Three up, three down: Giants pulling away from pack
San Francisco pushes NL West lead to 9 1/2 games; Nats, Mariners coming on strong
The Giants have won six of their first seven games in June while expanding their National League West lead to 9 1/2 games over the second-place Dodgers. But it hasn't been a sudden burst by San Francisco. The Giants have been on a season-long roll, rebounding from last year's disappointment.
San Francisco has been dominating in most every way, boasting the best home record (22-9) in the NL while tied for the best road mark (20-12). The Giants lead the NL with a 27-13 record against right-handers and a 15-8 mark against left-handers. They are 20-7 against teams with a winning record and 22-14 against teams with a sub-.500 record -- both the best in the NL.
The Giants aren't glitzy, but they know how to score runs. San Francisco ranks ninth in the NL with a .248 average, but the club is third in the league with 278 runs scored. That has been plenty for a pitching staff that has a 3.07 ERA, third in the NL. Angel Pagan (.323) is the only .300 hitter on the team. Michael Morse has become the primary run producer, as he's tied for third in the NL with 42 RBIs and tied for fourth with 13 home runs. Since May 11, Pablo Sandoval has hit like, well, Pablo Sandoval -- .337 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.
Atlanta stumbled from April into May, suffering through a seven-game losing streak, and it hasn't fully recovered. The Braves are 15-22 over the last six weeks, and they woke up Monday morning in a tie with Washington for first place in the NL East, and just percentage points ahead of Miami.
Atlanta has the fourth-worst record in the Majors during that stretch, behind Philadelphia (12-24), Tampa Bay (13-26) and the Mets (14-24). Julio Teheran (4-2, 2.27 ERA) is the only starting pitcher with a winning record over that stretch.
The Braves' problem, however, hasn't been their pitching. The offense has stumbled. Atlanta is hitting a combined .241 and is 14th in the NL with an average of 3.48 runs per game. The Braves have scored two or fewer runs in 14 of their last 37 games, and three runs in eight others. Jason Heyward has a team-best .299 average during that stretch, and the Uptons have combined for 85 strikeouts -- 44 by B.J. and 41 by Justin.
Washington has been able to take advantage of Atlanta's struggles, rallying from its own early-season woes to win seven of its last nine games while pulling even with the Braves atop the NL East.
The Nationals' strong-armed staff has stepped up, compiling a 1.31 ERA and allowing only a .190 batting average during the surge. The rotation has a 1.27 ERA, led by Jordan Zimmermann, who has pitched a combined 17 shutout innings his last two starts. Closer Rafael Soriano did blow one of his two saves, but the bullpen has given up only three runs in 18 2/3 combined innings.
Danny Espinosa has shown signs of snapping out of a season-long struggle. Hitting .202 on June 1, he has hit .400 in the last seven games and raised his average to .232. Anthony Rendon (.417, four home runs, eight RBIs over his last six games) continues to put together a big season. Ian Desmond, meanwhile, has made the most of his six hits during the Nats' hot stretch, with four home runs and eight RBIs.
The Rays are in a funk they haven't seen in seven years. After six years and four postseason appearances, Tampa Bay is back in the American League East basement. The Rays haven't seen .500 since April 14, and they woke up Monday morning with the worst record in the big leagues (24-40).
There was a hope of a resurgence the weekend of May 23. After a walk-off win against Oakland, Tampa Bay swept a three-game series from Boston, walking off in the first two. So much for the feel-good moments. The Rays have lost 12 of 13 over the last two weeks, which is not merely the worst record in the Majors, but four fewer wins than any other AL team in that stretch.
Erik Bedard claimed the only victory of the stretch, working six innings in a 4-0 win over Seattle on Friday, but Bedard, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi have a combined 8.27 ERA during the sustained slump. Chris Archer and David Price, meanwhile, are both 0-1 despite a combined 1.60 ERA. The bullpen hasn't had a save opportunity. David DeJesus leads the team with a .257 average the last two weeks, which ranks 102nd among Major League qualifiers.
The Mariners have rebounded from earlier struggles, winning seven of their last eight games while moving into the No. 2 AL Wild Card spot, a game back of the Angels. They even won three games in three days in three cities, beating Detroit, 4-0, in Seattle on June 1, the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, 10-2, on June 2, and Atlanta at Turner Field, 7-5, on June 3.
Seattle ranks fourth in the Majors with a .283 average in the last nine days, but it's the pitching staff that has been the big difference -- even though the club has played its last six games on the road. The Mariners have an AL-best 2.15 ERA since May 22. Roenis Elias is 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA in two starts, and while Felix Hernandez had a no-decision on Sunday at Tampa Bay, he is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his past two starts.
The bullpen, meanwhile, has been overpowering, with a combined 0.47 ERA in the eight games, and the roller-coaster ninth-inning saga of closer Fernando Rodney has been smooth. Rodney has not only converted all four of his save opportunities during the hot streak, but he's allowed only two baserunners in four innings -- compared to 30 baserunners in his previous 19 2/3 innings of work.
The Rockies have lost 13 of their last 16 games, dropping from four games out of first place in the NL West to 12 1/2 back. As well as games, they have lost starting pitcher Jordan Lyles (broken middle finger on his left hand), left fielder Carlos Gonzalez (left finger inflammation), right fielder Michael Cuddyer (sore left shoulder) and third baseman Nolan Arenado (broken left index finger).
Colorado has a combined 6.24 ERA, the worst in the big leagues, during that stretch. By comparison, Milwaukee ranks 14th in the NL (4.47 ERA), and the two teams ahead of the Rockies in the NL West standings are more than three runs per game better -- the Dodgers (2.64) and Giants (2.79).
The loss of Cuddyer was particularly big in light of the fact that he, Drew Stubbs and Troy Tulowitzki have been the only three consistent bats in the last two weeks. The rest of the roster has hit a combined .209.