Welcome back to The Rotation! Here's a starting five of topics worth bantering about in Major League Baseball this week.
With the Dodgers suddenly in the midst of a woeful stretch that has now seen them drop 10 straight and 15 of their last 16, all eyes are on the unstoppable Indians, who have now won an incredible 18 in a row -- just two shy of the AL record set by the A's in 2002 -- after Sunday night's 3-2 victory over the Orioles.
At the moment, the Indians look like the best team in baseball, a label perhaps worn leerily, because things change in a hurry around here, but one that this balanced ballclub has earned.
"They're running out six or seven starting pitchers that, for a lot of people, would be their No. 1 starter," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "They have the No. 1 ranked bullpen and starters in baseball. When you get that kind of consistency out of your pitching, you can put some things together. They defend, they have a lot of different weapons and they have as good as there is putting people in position to be successful in Terry Francona. They're going to be a real factor to be reckoned with for a long time. It's a model organization."
The Indians have a plus-89 run differential during The Streak, which has been compiled with Andrew Miller, Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis on the DL. There are so many crazy numbers associated with the run, but just look at the main ones ...
Offense: .309/.387/.568. So basically, the entire lineup as a whole has hit like 1961 Willie Mays (.308/.393/.584).
Starting pitching: 1.94 ERA, 0.94 WHIP. So basically, the entire rotation has pitched like Pedro Martinez in his 1997 Cy Young year (1.90, 0.93).
Bullpen: 1.42 ERA. So Basically, the entire relief corps has delivered like… well, 2016 Miller (1.45).
The Indians host the Tigers over the next three days. If they sweep Detroit, on Wednesday afternoon they will break the A's AL mark and tie the 1935 Cubs' run of 21 consecutive victories, which really ought to be considered the record.*
*The 1916 Giants have the official record at 26, but their streak actually included a tie after win No. 12.
Of course, that would be truly impressive. But the team still has its eyes on the true prize: a championship after a 69-year drought.
2. Live by the long ball ...
How concerned should the Dodgers be about their sudden slide? Though their lead on the D-backs is down to single digits (nine, entering Monday), they've basically secured the NL West. Sure, it's still possible they cough up the NL's No. 1 seed (they now only lead the Nationals by five games in the loss column), but it's hard to know how much that really matters.
With all that said, losses at this rate don't happen by accident. What we've seen in late August/early September is an offensive concern jumping to the forefront.
In the course of losing 15 of 16, the Dodgers have homered once every 43.8 at-bats. Prior to this stretch, they had been averaging a homer every 23.3 at-bats. According to Baseball Prospectus, for the full season, 44.7 percent of the Dodgers' offense has been generated by the long ball -- the highest such percentage among any of the current division leaders. In the Wild Card era, no team has won the World Series with a regular season home-run reliance that high.
The Dodgers are deep and talented enough to be the outlier (they proved it by winning 91 of their first 127 games this season). Perhaps they are fortunate to get their cold spell out of the way now instead of October. Or maybe what we've seen in recent weeks is a preview of what upends them come the postseason.
3. Twinning percentage
The race for the second AL Wild Card spot is crazy. But it's worth noting that for 24 of the last 25 days, the Twins have been the club occupying it, remarkable for a club that lost 103 games last year and sold assets at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"Somebody brought up a stat that no team has ever made the playoffs after losing 100 games the year before," backup catcher Chris Gimenez said. "It would be fun to be the first. We're young and dumb enough that these guys don't understand the severity of the situation."
The Twins traded Jaime Garcia to the Yankees six days after acquiring him from the Braves. That, combined with the trade that sent closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals, made for an upset clubhouse. The Twins had lost six of their last seven before the Deadline.
"We had a players-only meeting, and basically the four of us older guys talked to the young kids we have in our room," Gimenez said. "We said, 'We put ourselves in this situation, and we're the only ones who can get ourselves out of it.'"
Byron Buxton's .309/351/.588 slash since the start of August has been the biggest jolt, but the Twins, even after dropping two of three to the Royals over the weekend, have a clubhouse loaded with the kind of confidence that can't be calculated. It might only earn them a one-game, winner-take-all against a Yankees team that, amazingly, has beaten the Twins in 87 of the clubs' last 120 meetings. But even that would be far more than anybody would have expected on July 31, let alone April 1.
4. Bend it like Beckham
Speaking of things that were totally unexpected at the Trade Deadline, how about the impact Tim Beckham has made on the Orioles, who are down but not out in the AL Wild Card race?
When the O's activated longtime shortstop J.J. Hardy off the 60-day DL over the weekend, they sent him to the bench. Beckham had simply swiped his job with a .359/.391/.588 slash in his first 35 games with the club.
Why did the Rays punt on the former No. 1 overall pick by trading him to the O's?
"I have no idea, man," Beckham said. "But I'm happy they made the move. It's been a blessing in disguise."
The truth is that Tampa decided Brad Miller was their guy at second base, and they made a trade for Adeiny Hechavarria because of a lack of conviction in Beckham's defense at short. The Rays also had concerns about Beckham's coachability and attitude and how that would translate on the bench.
Baltimore isn't complaining.
5. J.D. = Just Dingers
If we're going to talk Trade Deadline, we have to talk about J.D. Martinez, who homered twice again Sunday, four times on Labor Day and 21 times overall since the D-backs acquired him on July 16.
The Tigers were a little frustrated with the way the market for Martinez developed (or, rather, didn't develop). Martinez didn't have as many serious suitors as you would expect for 1.018 OPS and 16 homers for Detroit. It wasn't simply being a "rental" that hurt his market; it was the low-priority placed on acquiring power at a time when the game is loaded with it. Many of the clear contenders were content to ride it out as-is in the outfield or wait for the waiver period (where Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin were among the guys on the move).
That's how Arizona landed Martinez with what was generally considered a light load, even by rental standards (infielders Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King). The unpredictability of this game, as evidenced by the Twins and Beckham examples above, means there's no telling if one of those kids becomes a legit big leaguer for the Tigers. But even if they do, it's hard not to label this as anything less than the best Deadline deal of them all. Martinez took some of the heat off Paul Goldschmidt and made the D-backs more dangerous against left-handed pitching -- something that could prove important should the D-backs advance out of the Wild Card round and face the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood.
We thought it was amazing when Yoenis Cespedes homered once every 10.3 at-bats in his first six weeks with the Mets in 2015. Well, Martinez has homered once every 8.0 at-bats for the D-backs. There's probably going to be a lot more interest in him this winter than there was this summer.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.