The baseball month of May ended with a bang. Boston’s leadoff hitter achieved something nobody in that spot had done in franchise history, the Seattle Mariners added two-point conversions to their two touchdowns and forced two San Diego Padres position players to the mound, and a Miami Marlins hurler set a record for most strikeouts in any month in club history. Here are five things we learned Tuesday:
1. Three is its own crowd. Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts became the first leadoff hitter in franchise history to smack three home runs in one game. He took Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman deep in each of the first two innings -- which made Red Sox history -- and added a third off overmatched right-hander Dylan Bundy. Betts has been outstanding, but there are five Red Sox hitters who have more overall wins above replacement than the star right fielder. Still, this is a first-place team, and first-place teams tend to create MVP candidates, so someone on the club -- perhaps several players -- will likely vie for the honor. At this point, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who is hitting .350 and on a 24-game hit streak, probably would get the nod, but then again, Betts is suddenly on pace for 37 home runs, 125 RBIs, 25 steals without being caught and -- get this! -- 153 runs scored. It will be tough to beat that!
2. Kings of the long ball. Give credit to the contending Mariners for slugging another five home runs in their 16-4 win over the beleaguered Padres, but it’s still hard to believe no big league team has clouted more than their 72 round-trippers this season (the Mets have the same number). It has been more than a decade since the Mariners scored more than runs than the average American League team. Platoon outfielder/designated hitter Seth Smith delivered two of the Tuesday blasts, and seven Mariners have already reached six home runs. One Atlanta Brave has done that. Clearly, the Mariners can score runs, so as long as Felix Hernandez and his rotation buddies can prevent them, this could get interesting. Perhaps the Mariners need to trade for an experienced, postseason pitcher -- someone with the nickname "Big Game" -- or perhaps not.
3. Trade talk. It’s a bit early for any hurler to ruin his trade value, so don’t read too much into the 10-run debacle delivered by Padres right-hander "Big Game" James Shields in Seattle. Yes, Shields has disappointed in San Diego, and the team would love to move him, but that’s not likely to happen for eight more weeks. Most pitchers are judged, fairly or not, by their most recent performances. Just ask Matt Harvey. Still, Shields can really do damage, and he allowed 10 earned runs for the fifth time in his career Tuesday. Only one pitcher in the live ball era has topped that. No, it wasn't Harvey. It was Bobo Newsom. Shields was far less effective on the mound than catcher Christian Bethancourt and infielder Alexi Amarista, who handled the eighth inning sans incident, but no real trade value was ruined here -- not yet.
4. Who needs Bryce? With star right fielder Bryce Harper sitting out in Philadelphia because of a knee contusion suffered on a hit-by-pitch the night before, second baseman Daniel Murphy finished a blistering month with two more hits, including his ninth home run. Murphy’s career best for home runs is 14, which he achieved last season. While Harper hit a mere .200 in May with four home runs and 10 RBIs, albeit taking many walks, Murphy did the heavier lifting by knocking in 23 runs and tying the franchise mark for hits in a month, shared by legendary Al Oliver and Marquis Grissom. Harper is the defending National League MVP, but Murphy is the hitter currently carrying this first-place team. If the Nationals can get Ben Revere, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon hitting and mercifully call up shortstop prospect Trea Turner for more help, their offense could rival the Cubbies'.
5. Speaking of the North Siders. Right-hander Jake Arrieta hasn’t lost a game in nearly a calendar year, since the Cole Hamels no-hitter at Wrigley. More incredibly, his Cubs hadn’t lost one of his outings in 23 consecutive starts, which tied the big league record. There won't be a No. 24, though. Arrieta cruised through seven shutout frames, but Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Scott Kazmir kept pace. Then the Dodgers touched several Cubs relief pitchers for late runs, and the amazing streak ended. Arrieta remains awesome, with a 1.56 ERA, but it’s worth noting that the powerful Cubs, who entered Tuesday leading the NL in runs but were surpassed by the Cardinals, boast only three regular hitters with batting averages better than .250: Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant. That might be a problem come October.