So close yet so far for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With the Miami Marlins having hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game earlier this week for the first time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Rays are now the only MLB franchise to have never hosted the Midsummer Classic. In recently history, hosting the All-Star Game has come down teams getting a new stadium or undergoing heavy renovations to their current facility. And when Marlins Park opened in 2012, the debate began as to when the All-Star Game would be heading to South Florida. And now that the Marlins have had their opportunity to show off their stadium to the baseball world, who should be next in regards to hosting the Midsummer Classic.
Rogers Centre-Toronto, Canada
The first and only time that the Toronto Blue Jays hosted the All-Star Game was in 1991 and it came on the heels of the Rogers Centre (formerly the Toronto SkyDome) opening for business. The SkyDome was ahead of its time as the amenities there included Major League Baseball’s first retractable roof as well as a hotel. Since that time the Montreal Expos left Canada to become the Washington Nationals and being that the Blue Jays are MLB’s only team north of the border, it is time to bring the Midsummer Classic back there in order to further promote the game and keep fan interest intact.
Camden Yards-Baltimore, Maryland
When Oriole Part at Camden Yards opened in 1992, it was the gold standard of what a Major League ball park should be. It didn’t take MLB that long to award the Baltimore Orioles the All-Star Game as they hosted the Midsummer Classic in 1993. And as the park is still a crown jewel, it is high time for the All-Star Game to return to Baltimore.
Citizens Bank Park-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Citizens Bank Park opened for business in 2004 and it quickly became a huge home-field advantage for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2007, the Phillies won the National League East, and by they 2008, they would win their first World Series Championship since 1980. But unlike many of the other new venues around Major League Baseball, Citizens Bank Park has yet to host the All-Star Game. The last time that the Phillies hosted the All-Star Game was in 1996 at Veterans Stadium. The fans in Philadelphia have a uniqueness about them and it would add a special twist to the All-Star Game to have Phillies fans jeering every single player as he is introduced.
Wrigley Field-Chicago, Illinois
Right next to Fenway Park, Wrigley Field is the most historic venue that it currently in use in Major League Baseball. The ivy that covers the outfield walls at Wrigley along with the throng of fans who hang out on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues to catch home run balls is always huge, and we cannot forget about the spectators in the bleachers as well. The Chicago Cubs last hosted the All-Star Game in 1990, and the timing is perfect now for MLB to have the Midsummer Classic return to the Windy City being that it is still buzzing there after the Cubs won the World Series last October. And if the wind is blowing out on a warm summer night at Wrigley, the All-Star Game could resemble the Home Run Derby.
Dodger Stadium-Los Angeles, California
It’s hard to believe but Chavez Ravine has not hosted the All-Star Game since 1980. The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of Major League Baseball’s most iconic franchises and their new ownership group has taken extreme pride in renovating Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are more popular than ever in the City of Angels as they have won four consecutive National League West Titles, and it’s safe to say what the reaction would be when players from the San Francisco Giants would be introduced as there is no love lost between these two iconic franchises.
Just when it appeared that there was going to be a three-team race to decide the winner of the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers have begun to separate themselves from the pack. A recent surge by the Dodgers has seen them win 23 of their last 27 games to build a 4.5-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks and a 7.5-game lead over the Colorado Rockies in the N.L. West. And the bad news for the Diamondbacks and the Rockies is that the Dodgers don’t appear ready to slow down anytime soon.
Since the Dodgers have gotten rolling it has been a total team effort. We know about starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw who is in the mix to win his fourth National League Cy Young Award, but behind him in the Dodgers rotation there is some depth. Starting pitcher Alex Wood has come out of nowhere to go 10-0 in 13 starts this season, while posting an earned run average of 1.67. And as good as Wood has been, it is darn near impossible to overlook Kershaw.
Kershaw is 13-2 with an earned run average of 2.19. Kershaw has recorded 41 strikeouts in his last four starts and he’s on pace for his seventh season in which he has recorded at least 200 strikeouts. Only once has Kershaw failed to give the Dodgers at least six innings of work this year. And although that Kershaw won’t be pitching in next week’s All-Star Game due to the fact that he is scheduled to pitch this Sunday, he could be set to enter some rare air as another Cy Young Award would put him alongside Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers in Major League Baseball history to win the award at least four times.
Offensively the Dodgers have been potent all season long as they are currently second in the National League in runs (444), as well as on-base percentage (.342), and fourth in home runs (120). The Dodgers have the reigning National League Rookie of the Year in shortstop Corey Seager who is batting .300 with 13 homers, and 42 runs batted in, and he has actually been overshadowed in the Los Angeles lineup by another youngster.
In 66 games this year, outfielder Cody Bellinger has belted 24 home runs which currently leads the National League. Eight of those long balls have come in the Dodgers last ten games as he become a power bat in the middle of the Dodgers lineup. And as Bellinger is scheduled to participate in next week’s All-Star Game, he is also well on his way to becoming the 18th player in Dodgers franchise history to be named as the N.L. Rookie of the Year.
Last year saw manager Dave Roberts push all of the right buttons in his first season with the Dodgers, and he is doing it once again as Los Angeles is arguably the most complete team in the National League. The Dodgers starting rotation has been solid and Roberts can give the baseball to relief pitcher Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning as his 20 saves this year are third in the N.L., while he is the most proficient closer in franchise history which is evident by his 209 career saves.
The Dodgers are getting healthier as third baseman Justin Turner recently returned to the lineup, while first baseman Adrian Gonzalez should be returning soon. The Dodgers are increasing their depth and prior to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline I expect their president of baseball operations in Andrew Friedman to be active in pursuing another arm for the starting rotation, another reliever, and potentially some more speed for the lineup in order to give Los Angeles the right combination in order to flourish come October.
After tonight’s games with the Diamondbacks. Los Angeles will finish up at home with the Kansas City Royals before they head into the All-Star break. The second half of the season will see the Dodgers have their first nine games against teams that currently possess losing records. And with the current struggles of the Rockies, while the Dodgers are putting some distance between themselves and the Diamondbacks, they could soon be ready to wrap a bow around their fifth consecutive National League West Title which they are hopeful could the segue to their first World Series Championship since 1988.
When you think about life in the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants come to mind rather quickly as they are two of the most iconic franchises in Major League Baseball. Both the Giants and Dodgers have been playing baseball now for more than 130 years as their rivalry has spanned from the Big Apple to the Golden State. The Dodgers and Giants are typically the teams to beat in the N.L. West which is evident by their combined 11 division titles since 2000. However 2017 is shaping up to be a different year in the N.L.West.
Whereas the Dodgers and Giants were expected to be postseason contenders here in 2017, the same could not be said about either the Colorado Rockies or Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks have not made the postseason since they last won the National League West in 2011, while you have to go back to 2009 to find the last time in which the Rockies made the playoffs, and they’ve never won the the division.
But as of today there is a battle going on to see who is going to be the new sheriff in town as it is the Rockies who are sitting in first place in the National League West with a record of 41-23, while the D-backs are three games behind them in third place. The Dodgers are right in the mix in second place as they are 2.5 games, while the wheels have fallen off of the Giants express as they’re currently struggling in fourth place and 15 games out. And for the first time in the history of the National League West, there is a strong possibility that three teams could reach the postseason from this division.
The Rockies have always been known for their offense as the high altitude and the thin air of the Rocky Mountains is always an advantage for them. But this year pitching is defining the Rockies as their team earned run average of 4.01 is fifth in the National League which is a far cry from last season when Colorado’s team earned run average of 4.91 was 13th. Led by rookie starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela who has 8 wins, the Rockies have three starting pitchers that already have at least 6 victories to their credit this season.
Relief pitcher Greg Holland is in his first season with the Rockies and he has quickly regained the form that made him one of the top closers in baseball a few years ago. In September 2015, Holland had to undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery and he had to watch from the sidelines as the Kansas City Royals won the World Series without him. Holland would sit out all of 2016 as he was recovering and when he became a free agent this past winter, the Rockies took a flyer on him for a one-year deal for $6 million. And this season Holland’s presence is shortening the game for the Rockies pitching staff as his 23 saves are by far the best in Major League Baseball.
But even as improved as the Rockies pitching staff has been, you still cannot overlook their Murderers Row like lineup. The Rockies are maintaining their status as one of the best hitting lineups in Major League Baseball as only their 328 runs scored are second in the National League only to the 329 of the Washington Nationals. It’s the usual suspects in the Rockies lineup leading the way such as outfielder Charlie Blackmon and third baseman Nolan Arenado are each having solid campaigns, but they are also receiving a surprisingly positive contribution from first baseman Mark Reynolds.
The Rockies are the seventh Major League Baseball franchise that Reynolds has played for and with a .304 batting average to go along with 17 homers and 53 runs batted in, he is on pace for one of the best seasons of his career.
The Rockies were a team that flew under the radar when the season began, but after they finished the month of April with a record of 16-10, they began to turn some heads. And by the end of May, Colorado had the look of a club that could hang around in the playoff race. However now that we’re in June and the Rockies are still in first place in the National League West which has seen them secure series wins over the Milwaukee Brewers who are in first place in the National League Central, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and both World Series participants from last October in the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, they are exuding confidence with a ton of that credit going to their first-year manager Bud Black.
After nine seasons as the manager of the San Diego Padres with only two winning campaigns and no playoff appearances, Black has found new life in Denver. Black appears to be on the same path of another former Padres manager in Bruce Bochy who has gone on to win three World Series Champions with the Giants as both are making the most of their new opportunities in Major League Baseball.
Like the Rockies, there weren’t high expectations for the Diamondbacks outside of their organization. Two of the last three seasons saw Arizona lose at least 93 games, while their was a shakeup within their front office last year. General manager Dave Stewart and manager Chip Hale were each relieved of their duties with the Diamondbacks, while the same fate appeared to be awaiting Tony La Russa who is the team’s chief baseball officer. La Russa was able to survive the chopping block as Mike Hazen would become the Diamondbacks new general manager and Torey Luvollo would become their new skipper. And this combination has been a breath of fresh air for Arizona as they are on pace for their first winning season since 2011.
A big reason for Arizona’s turnaround begins with starting pitcher Zack Greinke. After Greinke went 19-3 with an earned run average of 1.66 in 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he opted to become a free agent. Greinke would join the D-backs after both sides agreed on a six-year deal for $205 million. But Greinke’s first season with the Diamondbacks was not a memorable one as he battled through injuries, while also attempting to over pitch. And in the end Greinke was 13.7 with an earned run average of 4.37.
However Greinke didn’t develop a reputation of being one of the best pitchers in baseball of this era by accident and he has regained his form here in 2017. Through 13 starts Greinke is 8-3 with an earned run average of 3.20.
Offensively Arizona is third in the National League in runs scored with 321 as they have one of the most potent lineups on the Senior Circuit. For the seven-year Major League Baseball career of Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, he has been the All-Star caliber player that not too many people know about. Goldschmidt is a lifetime .300 hitter that has averaged 29 homers per season while he has also finished second in the N.L. MVP voting twice. Goldschmidt is once again having a solid campaign as he is currently batting .314 with 13 home runs and 47 runs batted in while his on-base percentage of .441 is the best in the N.L.
Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb is only in his fourth season and after making huge strides last year by hitting 29 homers and 91 runs batted in. Lamb is building off of that here in 2017 as he is leading Arizona in homers with 16 and runs batted in as well with 56. And it is not that far-fetched to see Lamb go yard 40 times this year.
Like Black with the Padres, Luvollo has pushed all of the right buttons in his first season with the Diamondbacks. However the Diamondbacks have benefited from an easy schedule as their only marquee series win to the point of this year came against the Indians. Arizona has come up short in their meeting with the National League East leading Washington Nationals as well as versus the Rockies. And as the Diamondbacks schedule will get more difficult as the season progresses, they are going to need to find statement victories against quality teams if they expect to be a serious contender.
Then there is the case of the Dodgers who are the four-time defending National League West Champs. The Dodgers fell two victories short of reaching the World Series last year and they are poised for another run. Pitching wise the Dodgers are leaning on starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw who is arguably the best hurler in the game. Kershaw has already taken home the National League’s Cy Young Award three times and he is once again in the running to take home the hardware. Kershaw is 8-2, while his 2.20 earned run average is leading the way in the N.L. Kershaw already has 101 strikeouts to his credit here in 2017 which includes a season-high 14 against the Brewers on June 2 as he is well on his way to striking out at least 200 batters in a season for the seventh time in his career.
The Dodgers were expected to be thin in their starting rotation behind Kershaw this season, but starting pitcher Alex Wood is 6-0 with an earned average of 1.69, while starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy is 5-3 with an earned run average of 3.28. And after relief Kenley Jansen saved 47 games last year for the Dodgers, he has picked up right where he left off from as he’s already closed out 10 games this year for Los Angeles and they’ll be plenty more to come.
The Dodgers lineup has been a middle of the pact unit so far this season, but they recently received a boost when third baseman Justin Turner returned from the disabled list. Shortstop Corey Seager is the reigning National League Rookie of the Year and he’s off to a solid start this season as he is batting with .271 with 8 home runs and 25 runs batted in, while outfielder Cody Bellinger could be this seasons’s Rookie of the Year as he currently leads the club in home runs (12), as well as runs batted in (31).
Like the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers have not had too many marquee series wins so far as once you get past their sweep of the Cubs last weekend, it has been pedestrian like for them.
But what we are setting up for over the last three-plus months of the regular season is an interesting race in the National League West between these three teams. And it will be interesting to see which club will be the first to make a move to upgrade their respective teams.
The Rockies lineup is set, but it wouldn’t hurt them to get another starting pitcher for the postseason push. The Diamondbacks could use some more depth in their lineup, and you can never have enough pitching and the same could be said in regards to the Dodgers. And as the Giants and Padres appear to be watchers on at this party, it will be an interesting battle between these three clubs.
With the overall struggles of the National League East and Central, the possibility of the Dodgers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks all making the playoffs is pretty good. And with plenty of games remaining between these three teams along with the fact that these clubs want to avoid having to participate in the N.L. Wild Card Game if they don’t have to, then it should be game on in regards of the battle to capture this crown.
Since 2002, the Giants are the only team that calls the National League West home to make the World Series, but things could be different here in 2017.