MLB Team of the Week: Jake Arrieta, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Bryce Harper Star
Here's the beauty of Bleacher Report's MLB Team of the Week: Big stars can and do make the cut (see: Harper, Bryce), but lesser-known names frequently slip in as well (see: Saltalamacchia, Jarrod). And of course, there's always room for no-hitters (see: Arrieta, Jake).
Remember, this isn't about career output or future projections. It's about the guys who busted box scores over the past seven days, period.
In that span of time, almost anything can happen. It's the wonder—and folly—of small samples.
To restate the ground rules: We're taking one player per position, including a designated hitter and starting pitcher, based on what they accomplished between April 15 and April 21.
This is mostly about individual output, but bonus points are awarded if gaudy numbers translated to ticks in the win column.
As ever, feel free to chime in with your own picks in the comments, and proceed when ready.
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Detroit Tigers
After damning Saltalamacchia with faint praise in the intro, let's just go ahead and praise him.
After being cut loose by the Miami Marlins last year and inking a one-year deal for the league minimum with the Detroit Tigers, Saltalamacchia is making the Fish look foolish in the early going.
This week, the 30-year-old backstop went 7-for-21 with two doubles, three home runs and six RBI.
"The regular at-bats help power numbers or solid contact numbers in the long run," Saltalamacchia said, per ESPN.com's Katie Strang. "You have more at-bats, you see more pitches, you don't miss as many pitches."
See ball, hit ball—it's certainly a formula that's worked before.
Honorable Mention: Stephen Vogt (OAK): 8-for-21, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI
First Base: Lucas Duda, New York Mets
The Mets offense has scuffled this season, as evidenced by New York's .239 team batting average entering play Friday.
But the Amazins picked up the pace this week, plating 37 runs in six games and, not coincidentally, going 4-2.
Lucas Duda did his share, clubbing two doubles and three home runs and driving in seven.
That's especially good news for New York, seeing as Duda is among the game's streakiest hitters, as Joe Giglio of NJ Advance Media noted:
Last year, Duda hit 27 home runs. Of that total, 20 came across three different red-hot stretches. From May 21-29, July 25-August 2 and September 25-29, Duda was on fire and basically won games by himself with big flies. After [Tuesday's] eighth-inning line drive homer off Phillies reliever David Hernandez, could we be seeing the start of a streak?
Cross your fingers, Mets fans, and buckle up.
Honorable Mention: Byung Ho Park (MIN): 6-for-18, 2B, 3 HR, 4 RBI
Second Base: Neil Walker, New York Mets
Sticking with the Mets, let's give some props to Neil Walker, Duda's right-side-of-the-infield cohort.
Former Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who left via free agency to join the division-rival Washington Nationals, has swung a hot stick since arriving in the nation's capital.
But Walker—acquired this winter in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates—did some swinging of his own this week, going 10-for-27 with five home runs and six RBI.
On Tuesday, the switch-hitting Walker launched a pair of home runs from the right side of the plate. He now has three from that side on the season, matching his career high.
"From all we heard, it's a big surprise," manager Terry Collins said, per ESPN.com's Adam Rubin. "As we've talked about so many times, a lot of it is about confidence. Right now he has great confidence hitting right-handed."
Honorable Mention: Ian Kinsler (DET): 10-for-27, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI
Third Base: Travis Shaw, Boston Red Sox
No matter what Travis Shaw does between the lines this season, the Boston Red Sox will still have to pay Pablo Sandoval $17 million in 2016 and many more dollars after that.
But after winning the third base job in spring training from an out-of-shape Sandoval, Shaw has hit well enough to ease the sting of that painful fact.
This week, Shaw went 10-for-26 with four doubles, a home run and seven RBI.
If he keeps it up, he could soon have the Beantown faithful saying, "Pablo who?"
Honorable Mention: Manny Machado (BAL): 8-for-21, 4 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI
Shortstop: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
Zack Cozart didn't get a hit Thursday. But then again, no Cincinnati Reds hitter did (more on that shortly).
Overall, Cozart logged a nice week, leading all regular shortstops with nine hits in 24 at-bats, including three doubles, and driving in three.
If the 30-year-old Cozart can consistently marry that type of offensive production to his strong glove work, he could be in line for a legitimate late-blooming breakout season.
Honorable Mention: Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM): 8-for-23, 3 2B, 2 RBI
Left Field: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
It's a rebuilding year in Milwaukee, but the Brewers still have Ryan Braun doing Ryan Braun things.
This week, that included banging out 10 hits in 22 at-bats, including two doubles and two home runs, and tallying nine RBI.
Yes, the Crew went 3-4. No, they don't stand a chance of competing with the top dogs of the National League Central.
On the other hand: Ryan Braun.
Honorable Mention: Brett Gardner (NYY): 8-for-17, 2 2B, HR, 2 RBI
Center Field: Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets
Defensively, Yoenis Cespedes profiles best as a corner outfielder. But he got the bulk of his starts in center field this week, so that's where we're sticking him.
Offensively, the Cuban masher joined the Mets' hit parade, going 9-for-25 with two doubles, a triple, four home runs and 10 RBI.
In his first full season in Queens, Cespedes is suddenly raking like the guy who lit the league on fire after a midseason trade to the Mets last July.
Of course, if he does have a monster year, he'll almost certainly opt out of his three-year deal and quite possibly skip town. For now, New York will take his big stick and cross that bridge another day.
Honorable Mention: Dexter Fowler (CHC): 8-for-26, 3 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI
Right Field: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper doesn't need added motivation to be awesome at baseball. But after clubbing his 100th big league home run—and first career grand slam—on April 14, the Nationals slugger went on an absolute tear.
Harper hit five home runs this week and paced the pack with an eye-popping 13 RBI while posting a 1.454 OPS.
"What he's doing is pretty special," veteran Jayson Werth said of his scalding teammate, per MLB.com's Jamal Collier. "He's really coming into his own."
Here's an alternate take: Perhaps Harper, who is just 23 years old, is still climbing toward his ceiling. Maybe he's going to get better.
Sleep tight, opposing pitchers.
Honorable Mention: George Springer (HOU): 9-for-24, 2 2B, 3 HR, 5 RBI
Pitcher: Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
Jake Arrieta wasn't perfect Thursday night in Cincinnati. He issued a season-high four walks to the Reds and didn't feature his best stuff.
The fact that he still threw a no-hitter—for the second consecutive season—only cements his status as the best pitcher in the game, as yours truly argued.
It doesn't matter for Team of the Week purposes, but it's still amazing to note that Arrieta now owns a 20-1 mark in his last 24 starts dating back to last season and boasts a minuscule 0.87 ERA on the year.
"He's capable of doing that every time," Cubs catcher David Ross said Thursday, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I think mentally he expects to do that."
Looks like the rest of us should start expecting it, too.
Honorable Mention: Clayton Kershaw (LAD): 15 IP, 3 ER, 1 BB, 16 SO
Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
It wasn't a banner week for designated hitters.
David Ortiz, who earned this spot on the first two Teams of the Week, leveled off, going without a home run for the first seven-day stretch of his farewell season.
So we'll hand this one to Victor Martinez, who went a modest 6-for-25 with two doubles but collected his 1,000th RBI among three driven in.
"No lie, I think it means a lot," Martinez said of the milestone, per George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. "Never thought I was going to make it first of all to the big leagues, and then to get to this point."
To those of you crying foul over our citing a career accomplishment when we said that didn't matter and not giving it to the more deserving honorable mention, Edwin Encarnacion: Baseball, like life, is full of contradictions.
Honorable Mention: Edwin Encarnacion (TOR): 10-for-29, 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI
All statistics current as of April 21 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.