Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have about 13 inches and 125 pounds on Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, but they don't have anything on them in the power department, at least through May 20. We expected an American League East duo to crush its way through distressed pitching staffs, but it's Betts and Martinez who are tied for the major league lead with 15 home runs each, not the pair in pinstripes.
Martinez slugged two in Boston's 5-0 victory over the Orioles on Sunday, tying him with Betts. He snuck the first one around the Pesky Pole in right field, while the second one was a no-doubter:
Two's a party. pic.twitter.com/OuHrl9jBm4— Red Sox (@RedSox) May 20, 2018
Betts and Martinez not only share the home run lead, but they rank first and third, respectively, in the majors in batting average; first and second in wOBA; first and second in isolated power; first in runs (Betts); and second in RBIs (Martinez). Martinez, with his .343 average and 41 RBIs, has established himself as a Triple Crown candidate.
Despite their long history of explosive offenses, this is the first time the Red Sox have had two players with 15 home runs by the end of May. It's quite the change from last season, when the Red Sox had just one player hit 15 by the All-Star break, when Betts had 16.
The comparison to Judge and Stanton? No contest:
Betts: .365/.438/.760, .504 wOBA, 15 HR, 32 RBI, 48 R
Martinez: .343/.397/.680, .459 wOBA, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 31 R
Judge: .282/.416/.546, .417 wOBA, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 33 R
Stanton: .263/.345/.526, .378 wOBA, 11 HR, 27 RBI, 32 R
When Martinez signed with the Red Sox, the minor concern was how his power would translate to Fenway Park. He's the rare slugger who hits the majority of his home runs to the opposite field -- last year, he hit 24 of his 45 home runs to right-center or right field -- which means hitting to the deepest part of Fenway. So far, it hasn't affected his output: He has hit four home runs to center field and eight to right, and he's hitting .365 at Fenway with nine home runs.
It's only 47 games, but you can start dreaming on those great teammate seasons.
First, however, one more stat:
Yankees: 5.77 runs per game
Red Sox: 5.38 runs per game
Comeback of the season: The Marlins led the Braves 9-4 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Entering Sunday, teams had been 0-208 when trailing by five-plus runs in the ninth inning or later. After two outs, it was 9-5 and Atlanta had a runner on first. The Braves' win expectancy was 0.5 percent -- or about 1 in 200.
Freddie Freeman reached on an infield single, Nick Markakis singled, Tayron Guerrero replaced Brad Ziegler, Tyler Flowers walked, Kurt Suzuki singled, there was a wild pitch, Johan Camargo walked to load the bases and, with the Marlins still up 9-8, Dansby Swanson -- who had started the inning with a strikeout -- stepped in.
Braves fans might have remembered another memorable May 20 comeback from 2010:
That grand slam from the immortal Brooks Conrad capped off a seven-run rally. The Braves would go on to finish that season 91-71 and win the wild card, ending a four-year playoff drought. This season's Braves team also is trying to end a four-year drought, and something special appears to be brewing in Atlanta.
"I think situations like that are what this game is meant to be played for," Swanson said afterward. "But obviously, we wouldn't have been in that situation if the whole team didn't pick each other up that whole inning."
Guerrero threw seven consecutive fastballs to Swanson. All 16 pitches he threw were fastballs. The 16th was 97 mph. Swanson beat him. The Braves have been beating pitchers all season. They still rank second to the Yankees in runs per game in the majors, and they rank fifth in wOBA against pitches of 95-plus.
The one player not hitting was Jose Bautista, as the Braves cut ties with him after just 40 plate appearances in which he hit .143/.250/.343. Maybe if the rest of the offense had been scuffling, they would have given him a longer tryout; but right now, they don't need his bat, so you might as well go with better defense.
Third base is still a position the Braves can look to upgrade, as there will likely be a glut of third basemen available for trade down the road (Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas, maybe Josh Donaldson and Adrian Beltre). Prospect Austin Riley was recently promoted from Double-A to Triple-A, but he's just 21 and the strikeout-to-walk ratio (43-13) suggests he might be exposed at the major league level right now.
The entire pitch sequence to Herrera went 104.2, 105, 104.3, 105, 103.7, with Herrera whiffing on the final pitch. Hicks said he was pumped after the crowd had given a big ovation to Jack Flaherty, who fanned 13 in 7⅔ innings while throwing 120 pitches. Hicks also had a little dig at Herrera. "Odubel just takes forever to get in the box," Hicks said. "It amps me up a little bit. So I bring it against him."
Of course, the weird thing about Hicks' season performance is despite that 100-plus heater, his strikeout rate is nowhere near Aroldis Chapman territory -- or almost any other reliever, for that matter. He has just nine strikeouts in 22 innings -- against 16 walks. In fact, out of 243 pitchers with at least 20 innings, he ranks 242nd in strikeout rate. Something isn't adding up here.
He has been effectively wild with just 13 hits and a .173 average allowed, so his ERA is at 2.05. He's a bit of a wild card moving forward, as nobody in a long time has been effective with that kind of walk and strikeout ratio. In fact, since 2000, only two pitchers have thrown at least 50 innings with an ERA under 3.00 and more walks than strikeouts: Jesse Crain (29 BB, 25 SO, 2.71 ERA) with the Twins in 2005 and Jarred Cosart (35 BB, 33 SO, 1.95 ERA) with the Astros in 2013. If you lower the standards to 40 innings and a 3.50 ERA, the list adds six more pitchers -- all forgettable names, except late-career Turk Wendell. In other words, it's a list of fluke seasons.
I guess my take is this: Let's hold off on the Chapman comparisons for now. Hicks is not that good, not yet. And while his fastball is labeled a sinker, which will often result in ground balls instead of strikeouts, I'd still like to see better control and more strikeouts before I buy into these early results. Then again, we've also never seen a guy throwing 100 mph sinkers before. Maybe he's the first of a kind.
Best A's sweep of the season: The A's pounded the Blue Jays 9-2 to finish off a four-game sweep in Toronto. It was a heck of a road stretch for the A's, as a trip to New York, Boston and Toronto could have wiped them off the map. Instead, they went 7-3 and averaged 6.0 runs per game.
The A's are a dangerous team. Matt Chapman got going on this trip, raising his average from .225 to .254, with seven extra-base hits. Khris Davis has 13 home runs and 38 RBIs (although he left Sunday's game with a groin strain, and a stay on the disabled list appears likely). Jed Lowrie continues to rake. Matt Olson had three home runs in the past week and maybe that will get him going, as he seems like a prototypical streaky hitter.
Anyway, the AL West has been a fun division. The A's are 25-22 but sit in fourth place. The Astros, with their dominant rotation, should have a big lead but don't. The Mariners had a great win, as well, on Sunday. They were being one-hit through eight innings by Francisco Liriano, but Mitch Haniger -- good player! -- hit a two-run homer in the ninth off an 0-2 slider from Shane Greene to tie it, and the Mariners walked it off in the 11th. For all the hype given the Angels, the Mariners are actually in second place. For the Angels, Shohei Ohtani had another excellent outing, allowing two runs with nine K's in 7⅔ innings. He threw a season-high 110 pitches and lowered his ERA to 3.35.
Teenager of the season: The Nationals called up 19-year-old outfielder Juan Soto, who has just 35 plate appearances above Class A. Soto is certainly one of the top prospects in the game -- he was crushing the minors with a .362/.462/.757 line and 14 home runs -- but this call-up was more about the slate of injuries to hit the Nationals (Howie Kendrick went down for the season Saturday) than a desire to rush him to the majors. Soto pinch hit Sunday in a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers and struck out.
Amazingly, he might not even be the best 19-year-old on the planet. That might be Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who had another 4 for 4 day for Double-A New Hampshire, including a walk-off home run:
And the legend grows ...— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 20, 2018
VLAD JR. CAPS 4-FOR-4 DAY WITH THIS WALK-OFF 💣
The #BlueJays 19-year-old mega-prospect is now leading all of @MiLB in hitting at a ridiculous .4⃣2⃣3⃣‼️
How good is this kid? https://t.co/05bM0kcBeLpic.twitter.com/fb0jt4GgqI
Guerrero is now hitting .423!
How soon until he gets called up?