Dodgers, Yankees set pace as MLB push to playoffs opens

Los Angeles (AFP) - Star sluggers Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers and D.J. LeMahieu of the New York Yankees have powered their teams to the top of Major League Baseball at mid-season.

As the race for playoff spots begins following the All-Star Game, attention turns to the Dodgers' bid for a third consecutive trip to the World Series and the Yankees' quest to stretch their record to 28 World Series crowns with their first since 2009.

The Dodgers, who last won the World Series in 1988, lost the best-of-seven championship final to Houston in seven games in 2017 and to Boston in five games last year.

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says the defeats so close to their ultimate goal have strengthened the resolve of players this season and the result is a team with a major league-best 60-32 record and a 13.5 game lead in the National League West division.

"We feel it every day, but it's something that's not talked about," Roberts said. "It's like the best of all worlds. Because it's forefront of mind, but it's not talked about. But the work reflects it."

Bellinger is batting .336 with 30 home runs and 71 runs batted in, second in the NL in each category, with Alex Verdugo hitting .303 and Max Muncy hitting 22 homers and driving in 60 runs.

The Dodgers also boast stellar pitching with All-Star game starter Ryu Hyun-jin of South Korea going 10-2 with a 1.73 earned-run average and 99 strikeouts and Walker Buehler at 8-1 with a team-high 113 strikeouts.

"This team is not going to stop until we hoist that trophy up," Roberts said. "It's very apparent."

The Yankees, setting the pace in the American League at 57-31 ahead of Thursday's resumption of the regular season, figure to have something to say about the championship chase as well.

LeMahieu could become only the second player after 1900s star Ed Delahanty to win a batting title in both leagues, having taken the National League crown with Colorado in 2016 and leading the American League race with a .336 average with 12 homers and 63 runs batted in.

The Yankees have 25 homers from Edwin Encarnacion and 24 by Gary Sanchez plus the AL's top closer in Aroldis Chapman with 24 saves and a 10-game winner in pitcher Domingo German.

- Division fights intensify -

Beyond the overall leaders, playoff fights are setting up in both leagues.

Houston (57-33) tops the AL West by 7.5 games in quest of a second title in three seasons while Minnesota (56-33) leads Cleveland (50-38) by 5.5 games and Tampa Bay (52-39) tops the wild-card chase just ahead of Cleveland.

Beyond the Dodgers in the NL, the Atlanta Braves (54-37) own a six-game lead over NL wildcard leader Washington (47-42) with Philadelphia (47-43) just behind.

And the NL Central could be a five-team fight for one spot with the first-place Chicago Cubs (47-43) and last-place Cincinnati Reds (41-46) only 4.5 games apart.

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