Can collapsing Pirates avoid 20th straight losing season?

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Last year the Pirates were tied for the NL Central lead with a 53-47 record on July 25 and then went 19-43 down the stretch, finishing in fourth place at 72-90 for their 19th consecutive losing season.

This year Pittsburgh got off to an even better start with a 63-47 record through August 8, at which point there were lots of articles about how the Pirates wouldn’t be collapsing down the stretch again.

Unfortunately they’ve done just that, going 9-21 since then to fall from 2.5 games back in the NL Central to completely out of the division race at 12.0 games back. They’re still very much in the Wild Card mix, but unless the Pirates turn things around in a hurry they might have enough trouble simply remaining above .500.

Pittsburgh must finish no worse than 8-13 to avoid a 20th consecutive losing season. The good news is that their next two games are in Cincinnati and then their only remaining road series are against the Cubs, Mets, and Astros. The bad news is that their home schedule consists of series against the playoff-bound Reds and Braves along with a Brewers team that’s won 16 of 21.

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.