Imagine, for a moment, what it must be like to stare down at the imposing figure of Giancarlo Stanton, standing 60 feet away with a 32-ounce piece of lumber in his hands.
Now imagine you’re Clayton Richard on Sunday afternoon in Miami. You’ve already faced Stanton three times and he had walked, doubled and singled. You know he’s hotter than Mercury, with 16 home runs in August and 23 in 40 games since the All-Star break. You know he’s capable of hitting a baseball back at you in the vicinity of 120 mph or launching one 500 feet.
Now you have to get him out.
It was a little odd that San Diego Padres manager Andy Green left Richard in there in the first place. He had pitched a good game, but it was 2-2 and Dee Gordon was on first with nobody out. It was playing with fire. You’d think you’d want a right-hander to come in rather than let Stanton face a lefty for a fourth time.
Richard fell behind 2-1 and tried to slip a slider past Stanton. This happened:
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) August 27, 2017
The Miami Marlins went on to a 6-2 victory to complete a sweep of the Padres. Stanton went 8-for-10 in the series with three home runs and eight RBIs. His list of statistical accomplishments in this barrage of home runs continues to grow even more impressive:
His 29 home runs in July and August are tied for second-most in a two-month period in MLB history. Albert Belle had 31 in August and September of 1995.
He’s hitting .394/.482/1.000 in August for a 1.482 OPS, a figure topped only by Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds in any August. His post-All-Star break OPS of 1.328 ranks seventh-best behind four Bonds seasons and two from Ted Williams.
He’s the first National Leaguer to hit 50 home runs since Prince Fielder in 2007 and just the sixth player to reach 50 before September — the others all finished with at least 60 home runs.
More importantly, the Marlins are 13-3 in their past 16 games and have climbed to 4.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies in the National League wild-card race, picking up 5.5 games in three weeks. That’s why Marlins fans were chanting “M-V-P,” though Stanton dismissed that idea during the postgame news conference. “We’re a bit early, but it’s cool they’re acknowledging, showing love. I appreciate that.”
Do the Marlins actually have a chance to run down the Rockies? It’s surprising they’re even this close after starting the season 17-30, tied for the second-worst record in baseball at the time. Since May 28, however, they’re 49-33, tied with the Cleveland Indians for the second-best record behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in that span. Heading into the season, the Marlins knew the rotation was a weak spot, so the plan was to rely on a deep bullpen. The pen has been good, but not great — though Brad Ziegler is 9-for-9 in save chances since A.J. Ramos was traded to the Mets. But even since May 28, it ranks just 12th in the majors in ERA. The projected top two starters were Edinson Volquez and Adam Conley. Volquez threw that no-hitter in June, but underwent Tommy John surgery in early August. And Conley was so bad early on he spent two months in Triple-A. Instead, Dan Straily and Jose Urena have been the two reliable starters.
So, yes, Stanton will have a strong MVP case, especially if the Marlins can reach the postseason. Entering Sunday, FanGraphs gave the Marlins a 14.6 percent chance of winning a wild card. If they play at the same pace they have since May 28, they’d finish 86-76. The Rockies are 71-59, so they’d have to finish 14-18 for the Marlins to finish a game up. (There’s also the matter of the Milwaukee Brewers, who are ahead of the Marlins at 3.5 games behind Colorado, and St. Louis Cardinals, who are 6 behind.) None of that seems implausible and the Marlins even play the Rockies in a three-game series in Denver the final week.
I’d still bet on the Rockies to squeeze out the final playoff spot. But do you really want to bet against Giancarlo Stanton right now?
Lord Byron. You hope that eventually everything comes together for Byron Buxton. The pressure of his prospect pedigree has always meant the expectations for stardom are high. It’s games like Sunday’s three-homer show, however, that allow us admire the talent and believe he can eventually mature into solid major leaguer at the plate.
— MLB (@MLB) August 27, 2017
Buxton’s home runs came off a curveball, slider and first-pitch fastball. The two he hit off breaking balls both came in pitcher’s counts, and that improved pitch recognition will be the key to his continued overall improvement. He’s hitting .333/.370/.657 in the second half, including .286 with a .991 OPS against offspeed pitches after hitting .236 with a .566 OPS against them in the first half. Paul Molitor has rewarded this hot streak by moving him in the lineup, hitting him third or fifth the past week or so. Of course, we’ve seen this before from Buxton — he hit nine home runs last September — so this isn’t necessarily a breakout. Still, his strikeout rate also has decreased since the break, so there are several positive indicators.
With his Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, Buxton has been a hugely valuable part of the Minnesota Twins‘ success — 3.8 WAR entering Sunday, which ranked 14th among American League position players. With the 7-2 win over the Blue Jays, the Twins increased their lead to 1.5 games over the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners for the second wild card. If they are to hold on, it’s likely because Buxton continues mashing through September.
Rhys’ pieces. Speaking of home runs, meet Philadelphia Phillies rookie Rhys Hoskins, who has now homered in five straight games to tie a franchise record, and 11 times in 18 games since being called up on Aug. 10.
Maybe we should start scheduling @RhysHoskins22 tweets.
— MLB (@MLB) August 27, 2017
As with Stanton, this is a rare start to a career. You won’t be surprised that those 11 home runs are the most in a player’s first 18 games, but get this: He’s already tied the mark for most home runs in a player’s first 29 games. So this is unprecedented.
How good is he? Hoskins hit .284/.385/.581 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley with 29 home runs in 401 at-bats, so the power is legit. What I like about him is he drew almost as many walks as strikeouts (64 to 75) at Triple-A and he’s at 11 walks and 13 strikeouts so far in the majors. Eight of his 11 home runs have come off fastballs, including five with two strikes, so he’s showing good patience in working the count. Hoskins is also the latest case study in the difference between the Triple-A baseball and the one used in the majors. As with Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo, his major league power numbers have exceeded what they did in the minors. I don’t think he has the raw power or exit velocity of those guys, but he looks like he’s going to be an above-average hitter.
For good measure, the Phillies are trying him in left field — he was a first baseman throughout his minor league career — and he even started a triple play with a diving catch. (OK, maybe it wasn’t the most graceful triple play ever executed.)
The good, the bad and the ugly of AL wild-card madness. If there’s one thing we know, you can’t predict baseball. Witness …
1. The good: The Baltimore Orioles sweep the Boston Red Sox at Fenway, holding them to four runs in three games. The Orioles made two first-inning runs hold up in Sunday’s 2-1 victory as the bullpen tossed four scoreless innings in relief of Wade Miley. That’s four wins in a row as the Mariners come into town.
2. The bad: The Indians sweep the Kansas City Royals. The kicker: All three games were shutouts. The Indians have blanked the Royals six times, the first time that’s happened since the Braves did it to the Cubs in 1992.
3. The ugly: The Mariners commit five errors … in the first inning. Yes, five errors in an inning. First time that has happened since the 1977 Cubs. Bill Buckner was on that team — although he didn’t allow any grounders through his legs.