10 Biggest Takeaways from Week 14's MLB Action

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 11, 2015

10 Biggest Takeaways from Week 14's MLB Action

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    Zack Greinke does not abide runs, and more from the week that was.
    Zack Greinke does not abide runs, and more from the week that was.Associated Press

    And just like that, the 2015 Major League Baseball season has run out of weeks to go until the All-Star break. We've just witnessed the passing of Week 14, and in its wake lies the Midsummer Classic.

    It's been a heck of a journey, all right, but let's stay in the moment. It's time to look back at the week that was and ponder what we learned.

    Ahead of you is a list of the top 10 takeaways from the league's 14th week of action. They range from a couple of hot pitchers doing hot-pitcher things to a couple of young hitters going off to a couple of teams showing they're not dead yet.

    We'll go in order from least interesting to most interesting. Step into the box whenever you're ready.

10. Chris Sale Stops Being Unfair, Downgrades to Awesome

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    When Chris Sale took the bump Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays at U.S. Cellular Field, he was trying to beat Pedro Martinez's record by posting his ninth straight start of at least 10 strikeouts.

    He did not succeed. But though he failed, he failed in the best way possible.

    Sale could make it to only six punch-outs against the Blue Jays, but he did so in a complete-game effort in which he allowed only two runs in leading the White Sox to a 4-2 victory.

    "Yeah, every time there's two strikes, everybody's making some noise," Sale told Scott Merkin of MLB.com. "But it didn't work out. I'll take this outcome over that any day."

    It was indeed a good outcome. And regardless of his strikeout count, it succeeded in making his excellent season even more excellent. 

    Though Sale's 2.80 ERA is far from the best in the American League, his dominance is unparalleled. His mark of 11.78 strikeouts per nine innings is the best in the league, and that comes from a 15.6 swinging-strike percentage that's also the best in the league. And even when batters make contact off him, he still looks overpowering. Per Baseball Savant, he entered Friday with the AL's lowest average exit velocity at 84.07 mph.

    If you've ever wondered what completely overpowering pitching looks like, well, there you go.

9. Jeff Samardzija Is a Trade Chip Again

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    Speaking of White Sox hurlers, remember when Jeff Samardzija was a disaster of a pitcher whom surely nobody would ever want to trade for?

    Yeah, you might want to look again.

    The 30-year-old right-hander tossed a complete-game shutout Wednesday afternoon against the Blue Jays. In doing so, he lowered his ERA over his last six games to 2.40.

    And that's no fluke. Thanks to FanGraphs, we know that Samardzija has improved his strikeout, walk, ground-ball and hard-hit rates from his first 12 starts of the season. Apparently, this is what can happen when you chill the heck out.

    "Early in the year, you press a lot," Samardzija told Scott Merkin of MLB.com. "You just get excited, so sometimes you've got to pull back and go back to what works for you. For me, it's pounding the zone with my sinker, slider for strikes and the splitter down in the zone."

    For the White Sox's contention chances, Samardzija's turnaround is certainly too little, too late. They're 11 games behind in the AL Central, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.

    But rest assured, they won't waste Samardzija's turnaround. His hot pitching and his free-agent-to-be status make him an attractive rental for the stretch run, and dealing a player like that could net Chicago a nifty return.

8. Hey, Maybe the Red Sox Aren't Screwed After All

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    A couple of weeks ago, the Boston Red Sox looked totally screwed. They were well below .500 and seemed utterly incapable of doing anything right.

    But between then and now, something clicked.

    Though the Red Sox had a four-game win streak snapped by the archrival New York Yankees on Friday night, they've still won eight of 11 and 14 out of 22 overall. They've gone from being well out of the picture in the AL East to a real threat.

    They haven't done this because their pitching has figured things out. It's still shaky and could get even shakier now that the injury bug has bitten Clay Buchholz again. But with the way they're hitting the ball all of a sudden, they may be OK regardless.

    The Red Sox have gone from scoring 3.8 runs per game in their first 65 games to 5.3 runs per game in their last 22. Per Baseball Savant, they went into Saturday's action hitting .280 as a team in that span and .289 with runners in scoring position.

    All of a sudden, Boston's offense is as advertised.

    "It's a long season," star designated hitter David Ortiz told Ian Browne and Alec Shirkey of MLB.com. "You can't get down because the first couple of months everybody struggles. You play through the season. This is a winning ballclub."

    Well, it is now, anyway. And if the Red Sox can keep hitting like they have been, they may continue to be.

7. Miguel Sano Can Rake

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    When the Minnesota Twins called up Miguel Sano last week, all we had to say was that baseball was running out of top prospects to call up.

    A week later, we can say this: Holy Sanoly, can Sano hit!

    The 22-year-old slugging third baseman collected a hit in each of the first seven games of his MLB career, and he's batting .414 with a 1.148 OPS in nine games. It's a small sample size, to be sure, but there's so much about it that's impressive.

    For one, Sano has been hitting the ball insanely hard. Heading into Saturday, FanGraphs put his hard-hit rate at 57.9 percent. That makes Giancarlo Stanton's league-leading mark of 49.7 look like child's play. Going one step further, Baseball Savant put Sano's average exit velocity at 102 mph, nearly five mph faster than Stanton's league-best 97.73.

    Obviously, this is unlikely to last. But it is reflective of the book on Sano's natural pop, as ESPN.com's Tommy Rancel summed it up:

    "Sano is a destroyer of baseballs. ... He has upper-echelon power, joining the rare ranks of 80-grade sluggers in the majors. He has tremendous hand strength and can pull the ball down the left field line flatfooted if he wanted to."

    It's not that often you see a guy get an 80-grade rating for his power. It's less often that you see him actually live up to it right away.

6. The Rangers Are Fading Fast

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    For a while there, the Texas Rangers were really hot. They went 19-11 in May and continued to play well into early June.

    But lately? Yeah, not as much.

    Before getting off the schneid with a 4-3 win over the San Diego Padres on Friday night, the Rangers had lost five in a row and 13 of their last 17. While they were once breathing down the necks of the Houston Astros in the AL West, now they're just another blip on the radar.

    As for what's happened, it hasn't helped that the Rangers offense has cooled down significantly. After scoring 4.5 runs per game in their first 68 games, the Rangers have scored just 3.4 runs per game in 18 games leading into Saturday. Per Baseball Savant, a big problem has been a .153 average with runners in scoring position.

    But it's not just the offense. Texas' pitching has also been struggling, allowing 5.8 runs per contest in those 17 games. To this end, the only starter who isn't struggling is Yovani Gallardo.

    All told, it's not good. And it looks even worse in light of what's happening in Anaheim these days.

5. The Angels Are Taking Flight

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    For the first few months of the season, the Angels seemed perpetually caught between "stop" and "go." Then things got dramatic, as a power struggle between manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto resulted in the latter's ouster.

    But all of a sudden, things no longer seem chaotic. They're...well, quite good, actually.

    The Angels' 7-3 win Friday night in Seattle was their sixth in seven games, and they've won 10 out of their last 12 games overall.

    The big key for the Angels in this stretch? They're finally hitting the ball.

    The Angels scored just 3.9 runs per game in their first 74 games. Now, they've scored 5.8 runs per game in their last 12. And with C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago and Garrett Richards all pitching well, this has been more than enough.

    It has pushed the Angels to just a half-game behind the Houston Astros in the AL West. But don't tell them that.

    "We're not looking at the standings at all," Scioscia told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. "Our challenge is in-house. We have to keep getting better as a team. I think the focus is good; there's really not a lot of distractions there. We've had a lot happen the last couple weeks, and these guys keep playing baseball. That's what we're going to focus on."

    Hey, whatever works.

4. Clayton Kershaw Strikes Back

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    Clayton Kershaw did not make the National League All-Star team this year, evidently because the people in charge of such things have yet to join the 21st century.

    Sadly, there wasn't much the Dodgers' ace left-hander could do to get even. But it seems like he sure as heck got angry.

    On Wednesday, just two days after he was left off the NL All-Star roster, Kershaw shut out the Philadelphia Phillies in a 5-0 victory. He did allow eight hits, but he walked nobody and struck out 13.

    As a result, Kershaw evened his record at 6-6 and lowered his ERA to 2.85. Aside from that, he also took over the MLB lead in strikeouts and put his overall swinging-strike rate right there with Chris Sale's. And per Baseball Savant, Kershaw is the only guy with a lower average exit velocity (83.95 mph) than Sale.

    According to xFIP, he's been the most dominant pitcher in MLB this season.

    Sounds like a guy who should be an All-Star. Maybe the National League will find it in its heart to fix that.

3. There Will Be No Alex Gordon for the Next 2 Months

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Nothing good lasts forever. As we found out this week, that even includes Alex Gordon in left field.

    The worst news of the week came Wednesday, when the Kansas City Royals' star left fielder came up lame and then hit the deck after trying to chase down a fly ball. It was apparent right away that he was seriously hurt, and an MRI confirmed it.

    Gordon suffered a Grade 2-plus strain of his left groin. The injury will cost him two months of action, during which time the Royals will be hard-pressed to replace him.

    It's not so much Gordon's excellent defense the Royals can't replace, as Paul Swydan of FanGraphs pointed out that Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando can cover that part.

    But replacing Gordon's offense won't be so easy. He's been one of Kansas City's best hitters with a .279 average, .852 OPS and 11 homers, and he had been especially hot lately. To replace production like this, the Royals may need to hit the trade market for a bat.

    On the bright side, Kansas City's AL-best 51-33 record gives it margin for error while Gordon is away.

2. Zack Greinke Continues His War Against Runs

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    How do we know that Zack Greinke hates runs? Oh, let us count the ways.

    First, there's the fact that the veteran Dodgers right-hander used eight shutout innings against the Phillies on Thursday to stretch his scoreless streak to 35.2 innings.

    That's the longest active streak in the majors, and it gives him a real chance at besting the 41-inning scoreless streak that Clayton Kershaw authored last season.

    "Things are just working, and I'm trying to stay in the rhythm, I guess," Greinke told Steve Bourbon of MLB.com. "There hasn't been any bad luck and when that happens, it makes things easier."

    There's also the reality that Greinke has allowed just 19 earned runs in 18 starts for an ERA (1.39) roughly the size of an obscure Marvel hero. That's the lowest in MLB by a mile, and it puts him in some historic company.

    According to Jon Tayler of Sports Illustrated, Greinke is one of only four pitchers since World War II to go into the All-Star break with an ERA under 1.40 over at least 100 innings. The other three? Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale and Luis Tiant.

    That's some pretty good company right there. Apparently, that's the company you can keep when you declare war against runs.

1. Mike Trout Conquers the Week, Is Pretty Good at Baseball

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    I know, I know. We talk an awful lot about how Mike Trout is really, really good. Some would say too much.

    But bah, what the heck do they know? The truth is that you can never talk enough about Trout, largely because he's always giving us stuff to talk about.

    The latest example: his entire week.

    All the Los Angeles Angels superstar center fielder has done in four games this week is collect eight hits in 16 at-bats—according to math, that's a .500 average—and five of those eight hits left the ballpark. He enjoyed multihomer days Wednesday in Colorado and Friday night in Seattle. According to Alden Gonzalez and Thomas Harding of MLB.com, the former saw him post nearly 900 feet of total dingerage.

    Trout's numbers for the season were impressive before this week. But now, he is batting .309 with a 1.019 OPS and 26 homers, which ties him with teammate Albert Pujols for the American League lead. He's one of only four players in history with four 25-homer seasons by the age of 23, and he's now looking at an outside chance for a 50-homer season when all is said and done.

    Appreciate Trout while you can, folks. He won't be the best young player in MLB history forever.

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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