Astros prospect right-hander Mark Appel set to be promoted to Double-A

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Astros prospect right-hander Mark Appel had his best start of the season on Thursday and now Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports that he’s set to be promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi.

When the Astros chose Appel first overall in last June’s First-Year Player Draft, many believed that he was on the fast track to the major leagues. Of course, it hasn’t worked out that way. After a solid showing in his pro debut last season, the 23-year-old has struggled to the tune of a 9.74 ERA over 12 starts this season with High-A Lancaster. He got a late start this spring following an appendectomy in late January, but the Astros sent him to a full-season affiliate anyway and he had some trouble adjusting to the organization’s piggyback pitching rotation. He has also missed some time with right wrist and thumb issues.

It’s been a rough ride, but Thursday’s start provided reason for optimism, as Appel allowed two runs on five hits and no walks while striking out seven batters. He’s hoping to look back on his struggles as a learning experience.

“It’s been the worst experience of my life,” Appel said. “I would say I’ll look back at my time in Lancaster this whole season… whenever it ends, whether I end up going to Corpus at some point this year or the season ends, I’ll look back at the summer and say ‘Wow, I really learned a lot.’”

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.