Diamond Digest: Baseball’s top story lines this week

Madison Bumgarner takes the hill at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday for the Giants.
Madison Bumgarner takes the hill at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday for the Giants. The Associated Press

Here are five interesting stories in baseball this week:

National League West showdown

The Los Angeles Dodgers closed Sunday with a half-game lead on the Giants. The Dodgers play Cincinnati Monday with a chance to boost the lead over the idle Giants to a game. Then the fun begins. San Francisco opens a three-game series with the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine on Tuesday. Game 1 of the series features a pitching matchup of Madison Bumgarner (12-7, 2.25 ERA) of the Giants against Kenta Maeda (12-7, 3.29). The Giants’ struggles since the All-Star break have been well chronicled. The Dodgers have overcome a ton of injuries to overtake San Francisco. The teams face off nine more times this season. It is a rivalry for the ages, and a new chapter is about to be written. Play ball.

Royals on the move

Don’t look now, but here come the Kansas City Royals. The Royals were 51-58 on Aug. 5, 11 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central and 9  1/2 back in the wild-card chase. Since that day, they have gone 13-2, and while they have only chopped three games off the Indians’ lead, they sit just 3  1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot. Just when you think you can count them out, they seem to come roaring back – just ask the 2014 A’s and 2015 Houston Astros, teams that coughed up large leads late in big postseason games against Kansas City. On Sunday, the Royals won their eighth straight game. Alex Gordon has been a key during the run. He has six home runs in August and has hit .294 for the month with 10 RBIs. The pitching staff is also a big key to the streak, having posted a 2.43 ERA in August. The Royals’ staff has allowed 143 hits in 185 innings and has a WHIP of 1.06. Kansas City’s best route is likely via the wild card, however, as the Indians seem to be holding firm at 71-51. They are 8-3 in their last 11 games. The Royals would also have to leapfrog the Detroit Tigers (seven-games back) to get to the Indians, but obstacles haven’t been a problem for Kansas City the past three years.

Cespedes better than rest of us

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets just had a monster series in San Francisco (5 for 13, three home runs, five RBIs). He is hitting .293 with 25 homers and 64 RBIs in his fifth season. He has 130 home runs, 429 RBIs, a .274 average and an .822 OPS in his career. The numbers beg the question: Why has this guy been traded three times? The A’s, Red Sox and Tigers all traded him. The numbers also make you wonder why he only got a one-year deal in the offseason. What does this man have to do on a baseball diamond to earn some respect?

Beltway ballgames

The Beltway Series resumes Monday as the Washington Nationals host the Baltimore Orioles for two games before the teams head to Baltimore for two more. Both teams are in the postseason hunt, with Washington (73-50) leading the N.L. East by 8 1/2 games and the Orioles (67-56) trailing in the American League East race by 2 1/2 games. The Orioles are currently in the second wild-card spot, one game up on the Mariners. The Nationals’ Bryce Harper struggled for much of the season, but has hit .325 in August. He hit a three-run homer on Sunday as the Nationals fell to the Braves. This should be an exciting series. It features a couple of strong pitching matchups. On Monday, Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 3.59 ERA) takes on Dylan Bundy (6-4, 3.36). In Thursday’s series finale, Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05) of the Nationals takes to the hill against Chris Tillman (15-5, 3.76) of the Orioles. Baltimore features Manny Machado (.303, 28 homers, 74 RBIs) and Mark Trumbo (MLB-best 37 homers, 90 RBIs). The Nationals have seven players in double figures in homers, led by Daniel Murphy (23 homers, .345 average). Let the fireworks fly.

Little big time

Diamond Digest isn’t only about major leaguers and minor leaguers. There is a huge amateur tournament going on this week. For the love of Kelly Leak, we’re talking about the Little League World Series. That’s right, the annual pilgrimage to South Williamsport, Pa., wraps up Sunday. And California still has a dog in the hunt (Chula Vista). The ESPN family of channels is broadcasting the event, so fire up the DVR and prepare for the ping of the bat and prodigious drives on a tiny field.

Compiled by Chris La Marr