Dodgers with big lead as they chase another NL West title

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              Los Angeles Dodgers' Will Smith, center, has his shirt ripped off by Kenley Jansen, left, and Alex Verdugo after hitting a two-run walkoff home run during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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The Los Angeles Dodgers needed a one-game playoff to win the NL West last year.

That appears to have been an aberration.

After six straight victories, the Dodgers now lead the division by 13 games, and that’s a little more in line with their norm of late. Los Angeles has won the last six NL West titles, and twice the final margin was in double digits. Now the Dodgers own the best record in baseball and are in the middle of another midseason surge.

The Dodgers are 15-6 this June, after going 17-9 in that month last year and 21-7 in 2017. Their last three games have been particularly pulsating, each of them won on a walk-off home run by a rookie. Will Smith, Matt Beaty and Alex Verdugo delivered those dramatic swings against Colorado, the team that took the division race with Los Angeles down to the 163rd game last season.

The Dodgers seem eager to make sure it doesn’t come to that in 2019. Their 3.16 team ERA is the best in the major leagues, and they lead the National League in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Cody Bellinger is an MVP candidate, and Max Muncy is following his 2018 breakout with another fine offensive season.

On the mound, Hyun-Jin Ryu is 9-1 with a 1.27 ERA, while Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler have shined as well.

The Dodgers are still seeking their first World Series title since 1988, but what they’ve already done within their division is noteworthy. The team that started this streak of NL West titles in 2013 included Kershaw, Ryu and Kenley Jansen, but many standouts from that team have moved on. Los Angeles opened the NL Division Series in 2013 with the following eight position players in the starting lineup: Carl Crawford, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe, Skip Schumaker and A.J. Ellis.

None of them play for the Dodgers now, but Los Angeles has remained among the game’s elite teams thanks to new contributors like Bellinger, Corey Seager and Muncy. The trio of walk-off homers by rookies this past week was appropriate for this franchise.

Elsewhere around the majors:

ONE AWAY

The Yankees had their eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday against Houston, but they kept another run going: New York has a home run in 26 consecutive games. The major league record is 27, set by Texas in 2002.

The Yankees can match that Monday night when they host Toronto.

HIGHLIGHT

St. Louis fans were ready to give Albert Pujols a warm welcome when he played there for the first time since leaving via free agency after the 2011 season. Pujols received a standing ovation Friday night, and on Saturday, he rewarded the fans with a home run and a curtain call. On Sunday, after Pujols and the Angels beat the Cardinals 6-4, Pujols exchanged jerseys with St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina.

Honorable Mention: Nomar Mazara hit a home run for Texas on Friday night that StatCast said would have gone 505 feet unimpeded.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Max Scherzer’s line Wednesday night — no runs, four hits, two walks and 10 strikeouts in seven innings — wasn’t that unusual for the Washington ace. But on this night, he was pitching with a black eye and a broken nose after bunting a ball off his face in batting practice the previous day.

Scherzer led the Nationals to a 2-0 win over Philadelphia. They’re still under .500, but they’re 13-7 this month and are only three games behind the NL’s second wild-card spot.