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June 9, 2015

What You Need to Know

June 9, 2015

by Steven Jacobson

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The Monday Takeaway
The Royals entered Monday just a game back of the Twins after dropping two of three to the Rangers over the weekend. As the Minnesota and Kansas City last played each other in late April when the Twins were 6–9 and the Royals were 11–4, this was likely the most important Twins-Royals game in twelve years.

The Royals got on the board early with former Twin Kendrys Morales' two-run home run. A year after being god-awful for the Twins and the Mariners, with minus-0.9 WARP, Morales has been surprisingly excellent for the Royals, turning in a .297 TAv and 1.2 WARP. His resurgence doesn't appear to be a BABIP-fueled surge, as his mark is a bit high at .325 but not overwhelmingly so. He's limited the amount of soft contact this year to about 12 percent of his batted balls—much lower than last year's 17 percent—and his line-drive rate has returned to levels seen in some of his more successful years in Anaheim. Although he's not hitting an insane number of homers relative to his pre-2014 norms, his fly-ball rate is the highest it's been since his 34–home run season in 2009.

After a few rough starts in April and some time on the disabled list in May, Jason Vargas hasn't quite looked like the same solid pitcher he was last season: He's sporting a 4.79 ERA and a 4.57 FIP. Although none are huge changes, his component stats have all gone in the wrong direction. Vargas has attempted to rely on his sinker more, increasing its usage from about 16 percent last season to 29 this season, but it's caused his groundball rate to go up by only 2 percentage points.

However, Vargas began to turn it around on Monday, as he turned in his best start of the season, allowing five hits in six innings while giving up no runs or walks. He pounded the zone and worked efficiently, throwing 51 of his 70 pitches for strikes. Despite getting clocked with a liner off the bat of Aaron Hicks, Vargas still recovered to make the play and finished out the inning as well as the next.

The Twins converted only one of four opportunities with runners in scoring position in the 3–1 loss, but got some unusually solid production out of the bottom of their lineup, as Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar, and Aaron Hicks each collected two hits. The bottom three hitters in the Twins' lineup have been 21st in OBP and 24th in OPS in baseball this season relative to their peers, but they have scored the fifth-most runs, yet more evidence supporting Aaron Gleeman's assertion on Episode 689 of Effectively Wild that the Twins have been able to effectively cluster their runs.

Oh yeah, and if you want to see more of the Royals, you might be doing so on July 14th, as seven Royals are currently positioned to start the All-Star Game.

Quick Hits from Monday
The Padres and Braves faced each other for the first time since pulling off two blockbuster deals this winter/spring. After their flurry of offseason moves, the Padres were just about where many predicted them to be: hanging around three games back in the National League West, just above .500 but unable to overcome the Giants or Dodgers. The Braves have surprised in what seemed to be a rebuilding season for them, entering Monday four games behind the NL East–leading Mets. They stand little chance of making a run, as their postseason probability stands under 3 percent, but it's still not bad for a team that was expected to be only marginally better than the Phillies.

Atlanta overcame an early 1–0 deficit in the third inning with an RBI by Cameron Maybin, traded by the Padres for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr., driving in Jace Peterson, who was traded for the other Upton. Maybin is having a great start to his season, batting .296/.371/.428 for a .308 TAv. Projected by PECOTA to be worth 1.2 WARP, he has surpassed that with 1.5. Kimbrel, by comparison, has an early nearly triple his PECOTA weighted-mean projection.

The three runs the Braves scored in the third inning would be all they would get, as the Padres' bullpen pitched six shutout innings in relief of Ian Kennedy after the game went into extra innings due to Cory Spangenberg tying the game with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning. The Braves bullpen—second-worst in baseball by ERA and the worst by FIP—gave up the lead in the top of the eleventh with RBI doubles to Matt Kemp and Alexi Amarista.

***

The Blue Jays continued their tear on Monday, scoring six in the first inning to down the Marlins by an eventual score of 11–3 for their sixth straight victory. The Jays have lifted themselves from seven games under .500 to just one game under, but, because of a corresponding six-game winning streak by the Yankees, they have gained just a half game in the standings. Their playoff odds, though, have doubled from 14 percent to 28 in that span.

Man of the moment Chris Colabello, fresh off his walk-off single in yesterday's game, further extended his hitting streak to 18 games with the first RBI of the game. The 31-year-old journeyman's .349 batting average won't last forever, as it's fueled by a BABIP over .450, but it's still fun to watch as hitting streaks don't get long in this pitching-dominated era. In fact, the last hitting streak over 30 was, believe it or not, Dan Uggla's 33-gamer in 2011.

***

Carlos Correa received a baptism by fire in his first major league game, as he had to face Chris Sale. After popping out in his first at-bat, Correa collected an eventful first hit of his major league career, experiencing replay review for the first time:

Correa displayed his prowess in the field, as well, showing off his 6 fielding tool and 7 arm in today's

Defensive Play of the Day

Although the Astros eventually fell to Chicago, striking out 14 times against Sale, the death star has been activated.

What to Watch For on Tuesday
The last time the Yankees played the Nationals, they were brushed aside in two straight games, but the last time the Yankees played the Nationals, they didn't have Masahiro Tanaka. He looked better than ever against the Mariners in his return from a forearm strain last week, but he'll be tested by Washington's more powerful offense. Looking to put an end to the Yankees' six-game winning streak will be Max Scherzer, who leads the league with a 1.85 ERA and 2.18 FIP. Scherzer has always had good command, but it's been even better this year, as he has walked just 1.4 batters per nine innings. When he last faced the Yankees, he was bested in a tight matchup last August by Brandon McCarthy. Tune in to watch two of baseball's best as the Yankees and Nationals open a short series. (7:05 PM ET)

Besides those two, a consortium of other aces will be dealing on Tuesday night, as Dallas Keuchel will take the hill for the Astros at 8:10 PM ET, Michael Wacha will go against the Rockies at 8:40 PM ET, and Sonny Gray will pitch as the Athletics take on the Rangers at 10:05 PM ET in Oakland.

Rounds 3 through 10 of the draft will be streaming live on MLB.com beginning at 1:00 PM ET.

Related Content:  Aces,  Debuts

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