Welcome back to The Rotation! Here's a starting five of topics worth bantering about in Major League Baseball this week.
1. Get a PECOTA this
The Astros have had baseball's best record for 46 days now. But the downright dominant Dodgers -- winners not just of 10 straight but 16 of 17 overall after the weekend sweep of the fellow National League West-contending Colorado Rockies -- are just one game behind Houston in this entirely ceremonial struggle.
You might remember that this is the kind of performance expected of the Dodgers if you looked at many of the preseason projections. Right now, the people who put together PECOTA are on the verge of being allowed to utter a Dennis Green-like, "The Dodgers are who we thought they were!"
Of course, PECOTA has projected the Dodgers to have the best record in baseball every single season since 2013. So what has made that model more realistic in 2017?
Well, perhaps you've heard of Cody Bellinger, even if Bellinger hasn't heard of Jerry Seinfeld. Bellinger's one of six players (Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Yasiel Puig and Austin Barnes) with at least 20 at-bats and OPS marks north of 1.000 during this 17-game stretch, which doesn't hurt.
On the pitching side, though, the Dodgers were dealt the brutal news that stud 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias needs major shoulder surgery (the same procedure Johan Santana had … twice). That means they'll rely all the more on Alex Wood (8-0, 1.86 ERA) continuing to serve as a poor man's Clayton Kershaw and, quite possibly, the midseason trade market, which they are well-equipped to delve into. But they're already well-equipped in the bullpen, anchored by the unbelievable Kenley Jansen, who made headlines Sunday for issuing his first walk of the season (!) but closed the Rox out anyway with a five-out save.
More than anything, the Dodgers have a magic to them right now, as 41 percent of their 51 wins have been of the comeback variety, including Sunday's ridiculous one in which they scored five runs on wild pitches. The Dodgers have the best record in baseball's best division, and, thanks to crazy depth and crazy comebacks, they might soon have the best record in baseball. Just like the computers suggested.
2. The mind matters
It would be easier if the guys playing arguably the most mentally taxing of team sports could simply adhere to what the projections tell us and play to whatever par is expected of them. But as Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna -- who courageously spoke publicly about his struggles with anxiety over the weekend -- reminds us, these guys are, inconveniently but inalterably, human beings.
"I really don't know how to explain it," Osuna told reporters Saturday, after not pitching in a save situation the night before. "I just feel anxious. I feel like I'm lost a little bit right now. … I wish I knew how to get out of this, but we're working on it, trying to find ways to see what can make me feel better. But, to be honest, I just don't know."
It was awesome to see Osuna get back on the mound Sunday with a strong ninth. And surely, in a sport that demands so much, Osuna is not alone in his mental struggle. Baseball still has its beanballs and stubborn allegiance to the unwritten rules, but hopefully clubhouse culture has progressed to the point that a young man like Osuna can speak out about this without feeling like a pariah among his peers.
Let Osuna's issues serve as a reminder that even with the best of help in the best of years (he's on pace for a career-best save total, ERA and WHIP), the demands of the game -- of life itself -- can mess with a mind. Osuna is not alone in his anxiety, and just knowing that is the first step.
3. Too swell to sell
The Royals aren't going to make this easy on general manager Dayton Moore, are they?
What once was trending toward a certain sell situation has become something else entirely in Kansas City. The Royals have been winning enough to entertain the option of running down the underperforming Indians, whose strange struggles at home continued with a weekend sweep at the hands of the surprisingly-back-in-first-place Twins.
The Royals are just 2 1/2 games back in the American League Central entering a week in which they'll face their fading rivals in Detroit before hosting the Twins over the weekend. As of now, Moore appears likely to leave this club alone, to let his championship core make one last run at it before what could be a long-term rebuild.
Moore has to weigh his depleted farm system and the trade value of pending free agents Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Jason Vargas and Mike Minor against the value of doing right by the clubhouse and hoping this team still has some 2014- and 2015-like magic in it. Staff ace Danny Duffy just made his first rehab start in his return from an oblique strain, and the offense has gone from averaging 3.6 runs per game in the season's first 60 to 5.6 in the time since.
Complicating matters is the murky terrain of the new collective bargaining agreement. As a small-market club, the Royals can recoup Draft picks after the first round for free agents who flee elsewhere, but only if they reject the one-year qualifying offer (upward of $19 million) and sign a contract elsewhere worth at least $50 million. (The Royals might actually have a decent shot at re-signing Hosmer, given the league landscape at first base.)
How bullish should the Royals be about their chances moving forward? Well, let's dive back into those projections: Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs both still have them finishing below .500, despite the recent success. For a Royals club that loves messing up the math, that probably sounds perfect.
4. White flags waving
The NL West's stranglehold on the NL playoff picture is now trickling into the trade market. In recent days, the Marlins have been rumored to being close to shipping off shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and ESPN's Buster Olney was the first to report that the Mets are open for business.
(By the way, what does it say about the NL East that the Nationals have consistently had a bullpen ERA around 5.00 and were still good enough to have the other clubs essentially punting before the end of June?)
The key question in the NL is whether the Cardinals and Pirates -- two sub-.500 Central teams still alive in the division race in spite of themselves -- decide to part with pieces, add on or stand pat.
The Cardinals, who really need a middle-of-the-order bat if they're going to advance, are similar to the Mets and Giants in that they don't have a lot of obvious trade assets, especially in a market with few defined needs on the position-player side of the spectrum (though Jedd Gyorko would certainly be a hot corner upgrade for the Red Sox). As mentioned here last week, the Pirates have one of the market's most enticing chips not in improved star Andrew McCutchen but in Gerrit Cole, who has now given up just three runs on 11 hits over his last three starts.
5. Freddie or not
Just in case you forgot how good things were going for Freddie Freeman before his injury, these are the Major League OPS leaders going back to June 13 of last season:
Mike Trout, 1.077
Joey Votto, 1.064
So it was a pretty big bummer when Freeman broke his wrist, but the good news is he's begun swinging a bat, might go out on a rehab assignment as soon as this coming weekend and might rejoin the Braves before the All-Star break.
But the weird news is that he might come back… as a third baseman. That's how much the Braves value what Matt "Big City" Adams has done since changing cities (.299/.354/.634 slash).
The Braves aren't in it this year, but they do have control over Adams through 2018. Perhaps they are falling into the same trap the Cardinals found themselves in when they tried to move Matt Carpenter around the infield before finally giving up on Adams and sticking Carp at first base.
Or maybe this is all just posturing. Adams' recent output augments his trade value, and the Braves could be publicly playing around with the Freeman-at-third idea (he hasn't played there since rookie ball in '07) as a means of downplaying the obviousness of moving Adams at what might be peak value. Certainly, Big City would be a good fit in the biggest city of all, because the Yankees have a pronounced need at first base.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.