While the Reds have put together only the second 10-game winning streak this season (joining the Yankees), the Pirates have done well to hang close -- they are 12-7 during the same stretch -- but there's only so much one can do when the Reds have won 17 of their last 19, so Pittsburgh has lost five games in the standings, as Cincinnati has turned a two-game deficit into a three-game lead. The two division rivals meet Friday for a three-game series at Great American Ballpark.
It sounds like a broken record to explain the key to their sustained success, but once again, the key seems to be healthy starting pitchers. The Reds' Opening Day rotation -- Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake -- has started all 101 of Cincinnati's games this season, the only major league club that can make such a claim.
The starting staff has been especially sharp over the last three weeks, pitching to a 2.90 ERA while logging nearly three times as many strikeouts as walks. Of particular note is the emergence of Bailey, the former first-round pick who seemed stuck as a run-every-other-inning pitcher -- which is literally a 4.50 ERA while Bailey had a 4.47 ERA in 61 starts from 2009-11 -- but is growing into his potential. Not only does he have a 3.53 ERA in 20 starts this season, but he's 3-0 with a 1.21 ERA in 29 2/3 innings over four outings during the Reds' hot stretch.
Longtime club broadcaster Marty Brenneman said he'd
Enthusiasm in Cincinnati should be tempered somewhat, however, if one considers the strength of the Reds' schedule the past three weeks. Of their six opponents, four have losing records; Arizona, against whom Cincinnati split a four-game series for their only two recent losses, has a .500 record; and only St. Louis has a winning record. Then again, Votto only played six of the last 19 games, so the Reds' success without their best player -- and one of the best all-around players in all of baseball -- is no small feat.
The A's hit two homers in each of their two wins over the Orioles this weekend, led by two from first baseman Chris Carter, who has hit eight in the past month. Right fielder Josh Reddick has been a particular revelation this season, hitting a team-high 22 homers.
Reader Paul Maslin, from Madison, Wis., wrote in this weekend to note how Oakland's recent power surge has gone relatively unnoticed, with 62 home runs over roughly a quarter of the season. He's right about how impressive that number is: it's a pace that, if sustained for the whole year, would rank in as a top-10 all-time season total.
Those 62 homers in the Athletics' last 40 games (dating to June 12) are the third-most in the majors during that span -- trailing only the Pirates (67) and Yankees (66) -- and have helped them go a major league-best 29-11 in that stretch. It's particularly noteworthy because Oakland only hit 49 homers in its first 61 games, meaning they doubled their daily rate from 0.8 per game to 1.6 per game.
The A's, who haven't ranked higher than 11th in the AL in homers since '07 and whose 483 homers from '08 through '11 rank last in the majors, are now fueling their offense with big flies; their 111 this year ranks eighth.
Also, the A's have only played 19 of those 40 games on the road and away from cavernous O.co Coliseum, and their season split isn't as severe as one might expect: 52 homers in 50 home games; 59 homers in 51 road games.
That last part is especially notable because of how rarely he has hit consistently in the last year and a half, despite being a former batting champ who had four straight .300+ seasons from 2007-10 and who had a .313 career average entering last year. But this is only his fourth hitting streak of six games or more, and he hasn't had one longer than eight games since 2010.
But Ramirez's new team, new uniform and new coast have given him a spark, and in turn he's done the same for the Dodgers, who swept the Giants in San Francisco to pull into a virtual tie for the NL West lead. If he keeps up this pace -- and it is, admittedly, very early -- the trade would hearken back to 2008 when another Ramirez (Manny, of course) lifted L.A. into the playoffs.
Winning the series this weekend, two days from the trade deadline, was important, at least for reasons of public perception, as it moves Boston back to .500 and within four games of the wild card.
"This organization is in it to win it all the time," manager Bobby Valentine said. "I don't think the ownership and the front office is thinking anything other than we've got a shot."
There were, however, reports on Sunday night from CBSSports.com and ESPNBoston.com that the Red Sox had at least explored the possibility of trying to trade disappointing starter Josh Beckett.
The players, of course, insisted all weekend that they have the talent and just haven't had their inevitable hot streak yet. "We have a lot of the pieces from when we were the best team in baseball for the majority of last year," said reliever Andrew Miller, who got the win in relief on Saturday and pitched the Sox out of a tight eighth-inning jam on Sunday.
At times, the Red Sox' play appeared charmed this weekend, with unheralded injury fill-in Pedro Ciriaco driving in the winning run with a triple on Saturday that barely escaped the glove of Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson and then with a bloop single in the 10th inning on Sunday.
Realistically, the climb will be difficult. Six teams are ahead of them in the standings for the two wild card spots, and the club's co-aces, Beckett (4.57 ERA) and Jon Lester (5.49), continue to under-perform with just two quality starts in nine combined outings this month; the Sox are just 14-24 in their 38 combined starts, though they did win Saturday after Lester, who personally was credited with a no decision, went six innings and allowed four runs.