that everyone should just stop what they're doing and pay attention to the Atlanta Braves," McCarthy said. "But I think everyone in here realizes that we're pretty good."

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.

Atlanta Braves, Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Nick Markakis, Sean Newcomb

The kids at the Nationals' Dominican Republic academy went absolutely crazy after Juan Soto's first homer

In the Nats' 10-2 win over the Padres on Monday night, Washington's No. 2 prospect, Juan Soto, arrived. In his first career start, the 19-year-old swatted a 422-foot, three-run, opposite-field homer on the first pitch he saw, and busted out a great Bryce Harper imitation afterward.

As exciting a moment as that was to see unfold at Nationals Park, the kids at the Nats' academy in the Dominican Republic turned the dial all the way up on the enthusiasm and pride they felt at watching their former teammate make his presence felt. 

Alfaro shows off incredible arm on 3 sweet plays

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro popped up from behind home plate, tossed aside his mask, scurried to retrieve the ball several feet away, spun and fired a throw to first baseman Carlos Santana to end Monday night's 3-0 victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

It looked like Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte had dropped down a perfect bunt. Not perfect enough for Alfaro.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro popped up from behind home plate, tossed aside his mask, scurried to retrieve the ball several feet away, spun and fired a throw to first baseman Carlos Santana to end Monday night's 3-0 victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

It looked like Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte had dropped down a perfect bunt. Not perfect enough for Alfaro.

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"I don't know if there's another catcher that I've ever seen -- and I played with Pudge -- that makes that play in the ninth inning," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "He is spectacularly talented, spectacularly athletic, incredibly durable. He's starting to look like a guy who is going to be a fixture in our lineup for a long time."

Video: ATL@PHI: Alfaro's throw earns Neris save, call stands

Alfaro made three fantastic defensive plays in Monday's victory. Two came in the seventh inning, with the Phillies holding a 1-0 lead. He caught Johan Camargo stealing second base for the inning's second out. Statcast™ tracked Alfaro's throw at 88.3 mph. He then fielded a Dansby Swanson roller in front of the plate. Alfaro fielded the ball, spun and threw to first to end the inning. Statcast™ tracked that throw at 80.1 mph.

Alfaro's "max effort" throws on stolen-base attempts average 90.5 mph, the best mark in baseball.

"I don't really think about how hard I have to throw it or how hard to throw it or what the situation of the game is," Alfaro said. "It's just reaction, mainly. I want to be accurate. That's my main thing. I want to release the ball quick and be accurate."

So about Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez not being able to make that play. Really?

"I don't think anybody else makes that play," Kapler said. "I will say that I've played with them both and from an athleticism standpoint, arm strength, speed, quickness, they're neck-and-neck, at worst."

Alfaro and Rodriguez actually know each other a bit from Alfaro's time with the Rangers, who traded him to the Phillies in July 2015.

"We shared some time together talking about the game, everything -- hitting, defense, most of the time -- and calling games," Alfaro said.

What does he think about what his manager said?

"I don't know if I believe that," Alfaro said. "But it means a lot to me that the manager has a lot of confidence in me."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Philadelphia Phillies, Jorge Alfaro

Who will follow Rays, Romo with next 'opener'?

Veteran reliever struck out 6 of 9 Angels in back-to-back starts
MLB.com @mike_petriello

The Rays may or may not have ushered in a "new era" when they started reliever Sergio Romo on back-to-back days against the Angels over the weekend, but what they surely did was prove that the idea had merit. Romo, facing a righty-heavy Halos lineup, struck out six of the nine batters he faced in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After he dispatched with the quality top half of the Angels' lineup, Ryan Yarbrough and Matt Andriese were able to enter to start with the weaker bottom half.

If Romo had gone out and gotten hit hard, it would have set the idea back by years. You might never see a team try it again. But he didn't. It worked. Now the relevant question isn't "will we see this again?" it's "who is going to do it next?" It won't just be Tampa Bay. Not now.

The Rays may or may not have ushered in a "new era" when they started reliever Sergio Romo on back-to-back days against the Angels over the weekend, but what they surely did was prove that the idea had merit. Romo, facing a righty-heavy Halos lineup, struck out six of the nine batters he faced in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After he dispatched with the quality top half of the Angels' lineup, Ryan Yarbrough and Matt Andriese were able to enter to start with the weaker bottom half.

If Romo had gone out and gotten hit hard, it would have set the idea back by years. You might never see a team try it again. But he didn't. It worked. Now the relevant question isn't "will we see this again?" it's "who is going to do it next?" It won't just be Tampa Bay. Not now.

"I'm intrigued to see how it's going to continue to work, because I'm confident we're going to do it," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "It might not just be Sergio. It might be Jonny Venters. It depends."

It's not as simple as "take a reliever and throw him out in the first inning," however. Tampa Bay's strategy worked because it satisfied three important conditions.

Video: TB@LAA: Romo K's 3 in second straight scoreless start

1. Romo is very strong against righties, and easily hit by lefties.
No team has given fewer plate appearances to lefties in the first four spots in the order this year than the Angels have, almost guaranteeing he'd face righty hitters. By doing it this way, you're getting the best possible version of Romo -- the one that's allowed a .194/.263/.387 to righties since the start of 2017, not the one that's allowed a .272/.372/.438 to lefties.

2. The Angels are one of baseball's weakest-hitting lefty teams, leaving them unable to adapt.
If the Halos had moved up struggling lefty Kole Calhoun (.161/.199/.203) to ensure Romo faced a lefty and thus ended up giving Calhoun more plate appearances than Mike Trout, Justin Upton or Andrelton Simmons, that's a big win for the Rays in and of itself. (Notably, Shohei Ohtani was unavailable as a hitter on both days.)

3. The Rays don't have five strong starters.
Tampa Bay has had, at times, a three-man and four-man rotation. A team like the Astros, for example, who are on a potentially historic rotation run, wouldn't bother trying to do this. It's not worth it.

It has to make sense on both sides, is the point. Houston won't bump Justin Verlander to start Joe Smith, no matter what the numbers say. No one is going to do this against a balanced top of the lineup like the Cubs have, with lefties Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, righties Kris Bryant, Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez, and switch-hitter Ben Zobrist. And it has to be the right kind of reliever -- you're never going to see an elite closer like Craig Kimbrel doing this.

So which are the next best matchups to watch? Let's try to repeat the Rays' thought process.

Vulnerable offenses

The Angels were really the perfect candidate, loaded as they were with righty batters and without a good lefty hitter to move up.

Highest righty plate appearance percentage in the lineup's top four spots
Angels (97 percent)
Astros (95 percent)
Orioles (88 percent)
Cardinals (72 percent)

You can see why the Angels were so appealing, but they're not the only ones. Save for the rare appearance from Josh Reddick, the top Astros' four spots are primarily handled by righties George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Since the start of 2017, they've hit .297/.367/.495 (.367 wOBA) against righties, and .320/.403/.535 (.397 wOBA) against lefties. It's not a huge difference -- they're great regardless -- but it's something.

Perhaps more interesting are the Orioles, who head to St. Petersburg this weekend to face the Rays, and the Cardinals. Baltimore has baseball's weakest group of lefty hitters, thanks in part to Chris Davis hitting .166/.241/.272. Much like the Angels with Calhoun, if starting a righty motivates the O's to give Davis (or Jace Peterson, or Chance Sisco) more plate appearances than Manny Machado, Adam Jones or Trey Mancini, all the better.

Video: KC@BAL: Kennedy strikes out Davis to retire the side

The Cards, meanwhile, are the only team in baseball without a lefty hitter within even 10 percent of league average, thanks to the struggles of Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong. You start a tough righty to attack Tommy Pham, Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez, and you almost hope it makes them keep Carpenter (.194/.321/.351) up high.

Though Cash said Venters was an option, this might not work as well for lefties. The teams with the highest concentrations of lefty batters atop the lineup are the Braves (who now have righty Ronald Acuna Jr. hitting second behind switch-hitter Ozzie Albies) and the Indians (who have switch-hitters Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez around lefty Michael Brantley and righty Edwin Encarnacion).

The Rangers might be an exception, given that without Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus, they don't have a single righty hitter near league-average. Then again, Nomar Mazara is their only healthy league-average hitter of any hand, so the American League's weakest offense may struggle regardless.

Opportunistic pitchers

So we know which teams might be most affected by this. Which teams are best suited to take advantage?

It should probably be an AL team (or a National League team playing at an AL park), given that they won't have to worry about running out of pinch-hitters with today's short benches. Then again, it doesn't have to be. If an NL team has to have a pitcher hit, it is no worse off than before. They could have a better-hitting pitcher on a day off, like Madison Bumgarner, take some swings. It doesn't rule them out.

There's not necessarily a scientific way to do this, or a perfect approach. The way we chose was a simple one. We eliminated the Astros, obviously; they're the only team with five healthy, unmovable starters.

Then we looked at righty relievers, specifically those who (since the start of 2017) have shown above-average performance against righties. (Remember, Romo isn't a great pitcher against all hitters, but Romo against righties is a pitcher you want.) We defined that as having faced at least 100 hitters, with a wOBA below .290. (The average righty reliever on righty batter wOBA in that time is .305).

We knocked out closers who will never do this, like Kenley Jansen, Kimbrel and Brandon Morrow, a few who are currently injured or having poor seasons, like Tommy Kahnle, Darren O'Day and Pat Neshek, or high-leverage setup men like Joe Kelly or Archie Bradley. We're still left with kind of a large list. That's sort of the point, though. As nice a career as Romo has had, he's not terribly unique. It's not hard to find relievers like him. Almost every team should have one or more like him.

This isn't meant to be a fully exhaustive list. You'll certainly find other candidates. Our best bets to do this soon, however, are …

AL
Romo (Rays)
Chad Green, David Robertson (Yankees)
Matt Barnes (Red Sox)
Ryan Tepera, Seunghwan Oh (Blue Jays)
Yusmeiro Petit (A's)
Jose Leclerc (Rangers)
Ryan Pressly, Addison Reed (Twins)

Video: MIN@TB: Pressly strikes out Hechavarria in the 4th

NL
Peter Moylan (Braves)
Steve Cishek (Cubs)
David Hernandez (Reds)
Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia (Phillies)
Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates (Padres)
Josh Fields (Dodgers)
Paul Sewald (Mets)
John Brebbia (Cardinals)
Cory Gearrin (Giants)

Again, not a full and comprehensive list. But if the soft-tossing veteran righty Romo can start against a top of the lineup that includes Trout, why couldn't Moylan? Or Cishek?

Series to watch

As you can see, there's plenty of reliever options, and we're only looking at righties. You could probably come up with a good matchup for every day for the remainder of the season.

We're not going to do that, however. We're going to look for what could or should happen right now, such as whether the Blue Jays ought to follow the Rays' lead against the Angels this week. Instead of starting lefty J.A. Happ on Tuesday, why not start with Tepera or Oh?

Looking ahead to next weekend, Romo and the Rays repeating the trick against the Orioles seems almost too perfect not to happen. The Yankees welcome the Angels to the Bronx, and may have the benefit of an Ohtani-free lineup, given that he's likely to pitch. Why not start Robertson?

We don't know who will do it next, or where. We just know it will happen soon, because the temptation of turning a decent reliever into a good one against a known lineup where pinch-hitting is almost ceratinly not going to happen is tempting. People have been talking about this idea for years. The Rays finally made it happen.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Sergio Romo

Kershaw's return date coming into focus

MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw could be less than two weeks away from returning to the Dodgers' rotation, based on a tentative timeline manager Dave Roberts provided on Monday.

"He's going to throw a bullpen [session] on Wednesday, around 30 or 40 pitches, then a simulated situation on Saturday, three or four innings up and down," said Roberts. "If that goes well, then we can figure out where to pencil him in."

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LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw could be less than two weeks away from returning to the Dodgers' rotation, based on a tentative timeline manager Dave Roberts provided on Monday.

"He's going to throw a bullpen [session] on Wednesday, around 30 or 40 pitches, then a simulated situation on Saturday, three or four innings up and down," said Roberts. "If that goes well, then we can figure out where to pencil him in."

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Roberts said Kershaw is symptom-free from the biceps tendinitis that put him on the disabled list after his May 1 start in Arizona.

"Now it's just more of executing pitches and building back his arm," Roberts said.

It's unclear whether Kershaw will pitch a Minor League rehab game.

Hill wants waiver to tape blistered finger
Rich Hill, placed on the disabled list after his latest blister halted Saturday's start at two pitches, resumed playing catch with his left middle fingertip taped. Although rules prevent it, Hill said he wants to request from MLB a waiver to allow him to tape the finger during games.

"Hitters have batting gloves, and they get blisters all the time," Hill said. "They can tape their hands and do whatever they need to do to grip the bat and swing. This is really something that wouldn't be much different, in my opinion. I think it is an extremely valid point."

Roberts said, "I don't see that happening."

Here's why, according to Rule 6.02 (c)(7):

The pitcher may not attach anything to either hand, any finger or either wrist (e.g., Band-Aid, tape, Super Glue, bracelet, etc.). The umpire shall determine if such attachment is indeed a foreign substance for the purpose of Rule 6.02(c)(7), but in no case may the pitcher be allowed to pitch with such attachment to his hand, finger or wrist.

As for the continued throwing, Hill said it helps the skin form a callous. He said his latest blister is worse than any he had last year and more like the one he had when the Dodgers acquired him from Oakland in 2016. That one bothered him for most of two months.

Stewart expected to join Dodgers on Tuesday
The Dodgers put Brock Stewart on the taxi list in anticipation of recalling him from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday, but Roberts stopped short of naming Stewart the starting pitcher. Kenta Maeda will start on Wednesday, getting an extra day of rest after pitching eight scoreless innings in Miami.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw

Trade talk dominates Machado's Chicago arrival

Special to MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Manny Machado had just arrived at his corner clubhouse stall Monday afternoon when a collection of 20 reporters and cameras began to close in.

As has become a regular occurrence when the Orioles shortstop arrives in a city where he has been rumored to land if he is traded, his presence created a palpable buzz 3 1/2 hours before the Orioles were set to begin their four-game series against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday.

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CHICAGO -- Manny Machado had just arrived at his corner clubhouse stall Monday afternoon when a collection of 20 reporters and cameras began to close in.

As has become a regular occurrence when the Orioles shortstop arrives in a city where he has been rumored to land if he is traded, his presence created a palpable buzz 3 1/2 hours before the Orioles were set to begin their four-game series against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday.

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Machado admitted that the thought of being greeted by Monday's media crowd had crossed his mind before he even arrived. But in the midst of more questioning, Machado continues to maintain that he wants to keep any distractions to a minimum.

"Play baseball -- that's what I'm here to do," Machado told reporters after the size of the scrum forced him into the hall outside the Orioles' clubhouse. "Go play baseball, win some games … at the end of the day, that's all that counts."

Machado entered Monday's game hitting .343 with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs -- a performance level he has maintained despite being constantly hounded about being at the center of trade talks.

Machado avoids getting too detailed in the constant questioning by repeating that his future is out of his hands and that his responsibility on a daily basis continues to be to do his job for the Orioles.

"Manny doesn't mind the spotlight -- he doesn't mind being expected to be that guy," manager Buck Showalter said. "When you have his type of ability, you don't mind because he knows when they get through playing [the national anthem], he's going to have three hours to kind of control some things."

As for Machado's future, Showalter added: "I hope we win the next 20 games and he's here all year."

The latest stop here in Chicago meant addressing talk of the interest the Cubs may have in his services. Machado's cousin, Albert Almora Jr., has become a mainstay in center field on the city's North Side, which celebrated a World Series title in 2016.

Machado said he hasn't spoken with Almora about life with the Cubs and chooses to avoid such talk in order to keep his focus on his daily responsibilities with the Orioles. Asked about his impressions of Chicago as a city, Machado said his daily routine takes him from the hotel to the ballpark, which gives him little chance to see the sights.

"I try to keep it simple," Machado said. "I've got one mindset, which is to play baseball -- go out and leave it all on the field, and after that, I can't control any of [the outside noise]. I try to be the best player I can possibly be once I step on that field."

Jones returns

Center fielder Adam Jones returned to the lineup on Monday after he left Sunday's game with an illness. Jones left after his fourth at-bat, having singled in his first three plate appearances.

Showalter said Sunday that Jones wanted to remain in the game.

"Not many guys would have played seven innings," Showalter said. "He had a certain greenness to him -- when he came off the field after the first inning, I watched him and I knew something wasn't quite right."

Britton to throw simulated game

Orioles reliever Zach Britton is slated to throw a one-inning simulated game on Tuesday and a two-inning simulated game on Saturday, Showalter said. If those go well, Britton -- who has missed the start of the season with a ruptured Achilles -- will report to Triple-A Norfolk to begin a Minor League rehab assignment.

Jeff Arnold is a contributor to MLB.com.

Baltimore Orioles, Manny Machado

Cards top prospect Reyes will join rotation

Right-hander slated for his final rehab outing on Thursday
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Prior to the I-70 Series opener against the Royals on Monday, Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch confirmed what was becoming apparent: prospect Alex Reyes' return from Tommy John surgery will come in the Major League rotation.

"We expect him to be in the rotation," Girsch said.

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ST. LOUIS -- Prior to the I-70 Series opener against the Royals on Monday, Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch confirmed what was becoming apparent: prospect Alex Reyes' return from Tommy John surgery will come in the Major League rotation.

"We expect him to be in the rotation," Girsch said.

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Reyes, ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, has started each of his three official rehab assignments, the fourth and final of which is scheduled for Thursday at Triple-A Memphis. The right-hander will prep as a starting pitcher in between at Busch Stadium.

Reyes is eligible to return from the disabled list on Monday, May 28, and he would be on turn to start the next day against the Brewers at Miller Park. He most recently struck out 12 over 7 2/3 innings in a dominant outing at Double-A Springfield.

Girsch said Reyes' return would likely precede the return of Carlos Martinez, meaning the Cardinals won't face a rotation logjam for at least a few weeks. But once Martinez returns, the club will face a difficult roster decision, with Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver in the mix for just two available spots.

Video: KC@STL: Reyes nearing a return to Cardinals' rotation

Weaver rebounded from a tough four-start stretch to hold opponents to just one earned run over his past two outings. Flaherty had one of the best outings from a Cardinals starter this season against the Phillies on Sunday, striking out 13 over 7 2/3 innings. Not everyone can stay.

"Obviously, we have new information," Girsch said. "We adjust to what we have. Knock on wood, hopefully we get a bunch of guys healthy and start having more tough roster decisions like we had at the end of Spring Training."

Martinez begins program
Martinez began a throwing program on Monday, his first baseball activity since landing on the DL on May 9 with a lat strain. Girsch said it's possible Martinez will require a rehab start before returning to the rotation.

Video: STL@SD: Cardinals broadcast on Martinez going to DL

"He's starting the progression back after not throwing for about two weeks now," Girsch said. "So we will take it step by step and see how it goes."

More injury updates
• Girsch joked that he's fine with not making a roster move every day of the week, after the Cardinals have made one near-daily over the season's first 45 games. Girsch provided updates on an array of the club's 10 players currently on the disabled list.

Adam Wainwright underwent a non-intrusive procedure on Monday where doctors inserted a microscopic camera into his elbow in search of the pain that's persisted there. It was the latest in a litany of tests the righty has undergone in recent weeks, which included an MRI and a bone exam. The results of the latest test were not immediately available.

• Basic hand therapy is the next step for shortstop Paul DeJong, who underwent a post-op consultation on Monday, Girsch said. The team specialist will give the Cardinals guidance on when DeJong can take the next step. DeJong broke the fifth metacarpal in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch on Thursday.

Tyler Lyons is set to return from a sore back in the coming days. Lyons made a second -- and presumed final -- rehab appearance at Springfield on Monday.

Luke Gregerson (shoulder and elbow soreness) still needs to see doctors before the Cardinals head to Pittsburgh later this week to find out when he can begin throwing.

• Girsch said catcher Carson Kelly (hamstring strain) could return when he's eligible on Saturday.

Dominic Leone (nerve damage in right arm) remains out indefinitely.

Yadier Molina still has a ways to go in his recovery from a traumatic hematoma sustained when he was hit by a foul ball earlier this month.

"He's seeing the doctor on Thursday," Girsch said of Molina. "That's how fast we will get some guidance on when he can start doing physical activity. He's been on significant rest so it's hard to project until he can start jogging and stuff like that."

Sean Collins is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis.

St. Louis Cardinals, Paul DeJong, Luke Gregerson, Carlos Martinez, Yadier Molina, Alex Reyes, Adam Wainwright

Rox win duel in LA to take over first in NL West

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

LOS ANGELES -- The Rockies had nary a baserunner for four innings Monday night. Their bucket of fruit candies went asunder as third baseman Nolan Arenado vented in the dugout after a strikeout. Yet, for the first time this season, Colorado is in first place in the National League West.

Pinch-hitter Carlos Gonzalez's soft infield single past the pitcher's mound with two out in the eighth drove in the difference-making run in a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers, as the Rockies took a half-game lead over the D-backs.

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LOS ANGELES -- The Rockies had nary a baserunner for four innings Monday night. Their bucket of fruit candies went asunder as third baseman Nolan Arenado vented in the dugout after a strikeout. Yet, for the first time this season, Colorado is in first place in the National League West.

Pinch-hitter Carlos Gonzalez's soft infield single past the pitcher's mound with two out in the eighth drove in the difference-making run in a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers, as the Rockies took a half-game lead over the D-backs.

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"What do you think? We're not hitting good, but that's all over baseball -- teams are not hitting," said