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Real or not? Jose Altuve passes Aaron Judge as MVP favorite

I'm sure there were a bunch of home runs hit on Monday night. It's 2017; there are a bunch of home runs every night. That's why what Jose Altuve is doing is way more fun than the barrage of home runs.

After going 4-for-4 with a walk in the Astros' 13-4 thrashing of the Phillies for his second straight four-hit game, Altuve is now hitting .365. He has a 16-game hitting streak that includes 12 multihit games, he's hitting .430 on the road and he leads the majors with 18 games of at least three hits. All of that's pretty awesome, but he's also doing this:

Granted, Altuve wasn't exactly facing Roy Halladay or Steve Carlton, but Monday's performance showed how he is locked in at the plate:

  • First inning vs. Vince Velasquez: Draws walk on a 3-2 fastball just off the plate

  • Third inning vs. Velasquez: Doubles to left field on an 0-2 curveball, after fouling off three pitches at 0-2

  • Fourth inning vs. Ricardo Pinto: Lines single to left on a 1-2, 98 mph fastball

  • Fifth inning vs. Pinto: Line drive base hit to center off a 3-2 fastball, after fouling off two pitches at 3-2

  • Seventh inning vs. Hoby Milner: Doubles to right field on a 1-1 slider

Back in April, Altuve struck out in 22.5 percent of his plate appearances, which was oddly high for him; but since then, he has been under 10 percent. He fights off pitches and sprays the ball around. You can't throw 98 mph fastballs past him, and you have to respect the power that has him on pace for 49 doubles and 25 home runs. Most players today are swinging from their heels, hoping to launch one over the fence no matter the situation. Altuve is a throwback, and it's a beautiful thing to watch.

Altuve's OPS is up to 1.005. Since 1950, the only second basemen with an OPS over 1.000 are Jeff Kent in 2000 and Joe Morgan in 1976. Both won MVP honors those seasons, which brings us to the MVP race in the American League. At the All-Star break, Aaron Judge led Altuve in WAR, 5.3 to 4.7. Entering Monday's play, Altuve had jumped ahead of Judge, 5.5 to 5.3; and that's probably up to 5.7 after Monday's game, meaning Altuve has picked up a win in value over just 10 games (while Judge has slumped to a .158 average since the break).

It seems like those two have separated themselves from the field, especially with Carlos Correa now on the disabled list. George Springer (who exited Monday's game after tweaking his quad) and Jose Ramirez are certainly having MVP-caliber seasons, and Chris Sale has a strong case, if you want to consider a pitcher. But how awesome is it that the biggest player in the game is battling the smallest player in the game for MVP honors? Baseball is the best.

Curtain call for Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers led the Twins 3-2. Then the Twins took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, and I mention that because the Dodgers had won 46 consecutive games that they had led at any point. If that seems pretty unbelievable, it's because it is: That's a major league record. The Dodgers hadn't lost such a game since May 15, when they blew a 1-0 third-inning lead to the Giants. (Every other team has at least eight such losses since May 16.)

Anyway, Chris Taylor singled to center off Taylor Rogers, then Justin Turner lined an 0-2 pitch just over shortstop and up came Bellinger with one out. Then this happened:

Solid hitting there, as Rogers threw a pretty good 0-2 curveball on the outside corner. Given the smile on Bellinger's face, he might have been a little surprised the ball carried over the fence. It was his 28th home run and third go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later this season. With the victory, the Dodgers hit the 100-game mark at 69-31, the best in the National League since the 1970 Reds were 70-30.

OK, we can still talk home runs, especially when Giancarlo Stanton is hitting them. Stanton had another two-homer game, his fourth of July, in the Marlins' 4-0 win over the Rangers. He has 11 home runs in 19 games this month while slugging .806. Which means, of course, that everyone now wants to trade for Stanton. Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees called the Marlins about Stanton. Others said the call never happened. Yes, it's silly season.

I get that the Marlins are unpredictable. You can almost imagine a scenario where Brian Cashman calls up Jeffrey Loria and says, "Look, you're selling the team, you need to trade Stanton before his mega-salaries kick in next season, and we're happy to take him off your hands. You know the new owners wouldn't want that contract on their hands. Trade him, Jeff. To us."

I mean, we can dream of Judge and Stanton hitting back-to-back in the Yankees lineup, but it's not going to happen. There will be no blockbuster Giancarlo Stanton trade. Which also probably means there will be.

Big day for the Royals. First, the Royals make a smart trade to acquire starter Trevor Cahill and relievers Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer from the Padres, adding some much-needed pitching depth. Then they beat the Tigers for their sixth win in a row, as Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas homered in the 12th inning. They jumped past the Rays for sole possession of the second wild card. And they have the third-best record in the majors since May 1. What else is there to say? Just admit that Ned Yost is a genius and the Royals are probably going to win the World Series after everyone wrote them off in April.

Pirates begin crucial stretch with a win. Why is this an important span for a team that climbed to .500 with a win over the Giants? Because the Pirates have two more games in San Francisco, followed by three in San Diego, then an eight-game homestand against the Reds, Padres and Tigers. In fact, their next 18 games are against sub-.500 teams, until they play the Brewers on Aug. 15 -- and the Brewers might be under .500 by then. If the Pirates clean up during this stretch, they have a chance to not only put pressure on the Cubs and Brewers but also climb into the wild-card race, should the Rockies or Diamondbacks falter.