(Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire)
First impressions can leave a mark that’s hard to erase. When I worked at McDonald’s in high school, they introduced a special menu item called the McPhilly Cheesesteak. It was like a regular cheesesteak, except McDonald’s made it, so most of the ingredients were squeezed out of some kind of tube. But being a young kid who had yet to experience the taste of a truly delicious cheesesteak, I thought the McPhilly Cheesesteak was the pinnacle of fast food. It was gone from the menu within a month, and has yet to ever return to my knowledge. But I swear to God, some nights I lay awake at night and think about it. I can still taste it, even. I know if I had it again now I’d find it disgusting, but it was delicious back when I first had it, and so it will always be delicious. Always.
Javier Baez is kind of the opposite of a McPhilly Cheesesteak. Not only because he’s a human being and not a hoagie, but because my first memories of him involved him striking out over 40% of the time. I immediately wrote him off as someone who would never make enough contact to matter, and didn’t pay much attention to him for nearly three years.
Last night, Baez went 3-4, R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI and I realized that maybe it was time that I re-evaluate my position on him. Now make no mistake, he still whiffs a lot. His current swinging strike rate of 16.8% isn’t far off his career average, and it’s well above the league average rate of 10.6%. But he’s been absolutely destroying the baseball this year, posting a 44.1% hard contact rate. It’s still early, but he’s also cut down on his troublesome 48.6% groundball rate from last year and started hitting way more line drives (28.1%) and fly balls (43.8%) this season. His average is being held down in part due to a .167 BABIP, but I’m seeing a lot of good things in his peripherals this year, and at just 25 years old there’s still a lot of room for growth.
Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox): 3-3, 3 R, 3 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB – Three hits, three runs, three homers, three RBI. If Betts had drawn a third walk in this game I think it would have ripped a hole in the matrix and caused reality to collapse in on itself. In his first game back from a small injury scare, Betts absolutely unloaded on the Angels. I guess it’s safe to say Betts is healthy. Here’s a hot take though; maybe Mookie Betts is too healthy.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (2B, Texas Rangers): 4-5, 2B – I believe Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the first major league baseball player named after the sound that a sneeze makes. It was a good night for Kiner-Falefa, but there’s nothing to really see here. He didn’t hit a single home run in the minors from 2013 through 2016, and he doesn’t have any standout tools.
Michael Brantley (OF, Cleveland Indians): 3-5, R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI – Brantley was batting cleanup in yesterday’s game, which was an interesting development. He hit his first home run of the season and has only struck out twice so far in his 26 at-bats. Even when he’s healthy, the Indians will likely give him plenty of days off to ensure his limbs remain attached to his body. But there’s an excellent player hiding somewhere within this broken shell of a man. Too dramatic?
Victor Martinez (DH, Detroit Tigers): 3-4, R, HR, 2 RBI – Victor Martinez reminds me a lot of my refrigerator. Even though I know there’s probably nothing inside, I keep checking it over and over again hoping I missed something. Well, maybe this year there’s a bit of chicken lo mein hiding in the back, out of sight. What am I talking about again? Oh right, Victor Martinez. He’s not making as much contact as he used to, but he’s still elite at putting the ball in play, and so far this year he’s hitting the ball very hard.
Mike Moustakas (3B, Kansas City Royals): 5-9, R, HR, 2 RBI – Over the past 10 days, Moustakas has put together a nine-game hitting streak and belted four home runs. If he keeps this up he may be able to make a whole dollar next year as a free agent.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, Cleveland Indians): 3-5, R, HR, RBI – Yesterday’s performance lifted Ramirez’s average up to an even .200. He’s homered three times in the past week, and has more than twice as many walks (10) as strikeouts (4). I’m not sure if there ever was a buy-low opportunity with Ramirez, but if anybody’s selling I’d jump in now before he really heats up.
Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals): 3-4, 2 R, 2 2B, BB, SB – Turner has really been serving up stolen bases on a platter this year, tallying eight on the season, including three over his last four games. I guess those that drafted him have been well-served. That’s all I got for “tray” puns. You know, because his name is Trea. Oh whatever, I don’t need your approval.
Mark Canha (OF, Oakland Athletics): 3-4, 3 R, 2B, 2 RBI – Mark Canha is so white that he looks like he was carved out of a block of pure ivory. Playing time has opened up in the Oakland outfield, and Canha has been soaking it up the way his skin soaks up sunlight: by becoming blistering hot. Canha has gone 7-for-19 so far with a homer, and appears to be Oakland’s primary centerfielder at the moment.
Shin-Soo Choo (OF, Texas Rangers): 1-2, 4 R, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB – I call a performance like this “dog ownership” because it involves lots of walks and runs. Choo’s been hitting just .103 over the past week, so hopefully this performance helps him pull himself out of his funk.
Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF, Boston Red Sox): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI – Bradley Jr. has been scuffling a bit this year, so it was nice to see him put up some numbers, including his first homer of the year. He’s been making slightly more contact and chasing pitches a bit less this year, so there’s reason to think he can turn it around soon.
Yangervis Solarte (2B/3B, Toronto Blue Jays): 2-8, R, HR, 4 RBI
With a name like Yangervis Solarte, I’d be kind of disappointed if he wasn’t doing incredible things like driving in four runs every night. Solarte should have another week or so of full-time at-bats while Josh Donaldson is on the shelf, and may steal some playing time from Devon Travis down the road if Travis can’t break out of his funk soon.
J.T. Realmuto (C, Miami Marlins): 2-4, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI
Shhh, don’t tell Marlins ownership, but J.T. Realmuto is making more than minimum wage and has trade value. Realmuto’s days in Miami may be numbered, but he’s making the most of it while it lasts. He had a solid offensive showing in his first game back from injury against his future employers, the New York Yankees.