We got the day off to an early start with a Pittsburgh and Atlanta’s first pitch coming at noon on the east coast, but it was then predominately an evening slate of games. There was also a first on Thursday as the Tigers took on the Royals in what was the first major league game ever in Nebraska before the College World Series kicks off. Let’s jump right into some of the performances of note from a busy Thursday around the league:
1) Another Victory for Teheran
For the last few seasons, as they were a team in transition, Julio Teheran was really all Atlanta had in the rotation. It feels like the right-hander has been around forever, but he is still just 28 years old, and also that we weren’t consistently seeing the best he had to offer. This season, the Braves are continuing on their success from 2018, and Teheran has proven to be a dependable anchor for the rotation. After picking up his fifth victory of the season on Thursday, with six innings of two run ball (one earned) on three hits and three walks, Atlanta has to be pleased that they hung onto the right-hander. Teheran’s ERA now sits at just 2.92 for the season, and despite the fact that he struck out just three batters on Thursday, he is striking out 8.21 batters per nine innings so far this season. With all of the positives out of the way, I would look to Teheran as a sell-high candidate. He is currently benefiting from a .231 BABIP, and the fact that he is walking 4.32 batters per nine innings isn’t exactly an asset. And this is certainly illuminated by Teheran’s 4.19 and 4.88 xFIP.
2) Cruz’s Power Was on Display
As with past seasons, one of the least shocking things we will see, is Nelson Cruz hitting home runs. Proving there is nothing to worry about after a recent stint on the Injured List, Cruz is hitting .393 over his last seven games with five home runs, the slugger went deep again yesterday afternoon. Overall, it was Cruz’s 12th home run of the season, and came as part of a 3 for 4 day in which he also added a walk and two more RBI (31 overall). For the season, Cruz’s batting average currently sits at .285, and once again, he is simply a consistent source of production who is also showing no clear signs of aging. Cruz just flat out can hit.
3) Weather Ends a Gem
We never want to see a no-hitter broken up, but in the case of Zach Greinke last night, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. And that is only because rain interrupted his outing at 75 pitches after 7.1 innings of work. Ultimately, the right-hander scattered two hits, he previously had hit a batter, while striking out just three. For all of the talk about diminished velocity for the right-hander, Greinke still continues to get results. Last night’s start put him in line for his seventh victory of the season, and despite the three strike outs on Thursday, he does have 8.05 strikeouts per nine innings so far this season. What is truly contributing to Greinke’s success, is the fact that he is walking just 1.33 batters per nine innings. There is the issue of his .238 BABIP, but even at his xFIP of 3.64, the right-hander is still a more than capable contributor to your rotation. After spiking to 40.9% last season, Greinke’s hard hit rate is back down to 35.4%, so you can feel comfortable with rolling him out every five days.
4) deGrom Looses Out on Another Win
As weather was moving around the east coast, the conclusion of the Mets game against the Cardinals was also delayed by rain. By this point, Jacob deGrom was out of the game, but that didn’t stop Edwin Diaz from allowing two runs in the ninth inning to cost the right-hander what would have been his first victory in over a month. As we are accustomed, it was also to no fault of deGrom’s. Last night, he limited St. Louis to two runs in seven innings of work on six hits while not walking a batter. deGrom also struck out eight as his ERA improved to 3.38 on the season. Aside from the inability to secure victories, just three on the season, it’s hard to find much to complain about when it comes to deGrom as he is striking out 11.10 batters per nine innings while walking just 2.18.
5) Ohtani Makes History
Hitting for the cycle is often something to note just for its rarity, but last night Shohei Ohtani made history as he became the first player from Japan to accomplish that feat. Since returning from Tommy John surgery, as a hitter at least, Ohtani has picked up where he left off from at the plate last season. Last night, he hit his eighth home run of the season, in 121 at bats, while raising his average to .281. The fast that Ohtani is only eligible at DH does hinder his flexibility, but as long as he continues to hit like this, it’s easy to find space for him in your lineup. It will be something to keep in mind though, that as the season progresses, Ohtani’s playing time might take a bat seat to his rehab (on the pitching side). Ohtani, who drove in three runs on the night, is now up to 26 RBI on the season, as batting third in the lineup certainly agrees with him.
6) Biggio Goes Deep Twice
Versatility is key, and if you are a young player looking to break into the major leagues, it certainly pays to have it. Cavan Biggio was promoted to play second base, but the fact that he found himself in right field on Thursday is a positive development. Since his debut, things haven’t gone especially well, he took a .146 batting average into last night’s game, but it was hard to argue with his success over the last two years in the minor leagues. Again though, we are still talking about just 41 at bats (.192 BABIP) after Biggio hit .312 in Triple-A prior to his promotion. This came after Biggio hit .252 in Double-A last season with 26 home runs and 99 RBI, so we know that there are plate skills here. The hope now, is that Biggio uses his performance Thursday night, two home runs, as a spring board to continued success. What we do know though, is that it is too soon to write him off.
7) Merrifield Sets the Table
Maybe since he didn’t come out of nowhere as he did last season, 2019 feels a little different when it comes to Whit Merrifield. Overall though, the Kansas City lead-off hitter has gotten off to a pretty solid start so far to this season. However, there has been one, major, exception. After stealing 45 bases last season, Merrifield is only up to 10 so far this year. And unless he picks up the pace there, no one is really going to care about a few extra home runs or RBI. Last night, he went 2 for 5 with two RBI (31 overall) while scoring two runs to give him 46 on the season. In both categories, he is on pace to surpass last season (60 RBI and 88 runs scored), and Merrifield is also hitting a very solid .294 on the season. He simply needs to start running more.
8) Bradley Goes Deep
After they hit five home runs last night, it would be easier to list the members of the Red Sox who did not hit a home run instead of those who did. The big shot came from Jackie Bradley Jr, as his three run shot was the only home run of the non-solo variety. As he went 2 for 4 on Thursday, Bradley now brought his batting average back up over the Mendoza line to .205. Even for Bradley’s standards, .234 last season and .245 in 2017, this is on the low side, but the outfielder generally does just enough to tease you from a fantasy perspective. The fact that his defense does keep him in the lineup, and that Boston also has a strong lineup, works in his favor. After last night, Bradley is up to six home runs and 21 RBI on the season, but he is hitting .318 in his last 14 games. We also should note that, at .264, his BABIP is below his career mark of .295. And those are the facts, as I’ll let you draw the rest of the conclusion for yourself, because I’m not sure I can truly recommend him in good faith. Well, unless you get points for defense.
9) Blackmon Has Himself a Game
Seeing Charlie Blackmon put up an impressive stat line, especially at home, shouldn’t be seen as surprising. However, that also shouldn’t take away from it. Last night, the outfielder went 4 for 5 with four RBI and two runs scored as he brought his batting average up to .316 on the season. Two of those hits were home runs, 14 on the season despite a short stint on the Injured List, and Blackmon also threw his sixth triple of the year in for good measure. With 41 RBI on the season, batting at the top of Colorado’s order certainly doesn’t hinder Blackmon’s run production, and he is equally as impressive with 42 runs scored.
10) Speaking of Impressive, Let’s Go to LA
Despite the fact that he does a lot of his damage after most of the country is asleep, it’s pretty difficult not to be aware of what Cody Bellinger is doing. All he did last night, was hit two more home runs (22 for the season) as he continues on his mission to show that 2017 was real, and the step back he took last season was the outlier. Bellinger, who went 3 for 4 last night, is now batting an absurd .358 on the season, and while we know he can’t keep that pace up (or can he?) with a career .317 mark, it is clear he is at least a .300 hitter. We then add in the fact that Bellinger is up to 57 RBI, and 53 runs scored, and it’s clear that Christian Yelich has company at the top of the National League MVP race.