SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And now it's time for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: Baseball gets serious in August. The Washington, D.C., Nats face the world champion Chicago Cubs - gee, I like the sound of that - in a series that set the table for October while the LA Dodgers are on cruise and the fastest man alive will run one last time. Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Howard, thanks so much.
HOWARD BRYANT: You know, Scott, I know you haven't been around that long, but, boy, it must sound good to say the world champion Cubs. You probably can't get enough of that, can you?
SIMON: I really can't, no.
SIMON: The world champion - oh, I almost did it again. However, they lost two straight to the Nats. They've gotten the best of the series so far. What weak spots have they found in the Cubs?
BRYANT: Well, I think what you found with the Nationals - it's not really that the Cubs have a lot of weak spots. It's simply that the Nationals are playing very well. And I think they're playing tough. I think this is what I always refer to as separation time. When we start getting into August and September, you get into this pennant race. And now you're going to start finding out, as we say, the contenders from the pretenders. You're starting to find out which teams have what it takes to be championship-level teams. And the only way that you can find that out is by playing other teams that are in the mix. And so this is why this is a big series.
And I think that the Nationals know, especially from last year, where they went out - and they lost to the Dodgers in a series I think they felt they should have won. I think - where the Cubs were the the overwhelming favorite in a lot of ways to win. But last year, as we saw, the Cubs had to battle to win a championship. So I think these series are real defining moments for for each team. And I think one thing that's also interesting about it, too, is that the Nationals. For everything that they've done - they won the division last year. And they're up. They've got a 13-game lead in the AL East - sorry, the NL East - this year.
Yet their manager, Dusty Baker, doesn't even have a contract. So they're playing out of desperation right now from top to bottom. They want to prove that they are worthy of being the best. And I think that the organization is only looking at them as being the best if they get to the World Series. We'll see what happens for the next couple of months.
SIMON: Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Mets 6-0 last night. They've been beating everybody.
BRYANT: (Laughter) Yeah.
SIMON: They've won twice as many games as they've lost. What a clip.
BRYANT: Oh, they're incredible. And on top of that, then they went out and got Yu Darvish, who pitched last night, who is the great pitcher from the Texas Rangers. And so this team is another one. People have been waiting for the Dodgers to be great for a long time. They've got the huge payroll. They made the big sale. They've got Magic Johnson in there as a team owner. They've come close, and they haven't been to the World Series since they won it in 1988.
And for a team like Los Angeles, that is - that's tough because it's a money game, and the Dodgers have spent a lot of it. And they haven't had the reward the way other teams have. And this year, between them and the Houston Astros, they are just absolutely dominant, on pace to catch the 1998 Yankees. So let's see what they do. It's going to be a huge crash if they don't get to the World Series. A lot of pressure on everybody.
SIMON: Just half a minute. Usain Bolt runs his last race - London Stadium tonight. Best ever anywhere. We'll miss watching him.
BRYANT: Absolutely. I'll have to be as fast as Usain Bolt to get everything in that you have to say about him. He's unbelievable. He's fantastic and a showstopper, one of the reasons why we watch. And just the size - 6-5 - to run the way he did. I'm going to miss him. And, once again, there are very few people that make you tune in to watch an entire event. And for me, the Summer Olympics were all about one guy. It was watching him run, even though it only lasted a few seconds.
SIMON: Yeah, nine seconds. Howard Bryant, thanks so much.
BRYANT: My pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILLY GONZALES' "SIREN SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.