5 MLB Players Who Elevated Their Game in May

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2013

May 16, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro (19) fields a ground ball during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

While it's true that every player struggles at one point or another during baseball's regular season, not all struggles are created equal. Those that last a series or two—or even a week or two—are typically not cause for alarm.

When those struggles hang around for an entire month, it's a different story—and it raises the pressure on a player to elevate his game, leaving those struggles in the past where they belong.

A number of players were able to do just that in May, erasing what were terrible starts to the 2013 season and playing up to expectations. A select few were able to exceed even the loftiest of expectations in the season's second month.

Let's take a look at five players who rose above the rest.

Domonic Brown, LF, Philadelphia Phillies

May Stats: .303 BA/.991 OPS, 17 XBH (12 HR), 25 RBI

How long have the Philadelphia Phillies and the team's rabid fanbase been waiting for Domonic Brown to live up to his considerable talent? A really long time, according to the "Batting Stance Guy":

It hasn't been quite that long, but he's got a point. After hitting .233 with three home runs, 12 RBI and a paltry .681 OPS in April, Phanatics everywhere had begun to doubt whether he'd ever live up to his considerable hype as one of the team's top prospects.

Once the calendar flipped to May, a power switch flipped on along with it.

For power was the name of Brown's game in May, as his 12 home runs on the month found him tied with Miguel Cabrera for the most in baseball.

If that wasn't impressive enough, consider this incredible stat, courtesy of CBS Sports' Jon Heyman:

Imagine how gaudy his overall numbers would have been were he not allergic to taking a walk.

Twelve was Brown's lucky number in May, as he had a dozen multi-hit games, including hitting a pair of home runs in two of his last three before the calendars around the game flipped to June.

As the core of the team's lineup continues to age, Brown's performance in May is perhaps a sign that the 26-year-old is ready to be a key piece of the team's future success.

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Washington Nationals

May Stats: .330 BA/1.024 OPS, 12 XBH (7 HR), 19 RBI

A notoriously slow starter, Adam LaRoche was testing the definition of the word "slow" with his performance in April, hitting .136 with a .472 OPS—the latter ranking 40th out of the 45 players who saw action at first base during the season's first month.

Milwaukee's Alex Gonzalez was the only first baseman with at least 50 plate appearances who trailed LaRoche—and Gonzalez is a shortstop playing out of position. That's not good.

After an 0-for-4 performance against Washington's division rival Atlanta on May 1, LaRoche sat with the lowest OPS in the National League, as noted by David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

That's even worse.

Then the hits started to drop, and before you knew it, LaRoche had put together a 16-game hitting streak that lasted from May 2 to May 19, hitting .382 (21-for-55) with four home runs and 12 RBI in the process.

He'd follow that up with an eight-game hitting streak and as we head into June, the 33-year-old is playing as well as any first baseman on the senior circuit:

With Bryce Harper on the disabled list nursing a sore knee, the Nationals need LaRoche to continue to put up big numbers even more than before.

Marco Scutaro, 2B, San Francisco Giants

May Stats: .420 BA/1.023 OPS, 10 XBH (1 HR), 9 RBI

What started as a two-game hitting streak to end April turned into a 19-game hitting streak in May for Marco Scutaro, who led baseball with a .420 batting average in the season's second month.

Even more impressive than the hitting streak and gaudy batting average is this, courtesy of ESPN's Jayson Stark:

How rare is it for a player to have a month like Scutaro did in May? From ESPN Stats and Info:

He (Scutaro) became only the third player since World War II ended in 1945 with a .420 batting average in a calendar month in which he had at least 100 at-bats and fewer than three strikeouts. 

The other two are Hall-of-Famers Lou Boudreau (August 1948 for Indians) and Tony Gwynn (August 1993 and May 1997 for Padres).

One of the heroes of San Francisco's incredible run to its second World Series championship in the past three years last season, both Scutaro and the Giants needed him to elevate the level of his play in May.

While his defense remains suspect—Scutaro leads all second basemen with nine errors on the season—a month like he's coming off of at the plate goes a long way in atoning for his miscues on the field.

Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves

May Stats: 5 GS, 2-2, 2.60 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 6.2 K/9

After two years of being named one of the top pitching prospects in baseball by Baseball America, Julio Teheran's star had begun to fall on the heels of a disastrous 2012 campaign, both with the Braves and in the minors.

By the end of April, Teheran's star was no longer falling—it was crashing to Earth.

With the 22-year-old pitching to a 5.08 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in five starts, the only thing that Teheran really had going for him in the season's first month was this, courtesy of MLB.com's Mark Bowman:

Teheran's sixth start of the season, scheduled for May 4 against the San Francisco Giants, would be rained out, and the extra rest proved to be just what he needed to get back on track.

Four of his five May starts saw him pitch into the seventh inning, and he allowed no more than three earned runs in any of them. While Teheran was impressive throughout the month, he really elevated the level of his game during a three-game stretch against Arizona, Minnesota and New York (NL):

Date Opp IP H ER BB SO
5/14 at Arizona 6 7 2 0 3
5/20 Minnesota 8.1 5 1 1 4
5/26 at New York (NL) 6.2 5 1 3 5
Totals:    21 17 4 4 12

That works out to a 1.71 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. After his start against the Twins, Teheran took to Twitter to share his joy with all of his followers:

In his final start of the month on May 31 against Washington, he would take the loss but allow only three earned runs and seven hits in 6.2 innings of work while setting a new career-high with nine strikeouts.

It sure looks as if Teheran has turned a corner and finally begun to live up to the lofty expectations that have surrounded him. If that's the case, Atlanta is going to pose an even bigger threat to the World Series aspirations that the rest of the National League has.

Jason Vargas, LHP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

May Stats: 6 GS, 5-0, 2.30 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6.5 K/9

While nearly every member of the Angels' starting rotation raised the level of their game in May, none were as impressive as Jason Vargas:

  April ERA May ERA Change
Joe Blanton 7.09 5.11 -1.98
Garrett Richards 5.54 4.97 -0.57
Jerome Williams Relief only 3.19 N/A
C.J. Wilson 4.30 3.69 -0.61
Jason Vargas 4.85 2.30 -2.55
  April WHIP May WHIP Change
Joe Blanton 2.10 1.54 -0.56
Garrett Richards 1.11 1.58 0.47
Jerome Williams Relief Only 1.19 N/A
C.J. Wilson 1.53 1.41 -0.12
Jason Vargas 1.75 1.07 -0.68

After not recording a win in April, Vargas was the only pitcher in baseball with five wins in May, becoming the first to accomplish the feat while wearing an Angels uniform in nearly 20 years:

You're pretty sure that pitcher was Chuck Finley, but you'd be wrong, just like I was. Finley won four games in May of 1996—Shawn Boskie won five.

In five of Vargas' six May starts, the southpaw tossed at least seven quality innings, allowing no more than five hits or two earned runs—including two where the opposition failed to score while he was on the mound.

For the Angels to have a chance at contending for a playoff spot in 2013, the team needs the May version of Vargas to show up each and every month. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson can't do it on their own.


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