Edinson Volquez

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Bellinger hits for cycle as Wood, Dodgers beat Marlins 7-1

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MIAMI — Cody Bellinger became the first Dodgers rookie to hit for the cycle and Alex Wood became the first Dodgers pitcher in more than a century to win his first 11 decisions in a season, helping the NL West leaders beat the Miami Marlins 7-1 Saturday night for their eighth straight victory.

Bellinger singled in the first inning, hit a two-run homer in the third, added an RBI double in the fourth and hit his second career triple on the first pitch of the seventh. His triple off Nick Wittgren barely cleared the glove of right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who tried to making a running backhanded catch.

Wood (11-0) struck out 10 in six scoreless innings, allowed only four baserunners and lowered his ERA to 1.56 in 16 games this year.

An angry Yasiel Puig took several steps toward the mound after he was nearly hit by a pitch from Miami’s Jose Urena in the first inning. Puig hit two home runs in Los Angeles’ win Friday, including a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning.

The Dodgers (63-29) climbed 34 games above .500 for the first time and have won 28 of their past 32 games. Their bandwagon included an entire section at Marlins Park, where a group that follows the team on the road unfurled its enormous blue flag with the Dodgers logo during the sixth inning.

Los Angeles took a 5-0 lead in the third when Bellinger hit his 26th homer and Yasmani Grandal added a three-run shot, his 12th.

Bellinger’s cycle – his first four-hit game – was the fifth in the majors this year, and came against three pitchers. He became the third Dodger to hit for the cycle since the team moved to Los Angeles, and the first since Orlando Hudson on April 13, 2009.

Bellinger is the ninth player in the Dodgers’ 128-year history to hit for the cycle. They improved to 54-18 (.750) since he was promoted from the minors.

Urena (7-4) allowed all five runs and needed 82 pitches to get through three innings, his shortest start of the year.

CONFRONTATION

Urena’s first pitch to Puig was a 96 mph fastball that just missed the slugger’s left thigh. Puig shouted at Urena and took several steps as some players and both managers ran onto the field.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto stepped in front of Puig, and after some yelling the confrontation quickly ended. Puig then flied out.

Benches cleared when the teams met in Los Angeles in May, prompting the ejections of Marlins manager Don Mattingly, Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling and Dodgers bench coach Bob Geren.

BATTING ORDER

Puig remained in the No. 8 in the order even though he’s second on the Dodgers with 18 homers.

“You look at the numbers and the production he has had, and the easy thing is to put him right in the middle of the order,” manager Dave Roberts said before Saturday’s game. “But I think the right thing at this moment is to stay the course. It puts him in a good spot in the order, and the results are there.”

The Dodgers improved to 31-6 (.838) when Puig bats eighth.

MISMATCH

Stanton went 0 for 2 with a walk against Wood and is 3 for 25 lifetime (.120) against the left-hander.

UP NEXT

LHP Rich Hill (5-4, 3.69) is scheduled to start the series finale Sunday for the Dodgers. Hill made his most recent appearance at Marlins Park last September, when he threw seven perfect innings before Roberts pulled him, mindful the lefty had been sidelined by a blister earlier in the season. Three relievers completed a two-hit shutout.

RHP Tom Koehler (1-4, 8.00) will start for Miami as a replacement for RHP Edinson Volquez (left knee tendinitis).

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MLB second half preview: Contenders and pretenders

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The All-Star break officially ends at 7:05PM Eastern this evening when the Cubs take on the Orioles and the Pirates take on the Cardinals. Five minutes later five more games will get underway and by the time we go to bed tonight all 30 teams will either have played or will be in action and the season’s second half will have commenced.

Let’s take a look at some of the burning questions for that second half:

Q: Who are the real contenders and who are the mere pretenders? 

The division races are pretty bad this year, my friends. The closest division is the AL Central, with the Indians holding a 2.5 game lead over the Twins and three games over the Royals. Next is the AL East, with the Red Sox holding a 3.5 game lead over the Yankees and Rays. Three divisions feature utter blowouts, with the Astros leading the AL West by 16.5 games, the Nationals leading the NL East by 9.5 games and the Dodgers leading the NL West by 7.5 games. The Brewers hold a 5.5 game lead over the Cubs and Cardinals.

Of the closer races, Boston’s lead seems safe for now, but the AL East has defied predictions in recent seasons. The Indians struggled early but I suspect they’ll hit a higher gear in the second half and pull away. If anything, I suspect the Royals to give them a tougher race than the Twins. I have not counted out the Cubs, especially given their pickup of Jose Quintana yesterday, but the Brewers have been surprisingly resilient so far. The Cardinals don’t scare me nearly as much as the Cubs do, but we could have a really interesting race in the NL Central.

As for the Wild Card: in the American League It’s probably easier to say who isn’t a contender there than who is. If I’m drawing the line I say you can realistically draw it where the Rangers sit, three games out, with the Orioles, Mariners and Blue Jays as marginal and the Tigers, A’s and White Sox out of it. In the NL it’s a bit easier: the Diamondbacks, Rockies and whoever doesn’t win the NL Central are the only realistic contenders.

All of that aside, we have two classes of teams this year: the class containing the Astros, Nationals and Dodgers on the one hand and everyone else on the other. It’ll be up to the GMs of the mass of teams huddling within 3-5 games of the Wild Card in the American League and the couple of teams on the margins in the National League to make deals to distinguish themselves.

Q: Whose schedule presents the easiest path forward? Whose is the toughest?

Let’s keep in mind that baseball is not college football, so strength of schedule is not exactly the be-all, end-all. Anyone can beat anyone at any time and there is enough parity in this game to where the differences between a tough schedule and an easy one are pretty small.

That said, FanGraphs rates such things and, according to them, the Indians, Astros, Royals, Rangers, Tigers and Twins have the easiest second half schedules in the AL with the White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox and Rays having the toughest go. That’s suggests the schedules largely cancelling each other out given who has to beat who going forward.

In the National League the Dodgers have the easiest schedule in the second half and the Diamondbacks have the absolute toughest which may put the NL West “race” into perspective. The Cubs have the third easiest schedule, the Cardinals the fifth and the Brewers have the sixth hardest, which should make the Central race interesting.

Q: Who are the buyers at the trade deadline and what are they buying?

Just about every contender has some need. Even the Astros and Dodgers. As usual, it’s mostly pitching. People always need pitching. That being said, here’s what I see as each contender — or marginal contender’s — biggest need.

  • Nationals: A closer. This is the most glaring need among any contender. They cannot enter the playoffs with their bullpen as currently constructed.
  • Brewers: Bullpen help
  • Cubs: They filled their biggest need yesterday with the Jose Quintana acquisition. They could use a backup catcher. They could also use their existing bats to heat up.
  • Cardinals: A bat, bullpen help
  • Dodgers: They could use back-end rotation help. There’s a rumor that they could target Zach Britton or some other back-end bullpen help to give them a devastating 1-2 punch with Kenley Jansen. If you shorten the game you can make up for some weakness at the back end of the rotation.
  • Diamondbacks: Bullpen help. An infielder.
  • Rockies: Bullpen help
  • Red Sox: A third baseman now, as always. Bullpen help.
  • Yankees: They acquired a first baseman by trading for Brewers minor leaguer Garrett Cooper yesterday, but it remains to be seen if that hole is truly filled. They need a reliever not named Tyler Cippard. They need existing players like Matt Holliday and Aaron Hicks to come back (UPDATE: Holliday is coming back tonight). They need Dellin Betances to find the strike zone.
  • Rays: Middle relief, but I doubt they make any big moves. They may be more likely to sell than to buy.
  • Orioles: Starting pitching but, really, true contention seems like a pipe dream
  • Indians: Starting pitching. Or 2-3 of their existing starters to get healthy and/or stop sucking.
  • Twins: Rotation help (Bartolo Colon is not, contrary to popular belief, anyone’s savior), bullpen help. Don’t expect major moves, though.
  • Royals: Starting pitching
  • AstrosDallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers to be healthy. If that can’t be guaranteed — and it never can be — another starting pitcher would be nice.
  • Rangers: Bullpen help
  • Mariners: Pitching, pitching, pitching.
  • Angels: Starting pitching, though they could get several arms back from injury. Still, it’s unlikely that they’ll do much. They are marginal contenders at best and don’t have any prospects to deal. They do get a fella named Mike Trout back tonight. He could possibly help out. Hard to say.

Q: What players are available?

Theoretically: anyone. As far as the guys people are talking about, it breaks down thusly, in no particular order of ranking. Obviously these names can change as teams fall in and out of contention or decide to be buyers or sellers.

So that’s where we stand on July 14th as the regular season, thankfully, resumes.

Ichiro Suzuki tops Rickey Henderson as the oldest starting center fielder

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Marlins’ outfielder Ichiro Suzuki set a new record for the club on Sunday afternoon, and all he had to do was take the field. The 43-year-old made his second start of the year in center field, becoming the oldest starting center fielder in Major League Baseball since 1900.

Suzuki made his first start in center field back on May 6, but came 15 days shy of beating the record Rickey Henderson established in 2002 when he patrolled center field at a sprightly 43 years and 211 days old. During Sunday’s series finale against the Cubs, Suzuki’s 43 years and 246 days set a new record for aging outfielders.

Naturally, Ichiro commemorated his moment in history by doing what he does best — proving that age is just a number. He reached on a fielding error by Addison Russell in the first inning and came home to score on a Marcell Ozuna RBI single to pad the Marlins’ three-run lead. His defense wasn’t too shabby, either, as he gloved a shallow fly ball in the second inning to bail Edinson Volquez out of a bases-loaded jam.

The Marlins currently lead 3-2 in the seventh.