So, yes, the New York Mets are a nice story, bouncing back from midseason despair to reel off a nice stretch that has put them back into the wild-card race.
You know what beats a nice story? Generational greatness coming into its own. The Atlanta Braves cooled off the Mets with a 5-3 victory on Tuesday as Ronald Acuña Jr. displayed two of his immense talents. He swatted a home run in the fourth inning off Zack Wheeler and later threw out Todd Frazier at home plate with a 99.1 mph laser from left field -- just the sixth outfield assist this season with a throw that tracked 99 mph.
Acuña is 21 years old and hitting .299/.378/.543 with 34 home runs and 28 stolen bases. He leads the National League in runs (101), hits (147) and stolen bases (28). He is fourth in home runs and heating up in that category with nine home runs already in August. He is tied for ninth in RBIs with 81, even though he has started 83 of his 120 games in the leadoff spot. He is a lock to become the first 30/30 player for the Braves since Ron Gant in 1991 and has a chance at becoming just the fifth player with 40 home runs and 40 steals in the same season, joining Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006).
• Acuña: .294/.378/.543, 34 HR, 81 RBI, 101 R, 28 SB, 5.0/4.8 WAR
• Bellinger: .316/.414/.663, 39 HR, 90 RBI, 93 R, 9 SB, 7.6/6.3 WAR
• Yelich: .333/.425/.699, 39 HR, 85 RBI, 83 R, 23 SB, 6.0/6.4 WAR
(WAR totals from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs heading into Tuesday.)
To be fair, we should throw Ketel Marte in here, as well:
• Marte: .315/.377/.558, 24 HR, 68 RBI, 78 R, 8 SB, 5.4/5.3 WAR
Bellinger and Yelich still look like the co-favorites, as both have big edges in OBP and slugging percentage, helping to put them atop the WAR leaderboard. Yelich and Bellinger also rank 1-2 in win probability added, so both have been clutch as well. (Acuña is fifth, ranking behind teammate Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper.)
Maybe the discussion isn't so much that Acuña is the best player in the National League in 2019, but that he clearly has established that he is going to be an MVP candidate for the next decade or so. Two areas of his game especially stand out:
First, his all-fields power. He has hit 20 of his 34 home runs to center field or right field. Only Javier Baez and Yelich have hit more opposite-field home runs.
Second, he is hitting .325/.377/.610 against breaking balls (curves and sliders), the second-highest batting average in the majors behind Andrew Benintendi and the fourth-highest wOBA behind Mike Trout and two Rockies.
Considering that off-speed pitches are often the death of young players, especially with two strikes, Acuña's ability to do damage on those pitches is a testament to his advanced ability at such a young age. That also means there is room for improvement, especially in cutting down on the strikeouts, drawing a few more walks and doing a better job against fastballs. He is hitting .273/.373/.495 on four-seam and two-seam fastballs, ranking 84th in the majors in wOBA out of 147 qualified hitters. With experience, he should get even better at hunting out fastballs.
Acuña now has 60 home runs before turning 22, tying him for fourth on that ledger with Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson, and trailing just Eddie Mathews (72), Tony Conigliaro (84) and Mel Ott (86).
It's a fun time to be a Braves fan. But all baseball fans can appreciate what we're seeing from one of the game's most exciting players. Acuña is 21, an MVP candidate and in the middle of an incredible hot streak. He might not slow down for another 11 or 12 years.
Best of times, worst of times for Josh Hader: Good game in Milwaukee as the Brewers scored four in the bottom of the seventh to take a 5-4 lead, only to see the Twins scored three in the top of the eighth when Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-out, three-run homer off Josh Hader:
Hader entered with two on and Gonzalez jumped on a 96 mph first-pitch fastball, so Hader only got credit for a blown save instead of a loss, but he continues to have a perplexing mix of a season. He has a 2.91 ERA and 25 saves and six holds with those dominant peripheral stats: 103 strikeouts in 55⅔ innings. But he now has given up 13 home runs and is 2-5 with five blown saves. A year ago, the Brewers were 80-3 when leading after seven innings. This year they're 49-5 -- still good, but the bullpen hasn't quite been as much of a lockdown unit as in 2018.
There has been a pattern to Hader's home run problem. Here are the 13 he has allowed:
Marwin Gonzalez: 0-0 fastball
Elvis Andrus: 0-1 fastball
Matt Chapman: 0-0 fastball
Matt Olson: 0-0 fastball
Tyler Austin: 0-0 fastball
Brandon Crawford: 3-1 fastball
Eugenio Suarez: 3-1 fastball
Starling Marte: 1-0 fastball
Freddie Freeman: 1-0 fastball
Ian Desmond: 1-1 fastball
Cody Bellinger: 1-2 slider
Enrique Hernandez: 0-2 fastball
Marcell Ozuna: 0-0 fastball
Thirteen home runs, 12 on fastballs, five on first-pitch fastballs. Hader's slider is so unhittable that it makes sense hitters will almost eliminate that pitch and seek out a fastball. Hader has allowed 22 home runs over the past two seasons, 21 on fastballs. To be fair, it's not like hitters are connecting all that often -- they're hitting .157 off his fastball in 2019 -- but when they do connect, it too often leaves the park. Hitters also have adjusted, swinging more often on his fastball this year.
With the rest of the bullpen predictably not as good, the Brewers needed Hader to be near perfect this season. He hasn't and now leads a list you don't want to lead, the most go-ahead home runs allowed in the eighth inning or later (since 1961):
Josh Hader, 2019 Brewers: 8
Chad Qualls, 2007 Astros: 7
Willie Hernandez, 1986 Tigers: 7
Bruce Sutter, 1985 Braves: 7
Have a day, Rafael Devers: The Twins leapfrogged over the Indians and back into first place as the Red Sox beat the Indians 7-6 in 10 innings. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the 10th, but the Boston hero was Devers, who went 6-for-6 with four doubles. If you feel like you've never seen that kind of line, it's because you haven't! Devers is the first player in modern era (since 1900) to get six hits and four doubles in a game. He now is hitting .325/.373/.574 with 43 doubles.
Where there's a Will, there's a way: The Giants refuse to go away in the wild-card race, beating the A's 3-2 as Will Smith closed it out. It was a 22-minute top of the ninth, however, as Smith needed 37 pitches to get the save. He walked Mark Canha with the bases loaded and two outs, but then struck out Chad Pinder to end it. Madison Bumgarner allowed two hits and one run in seven innings, and the Giants now have won his past six starts.
Yes, we had another two-homer game: Joe Posnanski has been writing about the stretch of consecutive days in which one player has hit at least two home runs in a day. In fact, much to his horror, he committed to writing about it every day as long as the streak continued. Gleyber Torres brought us closer to the record of 31 straight days (set earlier this season, May 3-June 2) on Monday with his two-homer game, the 29th day in a row we had a two-homer game. Well, we had three players do it on Tuesday: Will Smith of the Dodgers -- it was a good night for the Will Smiths of the baseball world -- and then Kyle Seager and Tom Murphy of the Mariners (they went back-to-back twice). Murphy celebrated one of his home runs with a cartwheel in the dugout, and I don't know if Mariners were laughing or crying about this:
Tom Murphy is a WHOLE MOOD. 😂 pic.twitter.com/ha1mDVjXTN— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 14, 2019
Murphy explained after the game:
Murphy impressed by the size of the dugouts in Detroit told Laker before the game if he hit a home run he would do a cartwheel. Daughter is in gymnastics, had been doing them with her.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) August 14, 2019
Some fans weren't so impressed:
I appreciate a good baseball-gymnastics crossover more than anyone. As such, I can't help but critique Tom Murphy's cartwheel form and technique. The Mariners really need a gymnastics coach. I will do it for free!— Amanda Lane Cumming (@MarinerMandy) August 14, 2019
P.S.: It has been a long season for the Mariners.
Oh, Seager actually hit three home runs. This is the third one, which says more about the Tigers than it does Seager:
Anyway, that's more Mariners highlights than you probably needed. That's now 19 three-homer games this season, and we appear certain to see a new record in that category as well (22 in 2001).
P.P.S.: There have been a lot of home runs this season.