MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Dodgers, Rays push their way to front of pack

Dodgers, Rays push their way to front of pack

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays might be as different as any teams can be.

The Dodgers have a deep history that includes integrating baseball and taking the game West of the Mississippi. They have owners with deep pockets and major revenue-producing streams. The Rays are a product of baseball's most recent expansion, in 1998, playing in a gloomy dome with the smallest fan base in the American League and owners who have to be careful in how they spend money.

But the two teams do have one thing in common.

They know how to win.

And lately they have been winning with more regularity than any other teams.

They both went into Saturday in first place in their division, holding half-game leads.

What a difference a couple of weeks can make.

Back on June 21, the Dodgers were in last place in the National League West, 9 1/2 games back of division-leading Arizona. Since then, the Dodgers have gone 24-6, and jumped over everybody else in the division. They are leading the NL with 156 runs scored, a .288 batting avenge, .345 on-base percentage, and .446 slugging percentage. The team ERA ranks fourth at 3.04, the bullpen is 8-0 with 11 saves in 12 opportunities, and the marquee names in the rotation, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, are both 5-1 during this stretch.

Hanley Ramirez (.390, nine home runs, 25 RBIs) and Adrian Gonzalez (.303, seven home runs, 19 RBIs) have driven the offense in which six players have 15 or more RBIs in the 30 games. A.J. Ellis has driven in 18, and Mark Ellis, Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe have 15 apiece.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was sitting in fourth place in the American League East back on June 28, seven games out of first. The Rays, however won 20 of their next 23 games, and moved into first place with Friday's win at the Yankees, the third stop of a road trip that has seen them sweep three games in Toronto, take two out of three from Boston, and includes a return to Boston on Monday for a makeup game. Boston had been in first place for 98 days before the Rays made their statement on Friday.

While Roberto Hernandez is 1-2 with a 4.70 ERA in the surge, the four other starting pitchers -- Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, David Price and Chris Archer -- are a combined 15-1 with a 1.68 ERA, and the bullpen is 10-for-11 in saves, including 9-for-9 by closer Fernando Rodney. Wil Myers, the prime prospect the Rays landed in their offseason deal that sent James Shields to Kansas City, has been a catalyst, hitting .346 and leading the team with 13 RBIs while appearing in 20 games. And all of this has happened with Evan Longoria hitting only .187, but he does have four home runs and 11 RBIs.

Scoring drought

The Phillies not only went into Saturday with a six-game losing streak, but they had a lead for only two innings in those six losses. They had gone 47 innings without a lead until Michael Young singled home John Mayberry Jr., in the third inning against Detroit on Friday. That stood up until Alex Avila delivered the two-run double in the fifth that gave the Tigers a 2-1 win.

Just another bad day in what has been a day season for the Phillies and Cole Hamels. Hamels suffered the loss and is 4-13. He hasn't been his dominate self, but he has been more competitive than the record shows. Hamels has allowed two or fewer runs in 12 starts. He is 4-5 in those starts and the Phillies are 5-7.

No other pitcher has lost more than three games while allowing one or two runs, according to Stats Inc., and among the 10 pitchers with three losses in games in which they allowed two or fewer runs the only ones with a losing record are Dan Haren (2-3) of Washington and Kevin Slowey of Miami (1-3). Haren is one of three Nationals pitchers with three such losses. Stephen Strasburg is 4-3 and Jordan Zimmerman is 10-3 in those games. Travis Wood of the Cubs is 6-3 and Dave Samadzija is 5-3. Tommy Milone of Oakland and A.J. Burnett of Pittsburgh are both 4-3, and Lucas Harrell of Houston and Shields of Kansas City are both 3-3.

Did you know?

-- Pittsburgh equaled a franchise record by winning 60 of its first 100 games. The Pirates also did it in 1991. With a loss at Miami on Friday the Pirates are 60-41, meaning they need to win 22 of their final 62 games, a .361 winning percentage, to enjoy a winning season for the first time in 21 years.

-- Colorado's eight runs in losing three of four to Miami earlier in the week was the fewest runs ever scored by the Rockies in a four-game series in Denver. They split a four-game series with Montreal at Coors Field from May 15-18, 2003, while scoring 13 runs, and scored 13 while losing three of four to the Dodgers at Mile High Stadium from May 16-19, 1994.

--With Corey Hart (surgery on left and right knees) and Mat Gamel (torn ACL) both out for the entire season, the Brewers have used five players to start games at first base, and none of them had ever started a big league game at first before.

Rookie Sean Halton, who has made 11 starts, did appear at first base in 406 Minor League games. Catcher Blake Lalli, who has started five games at first base, played three innings in two games at first with the Cubs last year, and did play at first in 350 Minor League games. Alex Gonzalez, who has started 27 games at first, never appeared on the right side of the infield in 18 professional seasons before this year. Yuniesky Betancourt, who has started 69 games, appeared in two games in the outfield and the rest at shortstop or third base in his eight year big league career. And Juan Francisco, who made his 35th start on Friday night, played three games at first base with Triple-A Louisville in 2010.

-- Baltimore manager Buck Showalter this week joined Gene Mauch, Joe Torre and Dick Williams as the only managers with 250 wins with four different teams. Showalter won 313 with the Yankees, 250 with the D-backs and 319 in Texas, and went into Saturday with 254 wins in Baltimore.

Torre is the only won to reach 250 wins with five teams having managed 1,173 wins with the Yankees, 351 with the Cardinals, 286 with the Mets, 259 with the Dodgers and 257 with the Braves. Mauch won 646 with the Phillies, 499 with the Expos. 378 with the Twins and 379 with the Angels. Williams won 380 with the Expos, 337 with the Padres, 288 with the A's, and 260 with Boston. He also had 159 wins in Seattle and 147 with the Angels.

Out of left field

Starting pitcher Jarred Cosart and catcher Jason Castro of the Astros, on Tuesday, formed only the second battery in Major League history in which the players' last names were anagrams of each other according to wordplay maven Diane Firstman. The only other anagrammatized battery occurred when Matt Nokes caught pitcher Randy Nosek for the Tigers in 1989.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.