Here’s a scary thought: Clayton Kershaw has added to his arsenal

Less is often more, so it is a delicate endeavor when making additions to perceived greatness.

Would Disneyland really be better with an extreme roller-coaster? Would golf’s U.S. Open benefit from hostile Ryder Cup crowds? Should In-N-Out Burger offer bacon for its double-doubles?

But the playoffs are a Buster Posey Jersey completely different thing, and 37,762 Cleveland fans embraced the opportunity to emote on the big stage Thursday night. They got all dressed up in red, waved red towels and willed their team to a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

Several Cleveland players have attributed the team’s regular-season success at home to a roster-wide comfort level at Progressive Field. In the series opener against Boston, the Indians looked more inspired than comfortable.

“It was awesome,” Indians closer Cody Allen Dave Dravecky Jersey said. “The only thing a lot of guys in this clubhouse are able to compare it to is the 2013 playoff game [against Tampa Bay], and then Opening Day every year. There are some nights in between when it gets packed and it gets crazy. But this was definitely a special atmosphere.”

“I kind of like his emotions. I like when I see a Yu Darvish that’s excited. I think that’s when we get his best,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “Look, this is a pitcher that’s an extremely accomplished pitcher. I feel comfortable with where he’s at mentally, physically.

Some additions make more sense than others.

Clayton Kershaw is starting to tinker with what some believe is the best arsenal of pitches in the game. The bacon to his new pitch mix is something of a three-quarter delivery that the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace sprinkles in every so often for a little flavor.

Kershaw already gave hitters enough to deal with as it was: a precise fastball, a 12 o’clock-6 o’clock curveball and a sweeping slider. Now there is this, that little doubt that creeps into the back of your mind and only grows stronger, like when the plane takes off for vacation and you can’t remember if you’ve turned off the stove.

That’s really all you can say about a pitcher who gave up six hits and seven runs — six earned — in 3? innings, which just happened to be the shortest start of Hamels’ postseason career.

With balanced Nats bats, walk-a-Bryce strategy is risky business

WASHINGTON — For the Washington Nationals, the fact that opposing pitchers are starting to intentionally walk Bryce Harper again is good news. The fact that his teammates are making them pay is even better news.

In the second inning of Washington’s 8-1 rout over the Mets, Harper came up with two outs and a runner on second and received an intentional pass from New York starter Rafael Montero. The next batter, Anthony Rendon, blasted a 421-foot, three-run homer over the left-field wall that gave the Nats a 6-1 lead and all but ended the game. The sequence represents a welcome change for the Nats on two fronts.

For starters, teams are once again proceeding with caution when Harper is in the batter’s box. Last year, the reigning MVP led the majors with 17 intentional walks. Through the first two months of this season, he had 12 IBBs, including four during a four-game series with the Cubs in which they walked him a total of 13 times. But following the Chicago series, with Harper mired in a deep funk that may or may not have been induced by the Cubs’ unwillingness to give him anything to hit, teams stopped blatantly avoiding him. In fact, from July 10 to Sept. 6, a span of nearly two months, the Nats slugger didn’t receive a single intentional walk. But over the past week, Harper has been purposely passed twice, and with good reason: Since returning from a neck injury on Aug. 14, the reigning MVP is slashing .307/.413/.535, with 24 RBIs in 28 games.

“It’s just making a bigger deal out of it than it is,” said Justin Turner, who had a sixth-inning single off Sabathia and went 1-for-4. “We know there are lefties in our division and we have to win games. Just to sit around and talk about it all the time isn’t a solution to fix anything, so hopefully we don’t have to spend too much time talking about it.”

This even-keel temperament wasn’t always a calling card for Upton, who exited Monday’s game with a left calf strain but will potentially return to the lineup Tuesday night. Even recently, there have been reminders of his fiery tendencies (i.e. the eminently Gif’able time he spiked his helmet and inadvertently hit San Diego Padres teammate Yonder Alonso last season). Maintaining control over his emotions has been something he has had to consciously work at, especially since his younger days when, he admitted, “I was a bit of a firecracker.”

“Early in my career, I wore my emotions on my sleeve and I had to learn from that,” Upton said prior to Monday’s game. “It was too much. I had to learn how to be more even-keel and, as these guys have seen, I’ve gotten as pissed off as anybody this year, but I try not to treat my teammates any differently.”

Pirates place Gerrit Cole on 60-day DL with inflamed right elbow

The Pittsburgh Pirates placed pitcher Gerrit Cole on the 60-day disabled list Tuesday with a right elbow injury, effectively ending his season.

The team announced his injury as right elbow posterior inflammation. Cole returned to the mound Monday after missing three weeks, and he gave up five runs on four hits and four walks in two innings of a 6-2 loss to Philadelphia.

In the big picture, Cole’s health and future are of vital importance to the Pittsburgh organization. Last year, Cole graduated to the ranks of baseball’s elite starters when he finished among the National League’s top 10 in wins (19), innings (208), ERA (2.60), WHIP (1.09) and strikeouts (202). He fanned Mike Trout in the All-Star Game and finished fourth behind Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in Cy Young Award balloting.

Right-hander Lance McCullers, meanwhile, hasn’t thrown off a mound as he tries to come back from a sprained elbow suffered Aug. 2.

“It’s going to depend on where we’re at as a team and where they’re at,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Our idea is to continue positive progress with these guys and not set a timeline or a necessary deadline for them to have to meet. Otherwise we’ll threaten further injury. One more setback for any of these guys, and it’s over.”

Keuchel, 28, won 20 games and the Cy Young last season for an Astros team that advanced to the division series, losing to the eventual World Series champion Royals. McCullers, 22, was counted on to be a big part of the Astros this season after an encouraging rookie campaign.

Astros starters are struggling at the wrong time. Houston is 3? games out of the second wild card and 4-6 in its past 10 games. Hinch acknowledged that the team is walking a tightrope with the two pitchers.

“They’re not doing enough to be ruled in or out,” Hinch said, according to the newspaper. “McCullers is the closest guy, but you can play catch all you want — until you get on the mound, it’s when you really get serious about pitching. Keuchel’s not throwing yet, so there’s certainly some concern on both of theirs for different reasons because of where we are on the schedule, but we’ll go day-to-day.”

Circus act: Star-crossed Mets foolishly bring Tim Tebow sideshow back to Big Apple

Tim Tebow is going to mentor young prospects for the New York Mets, if only because he did such a wonderful job of that for the New York Jets. This is what Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was selling Thursday morning, and if you were buying, then you are likely among the precious few who still believe John Elway should never have replaced Tebow with Peyton Manning.

Alderson said he’s mindful of “the novel nature” of signing Tebow to a minor league contract, but that the decision “was strictly driven by baseball” and that the former Heisman winner “has demonstrated more than rudimentary baseball skills.”

How does 13-7 sound? Very doable. That’s why the Yankees have to get greedy. Win all four and they’re not in terrible shape.

You have to wonder if the Yankees have enough pitching to be so dominant. Thursday night, CC Sabathia (8-12, 4.20 ERA) goes against Alex Cobb (0-0, 3.60), which, numbers-wise, doesn’t really tilt in the Yankees’ favor. You wonder if Sabathia can lean on the muscle memory from all his clutch games of the past to muster enough against a poor Rays offense.

The Rays, mind you, are not total pushovers. Their run differential is -29 for the season, and the Yankees’ is -12. That is not a large discrepancy.

It is baseball, so you never know what will happen. For the Yankees, though, if they sweep the Rays, then this crazy run they are on will get real.

“While I and the organization, I think, are mindful of the novel nature of this situation, this decision was strictly driven by baseball,” Alderson said on a conference call with Tebow and agent Brodie Van Wagenen on Thursday to announce the agreement that includes a $100,000 signing bonus. “This was not something that was driven by marketing considerations or anything of the sort. We are extremely intrigued with the potential that Tim has.

Tebow acknowledged his upcoming baseball journey is “not one that will be necessarily easy.”

“I know this is a tough game,” Tebow said. “But I’m looking forward to putting in the work and I felt like this was the best fit.”

Yasiel Puig rejoins Dodgers after one-month stint in minors

Yasiel Puig returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday after a one-month stint at Triple-A Oklahoma City, going 2-for-4 in a 4-2 loss to the visiting San Diego Padres.

Roberts and Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, first discussed bringing Puig back with a handful of veteran players.

“They must’ve had a tough time picking player of the game, because there was a lot of guys you could make a case for,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Just a reminder what guys have been doing most of the year and what we’re capable of.”

Of course, facing rookie Chad Green is a whole lot different than facing a Toronto rotation that’s been the best in the AL. Particularly when you consider that Green might not have been at full strength. After he exited the game in the second inning, the Yankees announced that the 25-year-old righty was experiencing elbow pain. Not that the Orioles were going to let medical minutia mitigate their postgame buzz.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner is expected to throw 50 pitches and three innings against Modesto in a minor league rehab outing as he tries to return to the major leagues at some point this month.

Kershaw has been out since June 26 with a lower-back injury, and it is possible he could return to the Dodgers on the club’s next road trip, which starts next Friday and takes the team to Miami, Yankee Stadium and Arizona.

Depending on when he returns, Kershaw could make as many as four starts with the Dodgers down the stretch. And if the club lines up the starts just right, two of them could come against the division rival San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers are in first place in the National League West, two games ahead of the Giants, after Los Angeles’ 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on Friday night.

Rancho Cucamonga has been a popular landing spot for rehabbing Dodgers players this season. Los Angeles has put a record-tying 27 players on the disabled list this season.

Dodgers players who have made appearances for the Quakes this season include: Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Enrique Hernandez, Howie Kendrick, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Bud Norris, Casey Fien, Josh Ravin and Adam Liberatore.

Anderson also will pitch in Saturday’s game for the Quakes, as he is scheduled to take the mound after Kershaw departs. Anderson is trying to return from a blister issue that has him on the disabled list.

“If they said that they didn’t want him, I would have been surprised,” Roberts said. “They know the character of Yasiel and what he can bring to help us win baseball games and that’s the ultimate goal. I certainly would have been surprised if they had nixed the idea.”

The 35 days of September: Race to the AL East title

Thirty days has September, April, June and November — except for when September has 35 days, like this year.

That’s right, for a limited time only, the baseball gods have extended September to give us 17 percent MORE (MORE, MORe, MOre, More, more …) pennant race baseball in the American League East. Or should I say, the AL Beast. Because starting on Aug. 29 and ending on Oct. 2, super-September is going to be a bear for the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles (and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, for that matter), as the three contenders in MLB’s most contentious pennant race will take turns bludgeoning each other repeatedly during the final megamonth of the season.

Stat that matters: .914. That’s the current OPS of Edwin Encarnacion, who’s on pace to finish above .900 again. If he does, he’ll join Mike Trout as the only AL players to do so (assuming Trout doesn’t go in the tank) in each of the past five seasons.

Over the next five weeks, Toronto plays a dozen games against Boston and Baltimore (six each), and Boston plays Baltimore seven times in what should be a supremely entertaining stretch run that will ultimately determine the division champion — and possibly a wild card or two.

Which brings us to Carlos Gomez. He had worn out his welcome elsewhere, but the Rangers promised him a fresh start on Aug. 20. Based on Gomez’s natural talent, it was possible to squint and see the upside, and in Gomez’s first at-bat in Texas, he ripped a home run. He hasn’t recorded a hit since (0-for-11, 6 strikeouts).

It was a terrible decision, even noting that Gordon subsequently scored from third when Paulo Orlando hit a sacrifice fly to center. A run expectancy chart and its derivative, a win expectancy chart, can display mathematically why it was the wrong decision, but relying on those cheat sheets, like a first-time blackjack player, vastly underestimates how poor the decision was. Expectancy charts are based on baseline, league-average situations, but this was not a baseline situation. The Royals were playing the highest-scoring team in the majors, in the American League’s highest-scoring run environment over the last three seasons. You cannot construct a situation in the American League in which a single run has less marginal value for winning a game than what the Royals faced Sunday night.

With 24 outs to go in the game, and two pitchers in the game with 2016 ERAs of 4.27 and 5.11 on the mound, bunting with a runner on first and second and nobody out is foolish.

Are Corey and Kyle Seager having the best brother season ever?

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is having an awesome rookie season, hitting .322 with 22 home runs and on pace to score more than 100 runs. Older brother Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners is having a terrific season as well, on pace to hit 30 home runs and top 100 RBIs — not that anybody is talking much about him. In fact, Kyle ranks seventh among all position players in WAR (5.7), and Corey (5.3) ranks 10th.

So, inquiring minds want to know: Where does this rank among the best brother seasons ever? Let’s do some digging. Note that some of the best brother combos never managed to align their best seasons — such as Pedro and Ramon Martinez — and I didn’t consider cases where one brother was a star and the other wasn’t, such as Cal and Billy Ripken.

Paul and Lloyd Waner (1927)

The only brothers in the Hall of Fame, Paul was a legitimate star, but Lloyd is one of the worst Hall of Famers, a singles-hitting outfielder who hit .300 in an era when everyone hit .300. They were longtime teammates with the Pirates, Lloyd in center field, Paul in right.

For their best season, I’d go with 1927, when the Pirates reached the World Series. Paul was in his second season and won NL MVP after leading the league in batting average and RBIs, and Lloyd was a rookie who led the league with 133 runs.

What makes the Seager brothers so impressive is that both are going to pass 6.0 WAR — the only other example I found was the Perry brothers in 1969 — with a chance to reach 7.0 WAR. It’s hard to beat what the Dean brothers did in 1934, teaming up to win a World Series, but Corey and Kyle might be having the best brother season ever.

But there are five other managers whose seats are hot, and the next five weeks may determine their futures:

Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox

The White Sox’s front office was split at the trade deadline on whether it should buy, sell or stand pat. It selected the latter, with its only significant move being the trade of reliever Zach Duke. Ventura is 357-416 (.462 win percentage) in his five-year stint as White Sox manager with only one winning season, and that was back in 2012, his first year as skipper. The White Sox must decide if they’re going to sell and rebuild and have Ventura start again from scratch, or try to win with this team. If they decide the latter, they might decide to try a different voice in the managerial chair.

Fastballs, sliders, curveballs … who throws them best?

Dodgers stick to the plan and get offensive against Giants

LOS ANGELES — In the first meeting for the West Coast rivals in more than two months, the Los Angeles Dodgers showed their visitors from the north that new identity they have been working on.

“There is no pressure and [Roberts] throws you in situations where you have a good chance to succeed,” Toles said. “I don’t see any pressure or anything like that.”

Nobody looked pressured in what has been billed as a key late-season series, amid games that figure to weigh large when the division is decided on the first weekend of October. The Dodgers returned home from a productive road trip to deliver 14 hits after pounding out 21 on Monday against the Reds.

It might have been the first game of a showdown series Tuesday, but for the Dodgers it was simply a carbon copy of what they have been doing for some time now, all the way down to the five-inning outing from another starter.

Kenta Maeda was far from efficient in throwing 103 pitches over five innings of work, but it was plenty to outduel Bumgarner, who lasted only five innings himself while giving up five run and nine hits. The Dodgers have now won each of the last five times Bumgarner has pitched against them.

The question remains, how long can the Dodgers keep up their offensive sense of urgency? Their lead is only two games after all, with eight games remaining between these two teams, the last three of which are in San Francisco to end the season.

Can the Dodgers really run away from the competition on the back of a less-than-efficient starting staff? Or at the very least, can the staff, which has endured one injury after another, keep doing just enough until Clayton Kershaw is able to return?

“You know what, I just know that we will be ready to play tomorrow and ready to win a game tomorrow,” Roberts said. “That’s been our focus, to not try to get too far ahead of ourselves. I think people can ask questions like, ‘Can we sustain it?’ But I think that we can prepare to win a game tomorrow and after that we will be ready for the next day. That approach has worked up to this point, and that is what we will continue to do.”

And as long as Seager is on a 14-game hit streak, Gonzalez is on a 16-gamer and Turner has hit safely in 17 of his last 19, there are plenty of reasons to think the Dodgers’ current play is sustainable.

“We struggled early in the year and now we’re doing our part,” Gonzalez said of the offense. “The season has its ups and downs, and at the end of the season it will come together as a unit. Right now we’re swinging the bats pretty well.”

“He’s got one Thursday, so I’ll give him one on Thursday,” Girardi said before the Yankees’ 5-1 win over the Mariners, cracking one of his signature jokes, because the Yankees have no game Thursday.

Girardi had planned on giving Sanchez the day off Tuesday or Wednesday, but because Sanchez is so hot at the plate, the manager gave Sanchez only a half-day. Sanchez was the Yankees DH and — can you believe it? — didn’t homer. He did have a single in four at-bats.

“Defensively, he has been just as good as offensively,” Girardi said.

While he is the biggest reason to watch the Yankees on a daily basis, he is not the reason the Yankees won Tuesday.

The big-money guys, CC Sabathia and Jacoby Ellsbury, led the way on the field. Sabathia pitched seven innings of one-run ball, and Ellsbury hit a two-run homer. Sabathia improved to 8-10 with a 4.33 ERA.

“He’s pitched a lot better than his ERA,” Girardi said.

The Yankees needed to come in here and sweep to bolster their faint wild-card chances. They are five games out of the second spot.

Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen finishes off win with 3-run HR after father’s death

“Getting out of those situations had a lot to do with the defense,” Adleman said.

Bud Norris (6-10) gave up six runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings in his first start since July 31 because of a back strain. He struck out three and walked four while lasting fewer than five innings for the 10th time in 17 starts this season.

The Reds wasted no time pouncing on Norris, who had trouble with the pitching mound while warming up for the first inning and needed some maintenance. The first five batters reached base, four with hits, including Votto’s blast over the center-field wall for his 20th home run of the season.

“A big piece of clay came out,” Norris said about the mound issue. “They came out and fixed it. It was always there, but it’s not really an excuse. It didn’t go my way.”

The Reds sent nine batters to the plate while knocking Norris out in their three-run fourth. He walked Tucker Barnhart intentionally to get to Adleman with two outs and Eugenio Suarez on second. The pitcher crossed him up with a two-run double up the right-center field gap.

Lorenzen hit his first career home run in the seventh. He had to be prodded by his teammates as the crowd of 28,184 pleaded for a curtain call.

“The Lorenzen home run was emotional for all of us,” manager Bryan Price said. “If you stay in this game long enough, you still think you won’t see anything like that. It was so improbable. It was majestic and poetic The emotions were palpable and got stronger when he got to the dugout. The curtain call showed there was some awareness in the crowd.”


LHP Julio Urias will start for the Dodgers in Sunday’s third game of the series. Urias is 3-2 with a 4.41 ERA in 12 overall appearances, including 10 starts, the last on Aug. 8 against Philadelphia in Los Angeles. Sunday’s starter previously had been listed as “to be announced.”


Votto’s homer gives him seven 20-homer seasons with the Reds, tying him with Adam Dunn and George Foster for fifth on the Reds’ list of players with seasons of 20 or more home runs. His four RBIs give him 700 in his career.


The fans in the left field corner gave LF Tony Renda a standing ovation after he slammed into the wall on consecutive fly balls in the second inning. The ball was knocked loose for a double the first time, but he hung on to the second drive, earning the applause.


Dodgers: LHP Rich Hill, on the disabled list since July 18 with a left middle finger blister, threw 75 pitches in a simulated game on Thursday at the Dodgers’ spring training facility. Roberts said Hill most likely will be activated next week.

Reds: OF Adam Duvall missed his fourth consecutive start on Friday after fouling a ball off of his left instep on Monday. He was available to pinch-hit.


Dodgers: LHP Brett Anderson (0-1) is scheduled to make his second start of the season after making his 2016 debut last Sunday after recovering from herniated disk surgery. He is 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in two career starts against Cincinnati.

Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (7-9) lost a complete-game 1-0 decision to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on May 23 in Los Angeles.

CINCINNATI — Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw missed his teammates so much that he flew from Los Angeles to Cincinnati just to work out with them.

The injured left-hander threw on flat ground Friday before their game against the Reds, the last step before he throws off a mound in the bullpen for the first time in more than a month.

“I feel good so far,” said Kershaw, who has been sidelined since June 26 with a herniated disk. “It’s a one-step-at-a-time thing. I throw a bullpen [session] tomorrow. That’s another step. I’ve been throwing for the last week and a half, and I haven’t had any problems.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was as happy to see Kershaw as Kershaw was to be with the team.

“He’s in good spirits,” Roberts said. “Part of it is because he’s healthy and part of it is getting back with his teammates and getting reacquainted.”

The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner and 2014 Most Valuable Player is expected to pitch off a mound Saturday for the first time since throwing in a simulated game July 16. That step followed an aggressive rehab program and aggravated his symptoms, leading to a complete shutdown.

Tigers trending upward in Power Rankings

Power Rankings Top 5:

1. Cubs

They’ve won nine of 10, their lead in the NL Central is back to double digits and they’re on pace for 102 wins. We’ve talked extensively about why the Cubs are so good — they’re loaded, everywhere, and then they added the most impressive bullpen arm in baseball in Aroldis Chapman. But let’s use this space to send kudos toward Kyle Hendricks, who is quietly putting together one of the best seasons of all Cubs starters. He’s allowed one run in two August starts and has the leagues’ second-lowest ERA (2.17). He’s allowed five runs since July 1, and three earned runs or fewer in his last 14 starts, dating back to May 22.

2. Nationals

The Nats have put themselves in a good spot, winning eight of 12 against two tough opponents in the Giants and Indians and sweeping the last-place D-backs. They spend the rest of August playing lots of games against the Braves, Phillies and Rockies (although the Rockies aren’t to be taken for granted anymore, having jumped into the Wild Card race with a nice start to the second half). The Nats have the fourth-highest slugging percentage and OPS in the NL, the second-lowest ERA and the third-lowest WHIP. They also have a very comfortable seven-game lead in the NL East and the second-best record in baseball, behind only the Cubs.

3. Rangers

Yu Darvish is slowly becoming the Cy Young-contending Darvish from a few of years ago, which bodes well for a Rangers rotation that is slowly — very slowly — putting itself back together again. They’re not quite there yet and they’ll still have to piece things together a little longer with Lucas Harrell and Co. while they wait for Derek Holland and Colby Lewis to return. But the Rangers are stronger after improving in other areas at the Deadline, and Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy both contributed favorably to the Rangers’ recent series win in Houston.

4. Orioles

The O’s recovered from a rather uninspiring end to July with a strong start to August, winning series over the Rangers and White Sox. Not surprisingly, the offense continues to reign supreme — over those six games, they outscored their opponents, 30-19. Manny Machado put the cherry on top of the fabulous week with a three-homer game Sunday against the White Sox.

5. Blue Jays

The AL East race is likely going down to the wire and will involve three teams, including the Blue Jays, who had an interesting week — they took three of four in Houston against an over-.500 Astros team, and then lost two of three in Kansas City, where the Royals are well below .500. The Jays’ offense has taken a hit recently, but the pitching, for the most part, has been steady — a good sign when a contending team hits a road block here and there.

1. Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
Piniella wasn’t just sold on Griffey’s seniority over Rodriguez. He explained that Junior was the cornerstone piece in the Mariners’ lineup, the guy who carried the burden of having every pitching staff work the hardest to neutralize him. Day in, day out, Griffey made it easier for his teammates to succeed.

That sounds a lot like Rizzo. He hasn’t just been a middle-of-the-order presence, but he’s also the Cubs’ helpful older brother, ushering in newcomers like Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras and then helping make them comfortable. Rizzo has saved infielders errors and pitchers runs with defense worthy of NL Gold Glove Award consideration, and he’s hitting .286 with 24 homers, 80 RBIs and a .962 OPS. He’s the lead dog in a clubhouse full of alpha dogs.

Anthony Rizzo goes a perfect 3-for-3, falling just a home run short of the cycle and reaching base in all five plate appearances
2. Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Bryant was a unanimous pick as the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2015, finishing with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs. Everyone knew he had more in the tank as a hitter, but did you see it coming this fast?

It took only until July 27 for Bryant to match his home run total from last season. In his age-24 season, he’s raised all of his counting stats — batting .285 with 27 homers, 69 RBIs and a .928 OPS — while reducing his strikeout rate significantly (from 30.6 percent to 23.7). Bryant has played well defensively whether he’s at third base or in the outfield corners, and he has even filled in for Rizzo at first. Bryant is a sensational baserunner with above-average speed in full stride.

On numbers alone, Bryant deserves to win the NL MVP Award. He’s leading the NL in WAR as figured by both FanGraphs and baseball-reference. But Rizzo has an advantage in OPS and leadership. It’s too bad, really, that they can’t share the award.

Kris Bryant lifts a solo home run over the left-field wall in the 6th inning to break a scoreless tie

While this has been a roller-coaster ride of a season for Washington’s main man, Murphy has built off the strides he made working with hitting coach Kevin Long last year in New York. He’s motoring toward a batting title because he’s as hard to strike out as he’s crushing the fat pitches. It took Murphy only until July 7 to hit his 15th homer, setting a career high, and he’s on pace to hit 31 homers, drive in 118 runs and strike out only 64 times.

Murphy has worked hard to remain adequate at second base after some American League teams viewed him as a first baseman or even a designated hitter. He’s been essential for the Nationals with Harper hitting .132 with one home run in 76 at-bats since July 8.