Welcome back to The Rotation! Here's a starting five of topics worth bantering about in Major League Baseball this week.
1. Getting Wild in the National League
We already knew the American League Wild Card race was cray cray. But the NL race is slowly joining the cray fray.
Records over the past two months (going back to June 21):
The Rockies have an ERA north of 5 in that two-month span, and, well, that kind of thing can catch up to you. The D-backs have lost nine of 12, averaging just 3.5 runs per game in that span.
Where once it was assumed that all three supposed powerhouses in the NL West would get into October regardless of the Dodgers' dominance of the division, the Rox and D-backs have had more bad days than good of late, to the point where it's fair to wonder if their once-inevitable Wild Card Game meetup (a winner-take-all to determine who gets to duel with the Dodgers) is actually inevitable at all.
"The Dodgers are having a special season, there's no doubt about it," Colorado manager Bud Black said. "We know we've got to keep going. Nothing is a sure thing."
Regression to the mean for the NL West's two surprise contenders has meant progression on the part of the Brewers, who pulled within 2 1/2 games of the D-backs for the second Wild Card slot with Sunday's 8-4 win over the Rox, and the Cardinals, who sit four games back of the second spot after Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Pirates in the Little League Classic.
2. Forever DeJong
Paul DeJong had just signed autographs for some kids on the grounds outside Lamade Stadium during the Little League Classic festivities on Sunday when one of them walked away and exclaimed to his buddy, "He'd be the Rookie of the Year if not for [Cody] Bellinger."
Ah, yes, the "if not for…" discussion. That's prevalent in the rookie conversation in 2017, because Bellinger and Aaron Judge established themselves pretty quickly as the standard by which all other young'uns are judged (no pun intended, honest).
And so a year like the one DeJong is having can easily get lost. But it's certainly not lost in St. Louis, where DeJong is surprisingly a huge reason the Cards are back in the NL Central race.
"We wanted him to be getting every day at-bats," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "At Triple-A."
Aledmys Diaz was the Cards' rookie sensation at shortstop in 2016 (.300/.369/.510 slash in 111 games), but he faded just as quickly as he had materialized (.260/.293/.396 in 71 games this year). Meanwhile, DeJong, a former fourth-rounder who was not a highly touted prospect and who at one time was strongly considering med school, was too productive at Memphis to be denied. He came up to the big leagues on May 28, homered in his debut and, entering the week, had the third-highest OPS (.927) and wRC+ (146) marks of any rookie with at least 200 plate appearances.
Oh, that's trailing only Judge and Bellinger, in case you couldn't guess.
"It seems like it's a common theme throughout my career," DeJong said. "Just an under-the-radar player looking for my opportunity. Once I get my opportunity, I try to take advantage of it as much as I can and not look back."
DeJong has a 1.014 OPS and six homers in this scorching month of August, helping to carry the Cards back in contention.
3. Strikeout streak
Speaking of Judge, you probably saw he broke the record previously held by Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman in 1971 for the longest strikeout streak within a single season. The new record now stands at 37 (which ties Stoneman's multi-season mark from 1970-71) after Judge struck out again Sunday -- his 167th of the season, trailing only the Twins' Miguel Sano (170).
The game has, of course, gotten used to seeing big power and big K totals. Judge represents that environment to an extreme, though. Per Brooks Baseball, he whiffs on 27 percent of his swings on fastballs, 45 percent of his swings on offspeed pitches and 53 percent of his swings on breaking balls.
But then you note where Judge ranks on the various Statcast™ leaderboards -- barrels per plate appearance (1st) and average exit velocity (1st) -- and it all feels somewhat worthwhile. We used the word "somwhat" only because of the inherent danger that Judge's second-half regression does not abate, and that his K rate has caught up to him. Pitchers are climbing the ladder against Judge far more frequently in the second half, and it's working. What made Judge impressive as a prospect was his ability to adjust within levels, and then he made a monster adjustment at the start of this '17 season to put together a monster first half. Here's hoping he can make an adjustment again.
4. The Grandy Man can
The Dodgers enter the week on pace for 115 1/2 wins, which is just shy of the record of 116, which means the Dodgers need some help! Help arrived over the weekend in the form of Curtis Granderson, who addresses this club's glaring need for depth* with his production against right-handed pitching.
*In absence of sarcasm font, asterisks work quite well.
Granderson already played two complete games for the Dodgers in his old stomping grounds in Detroit over the weekend, and perhaps those starts against right-handers Michael Fulmer and Justin Verlander tell us all we need to know about Joc Pederson's role moving forward. Pederson didn't play in either game, even though his production is better against right-handed pitching (.785 OPS) than left (.581). And if Pederson is going to be relegated to the bench more frequently, that means more time in center for Chris Taylor, who has been a revelation at the plate (.311/.383/.549) and who grades out well defensively.
Having wrapped up that series in Detroit with the DH, the Dodgers have a real roster crunch going on with Granderson added and Adrian Gonzalez activated off the DL. But Dave Roberts' skill in mixing and matching is, by this point, pretty well-established, and the Granderson addition was yet another example of the Dodgers doing everything in their capability to perfect their roster in advance of October. It might just help them set a new regular season wins record, too.
5. Sacrifice stat oddity
From the "you're never too old to learn something new about baseball" department, here's something you might not have known: sacrifice flies count as at-bats within hitting or hitless streaks.
Last week, Indians rookie Bradley Zimmer snapped his 0-for-36 stretch at the plate with a single in a game against the Twins. At least, we thought it was an 0-for-36 streak. Turns out, per MLB's stat-keeping standards, a sacrifice fly, which Zimmer had within that stretch, counts as an at-bat when keeping records for a hitting streak of any kid, even though it does not as an official at-bat. So Zimmer's stretch was actually an 0-for-37.
The more you know ...
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.