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More drama for Los Angeles Dodgers-San Diego Padres series, this time with Clayton Kershaw and Mookie Betts

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Friday’s game lasted five hours, spanned 12 innings and included 17 pitchers.

Saturday’s game came down to a centimeter.

That, pretty much, was the distance between Petco Park’s outfield grass and the baseball that bulged out of Mookie Betts‘ glove, just barely secure enough to place another exclamation mark on an exhilarating matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.

It was the bottom of the ninth, there were two outs, the Dodgers led by two, the Padres had two runners in scoring position, and both teams had navigated through another April game with the nail-biting intensity of October. Betts, playing center field for the injured Cody Bellinger, broke to his left, sprinted seven steps and launched himself towards Tommy Pham‘s sinking line drive. If it falls, the game is at least tied. Give Pham’s speed, perhaps the Padres win on an inside-the-park home run.

Betts secured it on the heel of his glove, turning in a play with a 10% catch probability in the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory. He lifted himself up on both knees, patted his chest three times and roared towards a crowd that had mostly fallen silent. Moments later, in an on-field interview with the Dodgers’ broadcast affiliate, Betts said he “kind of blacked out.”

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Mookie Betts dives to end the game and secure the Dodgers’ win over the Padres.

It’s been that kind of series.

“It’s different,” Padres starter Yu Darvish, who allowed just the one run through seven dominant innings, said through his interpreter. “I saw it yesterday, as well.”

Friday’s madness spilled into Saturday’s classic pitcher’s duel between Darvish and Clayton Kershaw, which produced only one run through the first eight innings — on a bases-loaded walk by Kershaw, of all people — and ended with brilliant defense, the antithesis of the sloppiness from 24 hours earlier.

The Dodgers have won eight in a row, continue to lead the majors in winning percentage and have won 13 of their first 15 games for only the second time in the last 100 years.

They have elevated themselves to match the intensity of a Padres team so noticeably eager to knock them off their perch atop the National League West, but they haven’t necessarily forced it. They have rested their ailing position players, guarded against over-using their relievers and talked about this series with the blandness one might expect for early-season baseball, even if the games have felt nothing like it.

“It’s April,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “The thing about this club, and our team the last couple years, is we talk a lot about taking it one game at a time and worrying about today and doing everything we can to win a game today, and not worrying about what happened yesterday and not looking ahead to what’s coming tomorrow. I think a lot of teams talk about that, but this team is one of the best groups I’ve ever been around at actually executing that and not letting the moment get too big.”

Kershaw played catch with Darvish regularly over the last three months of the 2017 season, but he had never faced him — you know, as a hitter — until Saturday. He was retired on four pitches in his first plate appearance, then got into a 2-2 count in his second. It was the fifth inning, the bases were loaded with two outs, Darvish was three hitters removed from a developing perfect game — and so began one of the greatest sequences in Kershaw’s offensive career, a collection of four pitches that embodied the intensity, unpredictability and sheer randomness of this budding rivalry.

Slider out over the plate, tipped foul.

Cutter way low and away, tipped foul.

Cutter up and away, taken for a ball.

Cutter slightly away, taken for a ball.

Kershaw worked a walk — on a perfectly placed cutter that only tailed off the very edges of the strike zone — to bring in a run, only the second time doing so in a 14-year major league career. Until Turner unleashed a solo homer in the top of the ninth, it was the only run of the game. Ultimately, it was also the difference.

“Just trying to be annoying, really,” Kershaw said of his approach. “I wasn’t gonna get a hit off him, he’s got too good a stuff. It’s just trying to be a nuisance as best I can.”

The prior half-inning, Kershaw was screaming at Jurickson Profar — “That’s a bulls— swing!” he barked — for swinging so late that he caught his bat on Austin Barnes’ glove and was awarded first base on catcher’s interference. Kershaw later complained that Profar swung “straight down and backwards,” adding that it was “not a big league swing.”

Two innings later, Trent Grisham found himself on second base but didn’t accurately read the defense behind him and broke late on Manny Machado‘s sharp grounder through the infield, advancing only 90 feet. The next batter, Wil Myers, hit a 106 mph grounder that hit off the mound and landed in Chris Taylor’s glove for an inning-ending double play.

Kershaw, who contributed six scoreless frames and hasn’t allowed a run in 18 consecutive innings, couldn’t help but smile as he made his way back to the dugout.

Myers looked stunned.

It wouldn’t be the last time.



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Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto placed on COVID-related IL

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Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto has been placed on the COVID-related injury list ahead of Thursday’s game against Washington, the team announced.

The Phillies recalled catcher Rafael Marchan from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Realmuto, who signed a five-year deal with Philadelphia this offseason that has the highest average annual value ($23.1 million) for a catcher in MLB history, is hitting .314 with four home runs and 16 RBIs this season.

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MLB Power Rankings Week 6

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For the first time during the 2021 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers are not atop our MLB Power Rankings.

The defending world champions fell from No. 1 after a prolonged slump in which L.A. has gone just 7-15 and dropped five consecutive series since starting the season with an MLB-best 13-2 mark.

Now the big question is which team took advantage of the opportunity to lead our Week 6 rankings? With the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians all sitting within one game of MLB’s best record in the standings, there are plenty of teams worthy of top billing — but only one can be No. 1.

Here is what our eight-voter expert panel decided based on what we’ve seen in the first month-plus of the season. We also asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with one Week 6 observation for all 30 teams.

Previous ranks: Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1 | Opening Day


1. Chicago White Sox

Record: 21-13
Previous ranking: 7

It does not feel like the White Sox have reached their full stride, yet they are starting to climb to the top of quite a few rankings lists, both of the subjective and objective variety. And why not? The ChiSox lead the majors in runs per game and rank second in runs allowed per game. The lofty offensive ranking is eye-catching since a team we figured would hit lots of long balls thus far ranks just 25th in isolated power. Yes, Chicago still has to navigate the long-term absences of Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. Nevertheless, there is plenty of reason to believe it’s only going to get better from here. — Doolittle


2. Boston Red Sox

Record: 22-16
Previous ranking: 3

A month and a half into the season, Boston not only looks like a contender in the American League East, but also like one of the best teams in baseball. While the team started off the season 0-3 against the Orioles, they’ve not had a losing streak of more than two games until this week. Righty Nick Pivetta has been the best starter so far, with a 1.0 WAR while posting a 3.19 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 36.2 innings pitched. — Lee


3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 20-17
Previous ranking: 1

The Dodgers had dropped five consecutive series and lost 15 of 20 games heading into the week, a bewildering circumstance not just because of their overall talent but because they haven’t necessarily been playing as bad as that recent stretch would suggest. But a positive development came on Tuesday, when Gavin Lux belted the game-winning home run in the eighth inning against the Mariners. Lux, whom the Dodgers consider a potential star, began the week batting only .209/.247/.267 with 24 strikeouts and five walks. Maybe he’ll finally get going. — Gonzalez


4. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 22-15
Previous ranking: 6

The Cardinals have gone on a run to create some separation at the top of the National League Central; however, a home sweep of the Rockies isn’t necessarily a season-defining series win. St. Louis’ run differential is far and away the best in the division, and the pitching staff has been among the best in the game over the past week. — Rogers


Record: 20-16
Previous ranking: 8

The Yankees find themselves in second place after a sluggish start to the season riding the molten-hot bat of Giancarlo Stanton and improved performance from the entire rotation. Since the calendar turned into May, New York finds itself with a 8-2 record, while Gerrit Cole continues to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. — Lee


Record: 21-17
Previous ranking: 2

The Padres have been stopped in their tracks. In one day, they lost five key contributors to their offense with Fernando Tatis Jr., Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Jurickson Profar and Jorge Mateo being placed on the injured list for COVID-19-related reasons. Tatis and Myers, in particular, tested positive. Luckily for them, it came amidst a nine-game stretch in which they’ll play the lowly Rockies six times. — Gonzalez


7. San Francisco Giants

Record: 22-14
Previous ranking: 5

Alex Wood could barely find a role on last year’s World Series-winning Dodgers. This year, he boasts a 1.80 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP through his first 30 innings. Opponents are slugging just .192 off his slider, which has produced a whiff rate of 45.1%. And Wood is just one of a handful of remarkable stories on that pitching staff. — Gonzalez


Record: 23-15
Previous ranking: 4

Oakland is in the midst of its toughest test of the season, a three-game battle with the Red Sox at Fenway. The Athletics continue to ride strong starting pitching to start the season, with Chris Bassitt (3.54 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 1.3 WAR), Sean Manaea (3.07 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 1.3 WAR) and Cole Irvin (3.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 1.0 WAR) leading the way and Yusmeiro Petit anchoring the bullpen. — Lee


Record: 19-19
Previous ranking: 12

Tyler Glasnow continues to establish himself as a bona fide ace, but Tampa Bay hasn’t gotten much else out of its starting rotation so far this season, with Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and Ryan Yarbrough all below replacement level in the early part of the season. — Lee


Record: 20-17
Previous ranking: 9

Despite a depth of live, young arms, Houston has not been able to carve out a consistent pecking order in the bullpen. Houston ranks 27th in reliever win probability added and is below replacement in relief bWAR. Ryne Stanek and Ryan Pressly have been fine. After that, it’s been a crapshoot and that’s a problem for a club with a solid rotation that nevertheless is short on workhorse-type starters. Getting Blake Taylor, Pedro Baez and Enoli Paredes back from the injured list would certainly help. And, given some recent rumblings, perhaps later in the season, could they be joined by Justin Verlander? — Doolittle


Record: 18-13
Previous ranking: 15

Despite the infiltration of rats and raccoons into Citi Field, the Mets went 5-0 on a homestand against Arizona and Baltimore to run their winning streak to seven. Obviously, Jacob deGrom‘s injury bears watching, but the good news is Taijuan Walker continues to pitch well and is now 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA, allowing just one home run in 41 innings. — Schoenfield


Record: 20-14
Previous ranking: 14

Jose Ramirez is setting himself up for yet another run at AL MVP with a season that is gradually building momentum, largely on the strength of a number of clutch home runs. Six of his 10 homers have come with Cleveland either tied or trailing by one or two runs in the sixth inning or later. Ramirez ranks second in the AL among hitters in win probability added. You still sometimes hear Ramirez referred to as underrated, but he has finished in the top three of MVP balloting in three of the past four years. It could happen again this season. — Doolittle


Record: 19-16
Previous ranking: 11

George Springer entered the season as the big-ticket free agent whom Toronto acquired this offseason, but he has played only four games. Marcus Semien has been the biggest addition, and he appears to be bouncing back after a rough 2020 season in Oakland. He is second on the team in WAR behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and is hitting .267/.333/.474 with eight homers. — Lee


Record: 20-17
Previous ranking: 10

How long can the Brewers survive without Christian Yelich? The offense ranked 29th in all of baseball in OPS over the past week, so it is going to fall on the pitching staff to keep Milwaukee afloat. The return of Corbin Burnes will help matters. — Rogers


Record: 17-19
Previous ranking: 16

The Braves won five of six against the Nationals and Phillies to claw back to .500 at the start of the week, even winning their first extra-inning game after starting the season 0-4 in the ghost runner contests. With Travis d’Arnaud on the 60-day IL after surgery on his thumb and Alex Jackson also injured, the Braves have been forced to go with rookie William Contreras as their starting catcher, with longtime vet Jeff Mathis signed as his backup. It’s not like the trade market would have any obvious improvements, either. — Schoenfield


Record: 20-17
Previous ranking: 17

Rhys Hoskins is off to a … strange start. In 2019, he led the NL with 116 walks, producing a 16.5% walk rate that led to a fine .364 OBP despite a .224 average. This year, his walk rate is all the way down 6.8% and his OBP is under .300. He’s producing some power numbers but making a lot of outs. His overall swing rate and K rate are both up, so this feels like an effort to be more aggressive. — Schoenfield


Record: 17-19
Previous ranking: 23

Injuries have both hurt the Cubs and opened up some playing time for others. Infielder Matt Duffy has been a find, playing solid defense and getting on base at nearly a 40% clip. Joc Pederson has finally gotten hot for his new team, hitting .471 over the past week. Chicago needs their production, as Javier Baez has missed a couple of games with a back issue and Kris Bryant missed another with bad allergies. — Rogers


Record: 17-17
Previous ranking: 22

Cincinnati has produced moments that point toward a contender in the division but has hovered around the .500 mark thus far. For example, Jesse Winker led all NL players in OPS over the past week, while the pitching staff threw two shutouts. However, in two other games, that same staff gave up a total of 16 runs to hitting-deficient Cleveland and Pittsburgh. — Rogers


Record: 16-20
Previous ranking: 25

As Jesus Aguilar continues to rake, he’s going to make an attractive trade piece if the Marlins aren’t in the playoff race in July. Among the playoff contenders struggling with production at first base: Brewers (.650 OPS), Rays (.618), Red Sox (.587) and Indians (.485). Aguilar debuted with Cleveland in 2014 and was an All-Star with the Brewers in 2018. — Schoenfield


Record: 18-19
Previous ranking: 21

Yusei Kikuchi fanned a career-high 11 against the Dodgers on Tuesday and left with a 4-1 lead in the seventh inning, but the bullpen allowed both inherited runners to score and then Rafael Montero coughed up a three-run homer in the eighth. Manager Scott Servais tried to milk a few extra outs from Kikuchi, but he looks like a classic “watch out the third time through the order” guy, as his OPS allowed goes from .543 to .671 to .774 so far in 2021. — Schoenfield


Record: 12-22
Previous ranking: 19

Minnesota has been baseball’s most disappointing team during the first few weeks of the season. The Twins began a stretch playing the first-place White Sox six times in nine games with a lackluster 9-3 loss at Chicago on Tuesday. That dropped the Twins eight games out of first place and pushed them to nine games under .500. There is no one aspect that explains everything, but the Twins’ bullpen has been especially loathsome. Minnesota’s run differential this season during the first six innings of games is plus-18, which is tied for eighth in baseball. After that, they are minus-26, easily the worst mark in MLB. — Doolittle


Record: 13-19
Previous ranking: 18

Max Scherzer had a dominant effort against the Yankees with two hits and 14 strikeouts over 7⅓ innings, his most K’s since fanning 15 against the Reds on June 2, 2019. That followed a complete-game win over the Marlins. After allowing four home runs on Opening Day, Scherzer has a 1.79 ERA and .173 batting average allowed. Mike Rizzo is going to be getting some phone calls. — Schoenfield


Record: 17-20
Previous ranking: 24

Madison Bumgarner has done a complete 180, suddenly reemerging among the game’s most productive starting pitchers. Nick Ahmed, struggling mightily to begin this season, finally hit his first home run recently. Luke Weaver is coming off a solid outing. The likes of Carson Kelly, Asdrubal Cabrera and Josh Rojas are providing unexpected contributions. And Ketel Marte is on his way back. The D-backs recently suffered a six-game losing streak, but things are seemingly looking up in again the dessert. — Gonzalez


Record: 16-20
Previous ranking: 20

The Angels released Albert Pujols largely because they wanted to put the bats of Jared Walsh and Shohei Ohtani in the lineup on an everyday basis, but also because Walsh playing first base — and somebody else, at this point Taylor Ward, playing right field — would greatly help a defense that ranks among the worst in the sport so far. The Angels’ top-end talent can rival any team’s, but pitching and defense has been a problem. And they can’t reach the postseason if that continues to be an issue. — Gonzalez


Record: 18-20
Previous ranking: 27

The Rangers are turning into a surprising storyline, as they won three consecutive series before dropping two games in a row to the Giants earlier this week. They’ve dominated left-handed pitching, sporting a 12-5 record when a southpaw starts against them. — Rogers


Record: 16-19
Previous ranking: 13

Even as the Royals sprinted out to the best record in baseball, analytical killjoys were pointing out that a few underlying fundamentals didn’t exactly support the sustainability of that status. Given a long enough timeline, regression to the mean will exact its toll. But someone should have told the Royals that it doesn’t have to happen all at once. Kansas City’s skid reached nine games with a demoralizing loss at Detroit on Tuesday, a game in which they erased a 7-0 deficit. At that point, K.C. had been outscored during the skid 66-28. — Doolittle


Record: 16-21
Previous ranking: 26

Sure, the Orioles look up at every team in the AL East standings, but we can still appreciate the special season John Means is having so far, with a league-leading 2.7 WAR and an American League-leading 1.21 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. During a season in which 100 mph fastballs seem to be a dime a dozen, Means creates success by working off of his elite changeup — which possesses a .106 batting average against and a 40.9% whiff percentage — and a fastball that averages around 93 mph. — Lee


Record: 15-21
Previous ranking: 28

Things might be finally catching up with the Pirates, as evidenced by four consecutive series losses. Colin Moran‘s groin strain is a big loss, as Pittsburgh is still waiting on the return of rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes, who won’t come back until at least June after being moved to the 60-day injured list this week. — Rogers


Record: 13-24
Previous ranking: 29

The Rockies had nearly twice as many losses as they had wins going into Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Padres, were 2-14 on the road and had won only seven of their 17 games against a National League West that has otherwise been spectacular. If you’re searching for a positive, here’s one: Kyle Freeland, who suffered a shoulder strain late in spring training, is approaching a rehab assignment and should join the rotation soon. — Gonzalez


Record: 12-24
Previous ranking: 30

Nothing much has changed for the Tigers over the past week, except that division mates Minnesota and Kansas City have been playing almost as bad, so perhaps that draws some attention away from Detroit. The recent release of Angels legend Albert Pujols did cast some unwanted light on Miguel Cabrera, with some wondering if a similar fate lies somewhere in his future. Cabrera’s 2021 season to date isn’t exactly fending off such analysis: He has been stuck hitting under .150 since late April and remains stuck on two homers for the season — and 489 for his career. — Doolittle

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Seattle Mariners calling up top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert, OF Jarred Kelenic

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The Seattle Mariners are calling up right-hander Logan Gilbert, their top pitching prospect, and he will start Thursday against the Cleveland Indians, manager Scott Servais said after Wednesday night’s 7-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Gilbert is ranked as the No. 43 prospect in baseball, according to ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel.

Seattle also will call up touted outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 amateur draft, on Thursday, Servais said.

Gilbert made his Triple-A debut for the Tacoma Rainiers on Friday. He allowed one run on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts in five innings of work.

Gilbert, the 14th pick in the 2018 draft, popped up in the Cape Cod League the summer before his draft year, working in the mid-90s with above-average stuff and starter command. During his sophomore season at Stetson, he was pitching deep into games, regularly well over 100 pitches, and his velocity was hovering in the low 90s with a less sharp breaking ball.

He profiles as a bulk-inning midrotation starter with solid average stuff and plus command, according to McDaniel.

The 18-18 Mariners, third in the AL West entering Wednesday, have had to lean heavily on their bullpen after injuries to Marco Gonzales (left forearm strain), James Paxton (season-ending Tommy John surgery) and Nick Margevicius (left shoulder inflammation). Seattle is down to four healthy members of its six-man rotation to start the season: Yusei Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield, Chris Flexen and Justin Dunn.

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