The Trailing Runner: June 19-June 25

Breaking down the biggest baseball stories of the past week.

Every Sunday, The Trailing Runner recaps the past week’s biggest headlines and most exciting performances. On Mondays, keep an eye out for The Leadoff, which breaks down the week ahead.

It’s been a great week of baseball. Nothing quite as dramatic as, say, two managers getting fired, but we saw strong pitching, good hitting, and a little history. Let’s dive in.

 

Things Are Good in Boston

 

Yes, some exciting stuff happened in Houston last night, and we’ll get to that. But you already know about that — what you might not know is that the Boston Red Sox are possibly the best team in baseball right now.

That reeks of bias and New England exceptionalism, but it’s not as hot a take as it might seem. With last night’s win over the Shane Bieber and the Guardians, Boston pulled into second place in the brutal AL East, overtaking the Blue Jays by half a game. Their position today would’ve been hard to believe on May 15, when they were dead last in the division with a 13-21 record and a 19% chance of making the playoffs.

Today, FanGraphs has those odds at 78%, far and away the biggest turnaround by any team this season (the only change approaching that magnitude — although certainly not the direction — has been the Angels’ collapse). Since that May 15 date, the Sox have scored the most runs in baseball, thanks to the best team batting average OBP in the league coupled with the third-best SLG, second-best wRC+, fourth-best K%, and 10.6 WAR from their position players, topping #2 Toronto by a whole win.

Their lineup, led as always by Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez and bolstered by the acquisition of Trevor Story, was always going to mash — it just needed to get going. What no one saw coming was a rotation that lost Chris Sale to injury and Eduardo Rodriguez to free agency also being among the best in baseball. Since June 1, Boston’s starters lead MLB with 3.1 WAR and a 2.42 ERA. The peripherals are not quite as gaudy (FIP has the staff at 3.13), but regardless, the staff (which has even been missing ace Nathan Eovaldi to a back strain for the past couple weeks) has been terrific. Nick Pivetta has been on a career-best run, posting a 2.12 ERA with 35 K over 34 innings on the month, while Eovaldi replacement Josh Winckowski has a 2.12 ERA of his own. Michael Wacha has found a resurgence in Boston, holding a 2.19 ERA over 24 innings.

That dominance on both sides of the plate has led to a .736 winning percentage, again since May 15. Of course, the Yankees still have a firm hold on the division — to be completely fair, they only won one less game over that same stretch. But the Red Sox now have the third-best record in the AL and show no signs of slowing down — they’ve gone 8-2 over their last 10, while the Yankees have finally run into a bit of difficulty against the Astros. If I were them, I’d be remembering — objects in the rearview mirror may be closer than they appear.

 

History in Houston

 

In last week’s edition of the Trailing Runner, Evan Lobdell gave a quick profile of the Yankees and the Astros, both of whom are off to tremendous starts to their seasons. The two juggernauts have collided this week for a four-game set, and — surprisingly to many — Houston has come out on top in the first three games of the series, with Justin Verlander besting Luis Severino in game two and Cristian Javier doing the same to Gerrit Cole yesterday afternoon.

Of course, Javier did a bit more than that — with 7 innings, 13 Ks, and zero hits, he played the leading role as the Astros combined to pitch the third no-hitter of 2022. Following Javier’s dominant start was Héctor Neris for an inning before Ryan Pressly shut the door, striking out two before getting Giancarlo Stanton to ground to third for the final out.

Javier’s performance was the fifth-best start by game score of the season. He got 20 whiffs on the night, led by his fastball (which returned an impressive 13 out of 79 thrown), and posted a 30% CSW across all 115 pitches. The no-hitter also represented a bit of retribution for Pressly, who had gotten roughed up in the first game of the series, giving up four earned runs while blowing the save opportunity.

This was Houston’s 14th no-hitter in team history. The most recent before yesterday came in 2005, when, coincidentally, six Astros pitchers combined to no-hit the Yankees, which was also the most recent time the New York had been no-hit.

 

Righting the Ship

 

Two players who have struggled mightily this season seem to be getting back on the right track. When the Tigers acquired Javier Báez this offseason, they were expecting the perennial All-Star candidate, famous for huge hacks and artful tags. Through June 15, Báez hadn’t found his mojo in Detroit, posting an abysmal -0.4 WAR with a .188 AVG and .520 OPS. His bat has woken up in a big way, as he put up 0.8 WAR this week alone, thanks to three straight games with a home run, including this majestic 459-foot grand slam:

The blast was punctuated by Báez sending a few words back at a heckler in typical El Mago fashion — as smooth as it gets.

This week has also been good to Jesse Winker, who has similarly struggled to adjust to a new environment after the Mariners acquired him in the offseason. Through June 15, Winker had been precisely replacement-level with a 0.0 WAR. He was still putting together good at bats — his 14.4% walk rate was fourth in baseball in that span — but balls in play were not finding grass, and his .094 ISO was far behind the .251 he posted last year with the Reds. The power may be coming back, as he homered in back-to-back games this week for the first time all year, coupled with a .450 AVG and ridiculous .593 OBP. If Winker can keep the walk rate high while finding a bit more BABIP luck, his production will soar quickly — something the M’s need sooner than later as they find themselves behind the Rangers in the AL West.

 

Shohei Things

 

Shohei Doing Shohei Things. Nothing necessarily unexpected, but always amazing and usually historic. This week’s rendition featured a 2 HR and 8(!) RBI performance on Tuesday vs. the Royals, including one of the most beautiful blasts you’ll ever see to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth.

The next night, he casually tossed 8 scoreless innings, allowing only three baserunners while striking out a career-high 13 batters.

8 RBI one night, 13 Ks the next. All in the life of Ohtani. Obviously, he’s the first person to ever have two such games in a career — let alone on consecutive days. Then finally, to top it off, he did last night against a very good pitcher in Logan Gilbert:

 

Players of the Week

 

Orioles outfielder Austin Hays deserves a shout-out after he hit for the cycle in just six innings on Wednesday.

Rays’ shortstop Isaac Paredes hit three home runs in just five innings vs. the Yankees on Tuesday night.

 

Other top offensive performances:

And their counterparts on the mound:

 

Around the League

 

  • The Yankees sit atop the AL East and pace the American League at 52-20. The Twins are the best team in the Central at 40-33. The Astros lead the West at 45-26.
  • The Mets pace the NL East at 47-46, the best record in the NL. The Cardinals are tied with the Brewers atop the Central at 41-33. In the West, the Dodgers lead at 44-26.
  • Manny Machado, third baseman for the Padres, leads hitters with 4.3 fWAR.
  • Kevin Gausman of the Blue Jays continues to pace pitchers with 3.3 fWAR.

 

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Ethan McCollister

Diehard Red Sox fan. Vermonter in Philly. Harvard alum. Cat dad. In Chaim we trust...but I miss Mookie.

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