Welcome back to The Rotation! Here's a starting five of topics worth bantering about in Major League Baseball this week.
1. Frisky Fish
Funny thing about baseball: When you have a guy who suddenly hits about two or three home runs a game, your team gets better.
This is the (admittedly exaggerated) secret behind the Miami Marlins' surge in the National League Wild Card standings. This team has operated on "Cruz" control (that's the nickname Giancarlo Stanton wore on his back for Players Weekend), winning 13 of 16 to climb within 4 1/2 games of the Rockies for the NL's final postseason spot. The latest win came Sunday, when Stanton's 50th homer of the season was a tie-breaking blast in the eighth inning of a 6-2 victory. He's just the 28th player all-time to hit 50 in a season and the first in the NL since Prince Fielder in 2007 (in the AL, Chris Davis hit 53 in 2013).
Maybe the Fish flounder moving forward, but their success is not as small a sample as you might assume. They're tied for the third-best record in baseball going back to May 28:
Dodgers: 61-17 (.782)
Nationals: 48-32 (.600)
Marlins: 49-33 (.598)
Indians: 49-33 (.598)
Furthermore, the Marlins have an enviable schedule ahead. After sweeping the last-place Padres over the weekend, 27 of their final 33 games are against either sub-.500 squads (Phillies, Braves and Mets) or the teams they're contending with in the Wild Card race (Brewers, D-backs, Rox). The other six are against the Nationals, their opponent in D.C. this week.
As Stanton has proven with his amazing second-half performance -- one that revolves around the more closed stance that has allowed him to capitalize on his clear potential -- you can win a lot of games when a guy goes all "2001 Barry Bonds" on the rest of the league. Stanton is now just one homer shy of tying Rudy York's record of 18 in the month of August, set in 1937.
Unless you really want to see him make a run not just at York but at Roger Maris, there aren't many compelling reasons to pitch to Stanton right now. And there's virtually no reason to throw him a two-seam fastball, as he's slugging an incredible .853 off that particular pitch. But Stanton has made the Marlins more compelling by the day.
2. Rhys' pieces
Rhys Hoskins could homer once an inning between now and October, and it might not be enough to put the Phillies in contention. Still, it's fun to watch him try. The 24-year-old rookie, who was summoned to the big leagues on Aug. 10, already has 11 homers in 18 games. Nobody had accomplished that in fewer than 23 previously.
At a time when the league is on pace for its first-ever 6,000-home run season, it seems there's a new rookie slugging sensation every couple months (Trevor Story, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger). Hoskins has joined that club despite going undrafted out of high school and getting only one collegiate scholarship offer. He's already exceeded all reasonable scouting expectations because of ever-improving plate discipline and maximization of his power potential with the addition of a leg kick during his pro career.
Now Hoskins has early Major League numbers that are a combination of historic and hilarious. He has a .200 batting average on balls in play, because too few of his batted balls are actually "in play."
It's a shame Hoskins arrived to MLB past the cutoff point for Players Weekend nickname selection, because "Rhys Lightning" would have been phenomenal. But better late than never.
3. Backwards K(C)
This could be the last we see of the Royals in this iteration for a while, as a legit rebuild likely awaits in the offseason. That's what makes their play since a Trade Deadline push for improvement at the plate (Melky Cabrera) and on the pitching staff (Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter) so frustrating. The Royals haven't scored a run since the second inning Thursday -- a franchise-record drought of 34 innings. They are 9-17 in August and back below .500 after getting swept in Cleveland over the weekend, creating a nine-game gap that makes an internal focus on overtaking the Tribe in the AL Central unrealistic.
"We're making it more difficult on ourselves in that department every day," manager Ned Yost said.
Still, the Royals -- like, you know, most teams in the AL -- are alive in the Wild Card race, 2 1/2 games back of the Twins for the second spot. Putting Danny Duffy on the 10-day DL over the weekend with an elbow strain won't help matters, but an MRI revealed no structural damage, so Duffy could be back soon.
There's a theory that the Royals, because of their postseason pedigree and because they have a core of players likely making one last run together, would be a pretty dangerous October entrant. Alas, you've got to get there first.
"What makes us dangerous," Yost said, "is our ability to get hot. We have shown over the course of the year that we can get hot, and we've shown that we can get cold."
The Royals have both winning and losing streaks of nine games this year. Between May 8 and July 28, they had the second-best record in the AL. Since that time, they have one of the worst. The front office and ownership did what they could to give this club one last shot at contention, but the on-field play has not responded in kind.
4. Kershaw ready for return
With the Dodgers looking for a boost (OK, not really), Clayton Kershaw is returning to duty this week. He'll start Friday or Saturday in San Diego. The lower back strain that has sidelined Kershaw since July 23 was a more minor matter than the disk herniation that sidelined him for 2 1/2 months last year, but, because the back affects everything, that doesn't mean there won't be ample eyes upon his stuff.
Kershaw's postseason "struggles" are roundly overstated, but there's no denying that his postseason performance pales in comparison to what he's done from April through September in his career. His October performance will go a long way toward determining whether the Dodgers' performance in April through September of 2017 stands as the precursor to the organization's first World Series title since 1988 or just mere statistical minutiae, historical though it may be.
The Dodgers have utilized the 10-day DL more than any other ballclub this season, and they have proven a more modern approach to rotation construction (the 200-inning threshold is meaningless to them) has merit. But come October, some old-school ideals will apply. The Dodgers will need Kershaw and Yu Darvish to deliver in short series. So getting Kershaw back on the short end of the initial medical projection (four to six weeks) gives him plenty of time to ensure his stuff is up to snuff.
5. V-Mart: All heart
Tigers slugger Victor Martinez's frightening recurrence of an irregular heartbeat landed him on the disabled list Sunday for the second time this season and, unfortunately, invites the question of whether this great career might end abruptly.
Martinez, who turns 39 in December, already had plans to retire at the conclusion of his contract in 2018, but doctors are currently assessing his conditions and the risk factors associated with his baseball activity.
"You don't mess around with the heart," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters. "We're not talking about a sprained ankle or something minor like that. This is something you take very serious because it could be life-threatening."
I've known and covered V-Mart going back to his rookie year in 2003. If I had to make a short list of the players whose love of the game and desire to win was most pure, he'd be at or near the top. So watching his expected performance decline (age catches up with everybody) combined with this unexpected medical dilemma is wrenching.
Once an elite-hitting catcher who has been limited primarily to DH duties since 2011, Martinez has a career .298/.364/.462 slash with 237 homers, 402 doubles and 1,124 RBI in 1,840 games -- numbers short of Cooperstown but certainly worthy of the fictional Hall of Very Good. Hopefully his great career ends on his own terms.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.