The summer solstice arrived and the sun rose on Buzzard’s Bay on three remarkable facts:
• The three best records and widest run differentials in the National League belonged to the Rockies, Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Oh yes, and Nolan Arenado, Bellinger and Paul Goldschmidt were already lining up MVP candidacies.
• The Red Sox were in first place, which in late June is like being one place in line ahead at a Starbucks.
The fact that Coors Field could turn into a summer-opening, pennant-race game drawing 35,016 on a Monday night was remarkable because the two great players, Arenado and Goldschmidt, took turns with game-changing hits. The Rockies’ revamped bullpen with Adam Ottavino and Greg Holland closed it, and catcher Tony Wolters threw out the potential tying run at second base made the night—Joe West’s 5,000th game—one of those times fans of the D-backs and Rockies could sit back and think this could be 2007 all over again.
I’m not worried about the Dodgers missing the playoffs, because they have outstanding depth. Utilityman Chris Taylor might be Andrew Friedman’s best trade pickup since he snagged Ben Zobrist for the Rays in 2006. Los Angeles expects that Rich Hill will be straightened out by September.
But these are four things I love about the Rockies and D-backs potentially making it to October:
• Bud Black and Torey Lovullo have impacted their teams more than any new managers in the game. Hey, these two teams’ lineups are very good, and in the D-backs’ case, exceptionally versatile. Black has exorcised the curse of Coors Field, Lovullo of the negativity that has seemingly followed the D-backs like a dust storm.
• The teams ranked second and third in the NL in runs. The D-backs had a 3.66 ERA in a home park some find more trying than Coors. In other words, they’re pitching.
• Black and his Rockies coaches Steve Foster and Darren Holmes have taken their young power staff and defied the traditional thought that curveballs and other breaking balls don’t work in the mile high air. In other words, they don’t have to pitch differently at home and on the road.
• The D-backs, in the words of several opposing managers and coaches, have become “one of the most aggressive baserunning teams in the game,” adding that the decline in basestealing in this home-run era has tended to make pitchers more lax in holding runners.
Analytics show that the D-backs rank as one of three top teams in baserunning runs. Goldschmidt, the first baseman, already had swiped 13 bags as part of another MVP-caliber season. As a team, Arizona ranked fourth in the league in steals and third in runs and OPS.
If the NL West has supplanted the AL East as the game’s strongest division, the AL East has regained some of its swagger with the fact that the Red Sox and Yankees have pulled up to the stoplight right next to one another. What is surprising is that what got the Red Sox into the passing lane in June was their bullpen, as well as the fact that Chris Sale has so impacted an out-of-tune rotation that Boston led the AL in quality starts.
The Red Sox have the best closer in the league, Craig Kimbrel, who had struck out 53.2 percent of batters.Consider this: in the previous decade, 2007-16, only one reliever struck out more than half the batters he faced. That would be Kimbrel, when he fanned 50.2 percent in 2012.
At one point New York lost six straight games—in which they were outscored by just eight runs—and Aroldis Chapman was on the disabled list for most of them. The Yankees blew 12 of their first 27 save opportunities, but once Chapman and Dellin Betances are lined up at the end, Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard and Chasen Shreve look a whole lot better getting the ball to them.
So as I looked out at Buzzard’s Bay, all we really know is that the sun starts setting earlier, and the voyage to October has meaningfully begun.