Real or Not? Mookie Betts is playing like an MVP again

So Mookie Betts had a day.

In the fourth inning, he smashed a 452-foot home run off a 1-1 changeup against Royals lefty Danny Duffy.

In the fifth inning, he hooked an 0-2 slider over the Green Monster, prompting a disgruntled stare from Duffy.

In the seventh inning, he crushed a 1-2 fastball that was up and away out 440 feet to center field, becoming the first player since Nolan Arenado in 2016 with two home runs in one game of at least 440 feet. Here, watch all three and enjoy:

Oh, he also singled in the first inning, so it was a 4-for-4 day in Boston’s 5-4 victory Wednesday. He’s hitting .365/.451/.823, is tied for the major league lead with 11 home runs, and leads the American League with 32 runs, that .823 slugging percentage and that .365 average. Mookie is back, my friends.

It was Mookie’s second three-homer game of the season and already the fourth of his career, so a couple of fun notes related to that:

-- He’s just the 17th player with at least four three-homer games (Sammy Sosa and Johnny Mize have the most with six).

-- He’s the first Red Sox player with four three-homer games (Ted Williams had three).

-- He has more three-homer games than Hank Aaron (one) and Babe Ruth (two) combined -- although Ruth had two more three-homer games in the World Series.

-- He’s played 534 career games, giving him the fewest games played for someone to reach four three-homer games (Mize was at 701).

After finishing second in the MVP vote in 2016, Betts fell from .318 with 31 home runs to .264 with 24 home runs last year. He did walk more and still finished sixth in the MVP voting, but there was the feeling that Betts was maybe a little too passive at times and not attacking pitches in the strike zone like he did in 2016. Let’s go to the numbers ...

His swing rate was down, even against fastballs. Not shown in the chart, however, is that Betts saw about 4 percent fewer pitches in the strike zone, so one reason he wasn’t swinging as much was because he was seeing fewer good pitches. The swing rates haven’t really changed this year from 2017, but he’s not chasing pitches out of the zone as much, and maybe that explains his hot start.

Of course, it’s not just how often you’re swinging, but also when. I checked the percentage of plate appearances that Betts fell into a pitcher’s count and it has gone down each season: 46 percent to 43 percent to 37 percent this year. Whatever the process, he’s certainly picking the right fastballs to swing at this year, as he’s hitting .389 and slugging .861 against them.

Edwin Encarnacion also had a day: Encarnacion matched Betts with a three-homer game in Cleveland’s 12-4 win over the Rangers:

It’s worth noting that it was 86 degrees at Fenway (with a 14 mph wind blowing out) and 82 degrees in Cleveland, with a 17 mph wind blowing out (the Rangers hit three home runs off Corey Kluber).

Now that we’ve jumped straight from winter to summer in the Northeast and Midwest, it will be interesting to see if home runs start flying again. Home runs were down through April year to year, but while there were just two games last season with game-time temperatures of 40 degrees or less, there have been 35 this season. The cold weather can affect baseballs, but it’s also no fun to play when you’re bundled up in winter gear. Note that there were 41 home runs in 15 games on Tuesday and 42 in 15 games on Wednesday, both higher per game rates than the 2017 season rate. The overall batting average remains points lower than last year’s .255 mark, but it has been steadily increasing:

March 29-April 4: .237

April 5-April 11: .239

April 12-April 18: .245

April 19-April 25: .248

April 26-May 2: .250

I mean, it’s not exactly 1930 or even 1999 (when the MLB average was .271), but that gets us into all the strikeouts -- and that’s a discussion for another day.

Braves take over first; deGrom injured: I talked to left-hander Sean Newcomb at the Futures Games a few years ago -- he was still with the Angels at the time -- and he told me the University of Hartford was the only Division I program that recruited him. He had played more football than baseball in high school, so while the Angels took him in the first round, he was still pretty raw for a college pitcher. He’s the only player the Braves have remaining from the Andrelton Simmons trade -- a risky deal at the time for Atlanta -- and the questions about Newcomb turning into an elite starter always have centered around his ability to throw enough strikes.

He did that in a dominant effort against the Mets on Wednesday, allowing two hits in seven scoreless innings while throwing 70 of 97 pitches for strikes. He relied on moving his 94 mph heater around the zone, throwing 65 fastballs, while mixing in a big-bending curveball and changeup. He’s thrown 66 percent fastballs, which makes him one of the more fastball-reliant starters in the National League. He has a chance to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter. He’s leaner than he was as a minor leaguer and maybe that’s helped him to a more consistent delivery.

On the other side of the ledger, Jacob deGrom cruised through four scoreless innings, then left with a hyperextended right elbow, apparently suffered on a swing at the plate. He pitched one more inning after telling his pitching coach that his right arm hurt when he swung, and I’m sure the New York media won’t make anything of that. He’ll have an MRI on Thursday.

When you strike out 16 batters and your bullpen lets you down: Tough 3-2 loss for the Mariners as James Paxton crushed the A’s with 16 strikeouts in seven innings. That gave him a chance to tie or break the single-game record of 20 strikeouts, but he’d thrown 105 pitches, including 25 in the seventh inning, so manager Scott Servais went to the bullpen. Paxton’s 16 K’s are the season high, as are his 30 swing-and-misses.

Alas, red-hot Jed Lowrie, whose slash line is .341/.396/.618, hit a two-run home run off Juan Nicasio in the eighth and Mark Canha hit one off Edwin Diaz in the ninth. The Mariners had six baserunners off Blake Treinen the final two innings but left the bases loaded in both the eighth (Nelson Cruz and Mitch Haniger struck out) and ninth (Jean Segura grounded out).

There was talk on Twitter about whether Servais should have left Paxton in. I understand the thinking, as 105 pitches isn’t ridiculous. In a best-case scenario, Paxton strikes out the side in the eighth and maybe gets one batter in the ninth to tie the record and would still be under 130 pitches. Of course, then you get into the danger zone. If he’s at 20, do you let him go for 21? I think the big issue here was he had that stressful seventh inning and he’s a guy with a long history of injuries. Nicasio had been very good of late and Diaz has been great all season. Records are nice, but Servais made the right call, not the emotional one.

Luis Severino is one of the five best starters in the majors: Severino threw his first career complete game and first shutout, blanking the Astros 4-0 with a five-hitter. He was the first Yankees pitcher to throw a shutout with double-digit strikeouts since Mike Mussina on Sept. 24, 2002, versus the Devil Rays.

I loved that after the eighth inning he was stomping around the dugout, making sure he was going to be left in the game. His 109th pitch was 99 mph. His 110th pitch induced a soft fly ball for the final out.

On Twitter, I asked if Severino belongs in the Corey Kluber/Max Scherzer/Clayton Kershaw/Justin Verlander discussion. I could have included Chris Sale, I suppose, so apologies for that. Anyway, the poll results with more than 1,000 votes: 54 percent “yes” and 46 percent “no.” Put me in the “yes” category, with the caveat that he clearly ranks behind those guys just because he hasn’t done it for as long.

We need the Statcast numbers on the cost of those diamonds: Yoenis Cespedes doubled and then this happened: