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Inside Baseball: Lovullo's Diamondbacks send huge message

In the battle of Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famers turned managers, Torey Lovullo has sent Dave Roberts a mighty big message come October.

Lovullo's Arizona Diamondbacks have become the talk of the National League. Roberts' Los Angeles Dodgers, once on the road to breaking the all-time record of 116 wins in a season, have become a sudden enigma.

The Diamondbacks had a 13-game winning streak that ended last week and featured consecutive three-game sweeps of the Dodgers. They entered Saturday 15-1 in their last 16 games.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, were the class of the NL during a 43-7 stretch that was the best run in the major leagues over 50 games since the 1912 New York Giants. But they entered Saturday losers of 13 out of 14 games -- including eight in a row -- and with their offense suddenly in an epic funk.

The Dodgers are still going to win the NL West, even as their division lead was sliced in half from 21 games to 10 in less than two weeks. But what happens if they meet Arizona in the division series?

The Diamondbacks will almost certainly start Zach Greinke in the NL wild-card game, which looks like it will be hosted in Phoenix against either Colorado, St. Louis or Milwaukee. Assuming they win that, they can go with Robbie Ray in Game 1 and a potential Game 5 in Los Angeles.

And Ray has been absolute Kryptonite against the Dodgers this year.

Ray was perfect through five innings and struck out 14 over 7 2/3 innings Monday. He's cracked the 10-strikeout pleateau four times against the Dodgers this season. In his last three outings against them, he has an 0.87 ERA with 37 strikeouts and just six walks.

How good has Arizona been of late? The Diamondbacks led for 98 consecutive innings before the Dodgers opened the scoring with a first-inning run in Wednesday night's series finale. That's the second-longest streak in history.

"We’re battling, grinding and sticking together, and those are things that make you win those close games and win 13 straight,” Lovullo said. "If anybody says they were going to predict this, they’re crazy. There’s no way. With the quality of teams that we just ran through, all within our division, we know that it’s a very capable group. It speaks volumes about what we are right now as a group and what we’re doing every single night.”

Lovullo gets long-awaited chance to manage with Diamondbacks

Arizona is 11-8 against the Dodgers this season, even more impressive when you consider the Dodgers were 84-38 against everybody else. The Dodgers had just three runs in their final four games against Arizona.

"There’s really nothing to say,” Roberts said. “But we’ve got to find a way to win a game."

J.D. Martinez's four-homer game Monday in Los Angeles was the 18th in major-league history and made the Diamondbacks the only franchise with a four-homer game, 20-strikeout game and perfect game. Hall of Famer Randy Johnson pulled off the other two, striking out 20 Reds over nine innings of an 11-inning game in 2001 and blanking the Braves with his perfecto in 2004.

The Diamondbacks and Indians entered the weekend undefeated since Aug. 24,  the first time in MLB history teams have simultaneous win streaks of at least 13 games.

Marlins Park on high alert

The Marlins were on the road as Hurricane Irma was bearing down on South Florida, and club officials took plenty of precautions with the teams' five-year-old home. Marlins Park was built to withstand a Category 4 storm and the retractable roof was slated to be left partially ajar with a 16-foot gap on the east side and two other gaps of 10 feet.

“It allows the air and the pressure to come inside the ballpark and eventually leave the ballpark,” Claude Delorme, the Marlins’ executive vice president of operations and events, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. "It avoids putting a lot of uplift on the roof. It was designed that way so we wouldn’t get any major damage to our roof.”

The 9,300-pound roof will be tied down with 56 large steel anchors. Once that's done, there are other important projects. The team was planning to reduce the water levels and install wood panels over the iconic aquariums behind home plate and bubblewrap its popular bobblehead museum on the main concourse.

Harper has hopes

The Nationals remain hopeful they'll have Bryce Harper for the postseason and the injured outfielder has started running on an anti-gravity treadmill to reduce his weight and the strain on his injured knee, and did some light throwing Wednesday night prior to the Nats' game in Marlins Park.

GM Mike Rizzo told a Washington radio station on Wednesday that things are looking up for Harper, who hyperextended the knee in a gruesome-looking flop over first base in a game on Aug. 12. Harper was having a monster season (.326-29-87) at the time of his injury. The Nats will be going to the playoffs for the fourth time in six years but were division series losers in each of their first three trips and seem to be on a first-round collision course with the Cubs.

"I can sense a little frustration in his voice when I ask him, 'How you're doing?' or 'You're walking good,'" manager Dusty Baker said recently. ""Usually, he's not a smart aleck. Lately, he's a little short in temperament, and I can tell that's because he wants to play."

Red Wings fit to end tied

You have to feel bummed for the Rochester Red Wings and their fans. A great second half resulted in an 80-62 season -- but no International League playoff berth. The Red Wings finished tied for the IL wild card but Lehigh Valley took the slot by virtue of its 13-9 head-to-head advantage during the season. The Red Wings became the first team in IL history to miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons of at least 80 wins.

It's a shame the teams couldn't play a one-game playoff to decide the slot, especially since the league no longer plays a balanced schedule within divisions, but the IL has opted to use this tiebreaker rather than decide the berth on the field. And in the league's defense, postseason schedules are tight and Game One of the Lehigh Valley-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre series was rained out Wednesday, which is the risk of adding any more games to the schedule on the road to the Triple-A National Championship Game.

Rochester frittered away the playoff berth by finishing the season 3-5 -- while the IronPigs went 6-0. Lehigh Valley won its finale over Scranton, 4-3, as all-star closer Pedro Beato got the final two outs to leave the bases loaded. A Lehigh Valley loss would have put Rochester in the postseason.

Ex-Griff Panas boosts Dunedin

Irma canceled the Florida State League finals, with the league opting to declare co-champions among the winners of its semifinal series. Former Canisius College standout Connor Panas was one of the stars as the Blue Jays' Dunedin team shared the crown with the Cardinals' club in West Palm Beach by posting a 2-1 victory in its semifinal over Tampa.

Dunedin won both games of a doubleheader Wednesday to take the title after dropping the opener. The 5-3 victory in the nightcap featured a pair of solo home runs by Panas, who was batting cleanup and was one slot behind Toronto mega-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Panas opened the scoring with a solo shot in the second and forged a 2-2 tie with another in the seventh. Dunedin won the game with three runs in the ninth.

Panas, a ninth-round pick in 2015, hit .276 with 18 homers and 55 RBIs this season for Dunedin. The suburban Toronto native had a .344 career average at Canisius and helped lead the Griffs into the 2015 NCAA Tournament. He also became just the third male in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference history named the league's student-athlete of the year in back-to-back seasons.

Around the horn

** The most impressive aspect of the 16-game winning streak the Indians took into Saturday? They posted an 11-0 road trip, the first by any team since the 1957 Cincinnati Reds. The Tribe is the first team with win streaks of at least 14 games in back-to-back seasons since the Cubs of 1935-36.

** After winning two of three games this week in Camden Yards, the Yankees host the Orioles in a four-game series starting Thursday and that's good news for rookie slugger Aaron Judge. In 15 games against Baltimore this year, Judge is batting .449 with nine homers, 18 RBIs and a ridiculous 1.685 OPS.

** Tim Tebow's final numbers for the season, combining time at Class A Columbia (S.C.) and St. Lucie (Fla.) in the Mets' chain: a .226 batting average, eight home runs, 52 RBIs, 126 strikeouts in 126 games. He turned 30 last month. End this charade.

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