Three up, three down: Giants hitting stride
UP: San Francisco Giants
The Giants woke up on April 23 in third place in the National League West. Three days later, they found themselves sitting atop the division, and they haven't slowed down since. Not only have they won 13 of their last 17 games, but they just completed a 7-3 road trip during which they swept the Braves and took three out of four at Dodger Stadium while dropping two of three to the Pirates in between. The series in Pittsburgh was the only one in the last five that San Francisco hasn't won.
Buster Posey has hit .407 during the surge, while Michael Morse has hit five home runs and driven in 13 runs since April 23. And then there is Brandon Hicks.
A third-round Draft pick by the Braves in 2007, Hicks was signed last winter by the Giants after being released by the Mets. He never got to the big leagues in his year with the Mets and had appeared in only 55 Major League games over parts of three seasons with the Braves (2010-11) and A's (2012). Given a chance this year in San Francisco with Marco Scutaro on the disabled list, Hicks is hitting only .200 in 30 games, but when he makes contact, he makes an impact. Seven of his 19 hits have been home runs, and he has 14 RBI.
DOWN: Chicago Cubs
Jeff Samardzija balked at a long-term contract offer from the Cubs. Right now, he'd just like to get a couple of runs. The right-hander is 0-3 in eight starts despite a 1.45 ERA. Samardzija has allowed three runs just once, but the Cubs' offense has faltered during a 5-12 slide. Over his last two starts, Samardzija has given up only one unearned run in 15 innings, yet he's taken a pair of no-decisions.
How bad are things with the Cubs? In the last 17 games, the bullpen has gone 1-5 with a 5.48 ERA.
The bats have struggled as well. Mike Olt (.238) has three home runs in that stretch, which is one more than the rest of the roster combined. The Cubs have hit .188 during the slump, the worst in baseball, and they have a .573 OPS, which also ranks 30th.
UP: Baltimore Orioles
OK, it's not a perfect world. As soon as Chris Davis came off the disabled list on Sunday, catcher Matt Wieters, limited to designated-hitter duty the last week because of a right elbow strain, was put on the DL. Can the Orioles play as well without Wieters as they have been playing without Davis, who led the Majors with 53 home runs and 138 RBIs last year?
The O's have won eight of their last 11 and have gone from 2 1/2 games out of first in the AL East to a 1 1/2-game edge over the Yankees atop the division. And Baltimore has done it despite averaging only 3.6 runs per game during that stretch, 10th in the AL.
Ubaldo Jimenez, however, has given the Orioles a much-needed lift in the rotation, and Tommy Hunter has converted five of six save opportunities. Jimenez has not only won both his starts this month, but he's allowed only one run in 12 2/3 innings, a major rebound from an 0-4 April in which he had a 6.59 ERA in five starts.
DOWN: Los Angeles Dodgers
Is this 2013 all over again, when the Dodgers stumbled early and then ran away with the division? Well, they are struggling. They may have the highest payroll in baseball, but they're in third place in the NL West, 4 1/2 games out. Los Angeles is just 8-12 since April 21, at which time it was leading the division. Problems? The Dodgers have lost 12 of 19 games at home, they are 4-9 against the Giants and Rockies and lost consecutive series at Miami (two of three) and Washington (two of three) before dropping three of four at home to San Francisco over the weekend.
Yasiel Puig is back after missing two games following a run-in with the outfield wall in Miami, but third baseman Juan Uribe could be headed to the disabled list after missing the last three games with a strained right hamstring. Hyun-Jin Ryu, on the DL with left shoulder inflammation, is scheduled to throw off a mound for the first time on Tuesday -- the day he's eligible to be activated. The Dodgers are concerned enough about their pitching struggles that Ryu could be activated without going on a rehab assignment. Catcher A.J. Ellis (left knee surgery last month) will wrap up a two-day rehab stint with Triple-A Albuquerque on Monday night and should be activated. The four-headed outfield of Puig, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier is hitting a combined .377 during the team's 3-7 slide. Kemp is batting .412 in that stretch, but 11 of his 14 hits have been singles. Puig has driven in eight runs and hit a team-best three home runs in the last eight games. The bullpen, however, has a composite 5.46 ERA.
UP: Arizona Diamondbacks
OK, Arizona is still sitting in last place in the NL West, 3 1/2 games behind fourth-place San Diego and 10 games back of division-leading San Francisco. Things are looking up, however. The D-backs were given a nine-game road trip to open May and managed to win six of them -- taking two of three from the Padres, Brewers and White Sox.
The rotation has keyed the turnaround, going a combined 5-2 and compiling a 2.96 ERA, second in the NL. Bronson Arroyo, who was 1-2 with a 7.77 ERA in five April starts, won both times he pitched and didn't allow an earned run in 14 1/3 innings during the trip. Wade Miley beat the White Sox on Saturday for his first victory since April 6. And Chase Anderson, a Minor League journeyman, arrived on Sunday to win his big league debut, giving up one run in 5 1/3 innings against the White Sox. Addison Reed, who has endured his struggles, managed to close out all five save opportunities.
With A.J. Pollock leading the way at .368, the D-backs have only two regulars hitting below .250 this month -- Chris Owings (.241) and Martin Prado (.205).
DOWN: Texas Rangers
The Rangers were in first place in the AL West on April 23, but after losing 11 of 16 games, they have slipped to fourth place with a .500 record (19-19) and trail the first-place A's by four games. Texas has lost five of its last six series, including being swept in three games by Oakland.
A team built on offense, the Rangers have hit .249 in the 16 games, 11th in the AL during that stretch. Adrian Beltre, the key man in the middle of the lineup, has hit .210, with as many strikeouts (17) as hits and only two home runs.
The pitching staff has imploded to the tune of a 5.70 ERA over that stretch. The rotation is 4-8 during the slide, with a 6.72 ERA. Alexi Ogando has worn down with use. Called on nine times in the 16 games, Ogando has allowed as many baserunners (19) as he has registered outs, and he's been charged with nine runs of his own in 6 1/3 innings.