Let us take a moment to praise Charlie Manuel

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I promise you that I’m not panicking. I know that every team goes through a bad stretch and the Braves are just having one right now. I know they are merely a half game back and still lead the wild card race. I know that things could change tomorrow and they could rocket back into first place. I’m just not in the mental space this morning to be optimistic because, you know, the Pirates.

But nor am I going to get all gloomy and doomy either. Rather, I’m of a mind that, my rooting interests not withstanding, it’s a good day to reflect on the job Charlie Manuel has done in Philly. Sam Donnellon does that today and sums it up pretty perfectly:

Say before the season that someone told you Chase Utley would miss two months, Jamie Moyer would tear up his arm, Joe Blanton would be awful for the first three months, Madson would break his toe throwing a tantrum, Kyle Kendrick again would be demoted, J.C. Romero would be ineffective, Rollins and Victorino would get hurt and not hit, and Ibanez would be an automatic out for the first half of the season. What would you say their record should be on Aug. 31?

Donnellon’s point — and it’s a good one — is that Manuel never panicked like so many managers would have in his situation. Indeed, he begins his article with a list of moves that many managers — and no small number of talk radio listeners — would have made or demanded had they been faced with what Charlie Manuel has had to deal with. He’s kept an even keel, however. He has constantly made the correct judgment that he has the most talented team in the NL, and that he was either going to win or lose with that talent deployed in reasonable ways.

Which is one of the reasons I like the guy so much (well, that and the 1940s-speak he occasionally whips out).  He doesn’t need to prove to anyone that he’s a technical genius. He doesn’t need to make a show out of chewing people out. He doesn’t pass the buck to his front office or blame the media or any of that stuff. He goes in, does his job, pencils in reasonable lineups most of the time and lets his talent win out.

I’m guessing Bud Black will get most of the Manager of the Year votes this fall. But Charlie Manuel deserves his fair share of them, brother. Because the answer most people would have given to Donnellon’s question at the end of the blockquote would be “80-60; first place NL East.”

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.

Watch: Cody Bellinger breaks NL rookie home run record

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Cody Bellinger helped the Dodgers to their first lead on Friday night, going deep for his 39th home run of the season and setting a new National League rookie home run record in the process. With two on and two out in the third inning, the Dodgers’ slugger launched a 2-1 pitch from the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, skimming the right field fence to give the team a three-run cushion:

The three-run bomb was Bellinger’s sixth of the season. In what is undoubtedly a Rookie of the Year award-worthy campaign, he’s logged 21 solo shots, 11 two-run blasts and a single grand slam. His historic home run topped former NL rookie leaders Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, at 38 homers apiece.

The Dodgers need to stay on top of the Giants to clinch the NL West or, barring that, have the Marlins pull off a win over the Diamondbacks. They currently lead the Giants 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Marlins, meanwhile, are staying just ahead of the D-backs with a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth.