The Brewers beat the Braves 10-2 on Sunday to win three out of four in the Hank Aaron Showdown Series, with Jesus Aguilar hitting his 21st and 22nd home runs:
Make it 22 homers for Jesús Aguilar! The #Brewers now lead 10-1. #WeBelieveInJesús— #WeBelieveInJesús (@Brewers) July 8, 2018
(Here's another look at #21 from earlier today.) pic.twitter.com/05PtL2WrHv
Aguilar is hitting .306/.368/.633 and is one of the Final Vote candidates for the NL All-Star team. Aguilar was claimed on waivers from the Indians in February 2017 and performed well in a part-time role last season but was below Eric Thames and Ryan Braun on Milwaukee's preseason depth chart at first base. He looked like potential trade bait, but the Brewers kept him as a bat off the bench. He hit when he got a chance to play, and now he's playing every day, mashing home runs and driving in runs.
Aguilar is a reminder that there is free talent all around the baseball universe. Consider this team of All-Stars and All-Star candidates:
C -- Max Stassi, Astros (1.4 WAR). Originally drafted by the A's and a throw-in in a trade back in 2014, he was outrighted off the Astros' 40-man roster in spring training of 2017, so anybody could have claimed him. He remained in the Astros' organization and has hit .258/.341/.477 as Brian McCann's backup this year, earning even more playing time with McCann on the DL and ranking in the top 10 among catchers in WAR.
1B -- Jesus Aguilar, Brewers (2.4 WAR). He leads MLB first basemen in home runs and RBIs and leads the NL with a .633 slugging percentage. He had three cups of coffee with the Indians from 2014 to 2016.
2B -- Scooter Gennett, Reds (2.9 WAR). You win some, you lose some. The Brewers waived Gennett in March 2017 after a 0.9-WAR season in 2016. He changed his swing mechanics, developed some power and made his first All-Star team this year while hitting .326.
3B -- Eugenio Suarez, Reds (3.2 WAR). OK, he wasn't exactly free. The Reds gave up Alfredo Simon to get him in the 2014-15 offseason. Simon had a fluky first half in 2014 and made the All-Star team but then went 3-7 with a 4.52 ERA in the second half and had one season left before free agency. For some reason, the Tigers wanted him. The Reds wisely acquired Suarez, and he has blossomed into an All-Star.
SS -- Chris Taylor, Dodgers (2.6 WAR). Again, not totally free, but the Dodgers got Taylor from the Mariners for Zach Lee, who had basically flamed out as a prospect and never appeared in the majors with Seattle.
OF -- Matt Kemp, Dodgers (1.6 WAR). The Dodgers acquired Kemp from the Braves solely to get under the luxury-tax threshold, and any team could have traded for him in spring training as a salary dump, but nobody wanted him. Now he's starting in the All-Star Game.
OF -- David Peralta, Diamondbacks (2.5 WAR). Peralta didn't make the All-Star team but has a strong case, ranking third among NL outfielders in WAR. Peralta was a pitcher in the Cardinals organization, got hurt and was released, and the Diamondbacks found him as an outfielder playing independent ball for Amarillo.
OF -- Odubel Herrera, Phillies (1.3 WAR). He was a Rule 5 pick from the Rangers.
DH -- J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (3.8 WAR). From waiver wire to Triple Crown candidate.
UT -- Max Muncy, Dodgers (2.8 WAR). The A's cut Muncy last year, and he spent a month unemployed before signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers (and spending all of 2017 in Triple-A). Injuries opened up an opportunity, and a little change to his setup has turned him into a lethal threat at the plate, with 20 home runs and a .600 slugging percentage. He's part of the Final Vote, and if he gets elected, he would join a list of improbable All-Stars.
Tough loss for the Diamondbacks: It stings to lose any game in 16 innings, but it really stings when a position player is forced to pitch and gets the loss. Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis caught the first 15 innings, then became the team's 10th pitcher of the game in the top of the 16th. The Padres' Wil Myers -- who homered three times in a 20-5 Padres loss on Saturday -- homered off Mathis for the winning blast:
Where there's a Wil, there's a way (to leave a 16-inning game happy)!#WilPower 💥 pic.twitter.com/82OIcpbr0Y— San Diego Padres (@Padres) July 9, 2018
According to Doug Kern, not including nine-position stunts, Mathis is only the second player to catch and pitch in the same extra-inning game in the live ball era, joining Jamie Burke, who did so for the Mariners in 2006 (entering in the ninth to catch and then taking the loss in the 15th). Mathis is the first position player to get a loss since Darwin Barney of the Blue Jays on July 1, 2016 (in a 19-inning loss to the Indians).
After a game such as this, I always ask if using a position player could have been avoided -- especially for a team such as the Diamondbacks, for whom a loss on July 7 could be a big deal come the end of September. You can't anticipate going 16 innings, of course, but Torey Lovullo ran through a string of relievers who didn't throw many pitches: Five relievers threw fewer than 20 pitches, and of the first six relievers used, only Archie Bradley went more than one inning. That left T.J. McFarland to go four innings before starter Zack Godley pitched the 15th. Godley threw 81 pitches on Friday, so it's understandable that he went only one inning.
The second-guessing would be for why Lovullo didn't try to get at least a second inning of work from Brad Boxberger and/or Yoshihisa Hirano, who pitched the ninth and 10th, respectively. By then, Lovullo knew he was running low on relief reserves and could have started factoring in the length of the game.
As a side note, this points to another potential problem of "bullpenning": The concept can work in theory for nine-inning games, but teams play many extra-inning games over a season. If you're using five or six relievers every game, you're going to run out of relievers or be forced to use tired or inferior relievers early in extra innings, which ultimately means your worst pitchers getting more decisions -- and sometimes your backup catcher getting one.
Twenty-four hours with Mark Reynolds: Speaking of free talent, Reynolds didn't sign with the Nationals until April 17 and is hitting .300/.368/.600 in a part-time role. On Saturday, he drove in 10 runs, going 5-for-5 with two home runs. On Sunday, the Nationals used him to get the final out of a 10-2 loss to the Marlins. Tanner Roark fell to 3-11 with a 4.76 ERA, including 1-7 with a 7.11 ERA and .976 OPS allowed since May 31. The Nationals won three of four in the series -- including scores of 18-4 and 14-12 -- but Roark's struggles have become an issue. They'll get Stephen Strasburg back, but the Nats might look for another starter as well.
J.T. Realmuto went 5-for-6 for the Marlins, raising his line to .317/.368/.551. He made the All-Star team, but only after the fans voted for Willson Contreras and the players voted for Buster Posey. Realmuto should be the starter and -- this might surprise you -- he ranks second to Lorenzo Cain among NL position players in WAR. Realmuto isn't an MVP candidate because of the team he plays for, but he has quietly been one of the best players in the NL and a reminder that if the Marlins decide to trade him, he would be very, very expensive.
All-Star snubs and surprises: I have more on the All-Star rosters here. The biggest snub is clearly Rays pitcher Blake Snell, who is 12-4 and leads the AL in ERA. It makes sense that he didn't make it -- the Tigers, Blue Jays, Twins, A's and Rangers all needed their mandatory All-Star, and four of those ended up being pitchers -- but that doesn't make it easier to swallow for Snell or Rays fans. Luckily for Snell, we usually see two or three pitchers withdraw from the game because of nagging injuries or because they pitch on the Sunday before the game (and are thus ineligible), so Snell probably will end up on the team anyway.
Also, because we vote waaay too early. Could easily punch in our votes on an iPad a couple days before instead of the old school envelope weeks before.— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) July 8, 2018
On the NL side, you have to feel bad for Aguilar, who is having a monster season for the Brewers, leading all MLB first basemen in home runs and RBIs. He's playing at a stacked position, however, with Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt all making the All-Star team and having good seasons. (And, no, Aguilar's two hot months don't trump all the MVP-caliber seasons Votto and Goldschmidt have had.) Aguilar still has a chance to make it as a Final Vote candidate.
On the happier side, there's this note:
It's been a long time coming for Nick Markakis. pic.twitter.com/tGlXdCNzpP— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) July 8, 2018
Shin-Soo Choo has had a similar type of career -- a good, reliable player -- and he made his first All-Star team after 1,408 career games. Congrats to those two and all the other first-time All-Stars.