Big League Stew goes through the quad and into the gymnasium to look at some of the hottest players in baseball and their chances of keeping it going.
The Naked Truth: .299/.350/.581, 23 HR, 69 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: No wonder Casey Kotchman(notes) has been traded at the deadline in each of the past two years. Kendry, the reigning AL player of the week, has put up homer numbers in the past month that Casey struggles to achieve all year — 10 HR, 28 RBI, and a 1.102 OPS in his last 25 games.
You're my boy, Blue!: As a Cuban defector, Morales was simply a monster in the minor leagues, never hitting below .300 or slugging below .480, but he never got a serious shot at a starting job before now because he was a righthanded first baseman blocked by the inferior Kotchman and then Mark Teixeira(notes). Morales is whaling on the ball right now, but he's not doing anything overly suspicious: He's walking a bit more than before and more of his fly balls are going for homers than before, but nothing outside the realm of expectation and a hitter's development. Likewise, his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is right around league average. He's killing the ball, and there's no reason to expect this isn't his true talent level.
Think KFC will still be open?: Yup. The other teams in the AL West aren't exactly known for their pitching, especially now that the surprising Jarrod Washburn(notes) has been traded out of the division. Though he's leading the team in slugging, he's only batting sixth, so he may not get quite the same number of RBI opportunities as No. 3 hitter Bobby Abreu(notes). However, he won't get pitched around as much either. He's the real deal, and this is his breakout season.
What other players are currently hotter than hot?
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Jarrod Washburn, Detroit Tigers
The Naked Truth: 8-6, 2.64 ERA, 1.068 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: He's 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA in his last 5 starts and Washburn was the third-best pitcher on the deadling trading block, behind current Phillie Cliff Lee(notes) and still-Jay Roy Halladay(notes). But while both Lee and Halladay are Cy Young laureates, everything about Washburn's season screams fluke. As usual, he isn't striking anyone out; the only thing he's doing differently is walking slightly fewer people, giving up fewer homers, and getting by on a BABIP 30 points below his career average. His ERA is nearly a run and a half lower than his career ERA of 4.02, and half a run lower than his career year of 2002: something tells me that he's not going to be able to sustain this success all year.
You're my boy, Blue!: I don't mean to rain on the man's parade — he really is having a lovely year — but, honestly, it just can't last. His line drive rate is well above league average; his swinging strike rate is well below average. He's an extreme fly ball pitcher, but his home run to fly ball rate is well below both his career average and the league average. He isn't missing bats, but nonetheless has mostly avoided major damage. That can't, and won't, last.
Think KFC will still be open?: No. As analyst John Sickels writes, "Washburn's ERA is a fluke... [Washburn] is (in my opinion) having his last hurrah as a good pitcher." The Tigers didn't give up a ton to get him, indicating that the Mariners didn't expect a blue-chip return despite the seemingly sterling results for the season thus far. Jarrod will be 35 in nine days, and no one could have expected he had a stretch of baseball like this in him. So, of course, anything can happen. But as unlikely as it was that the last 20 starts would be as stellar as they were, it's equally unlikely that he'll be a solid performer for the Tigers during the playoff stretch run.
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The Naked Truth: .296/.352/.498, 7 HR, 32 RBI, 9 SB, 1 CS (52 G)
Having a nice little Saturday: The Pirates traded All-Star Nate McLouth(notes) for scraps to clear the way for uberprospect McCutchen, who's been busy proving he belongs ever since. His 4-for-5, 3-homer, 6 RBI performance against the Nationals on Saturday was mighty convincing. Among center fielders with at least 200 PA, McCutchen is sixth in baseball in OPS, behind All-Star Carlos Beltran(notes), All-Star Torii Hunter(notes), All-Star Adam Jones(notes), All-Star Shane Victorino(notes) and should have been All-Star Matt Kemp(notes). That's pretty good company.
You're my boy, Blue!: McCutchen has been recognized as a five-tool top prospect for some time now, first arriving in AAA at the tender age of 20. After two successful months in the big leagues, thanks to the hard work of GM Neal Huntington — trading away Adam LaRoche(notes), Freddy Sanchez(notes), Jack Wilson(notes), Nyjer Morgan(notes), and Nate McLouth out of the starting lineup — McCutchen practically qualifies as an elder statesman.
Think KFC will still be open?: McCutchen's terrific success rate on stolen bases speaks to a good baseball IQ, and his K/BB isn't overly high for a player of his age and experience. He doesn't swing and miss often, and once he starts to see more pitches and take more walks he'll be even closer to his potential. He's already hitting for average, power, flashing speed and excellent defense. Pirates fans don't have a lot to root for. It's as much a statement of their failures as of his talents to say that he could be their best player since Barry Bonds(notes). But he easily could be.
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Who else is streaking right now?
Clayton Kershaw(notes), Los Angeles Dodgers He was the youngest player in the league last year and second-youngest this year, and despite a serious bout of wildness last night, Kershaw is already one of the best pitchers in baseball. He and Chad Billingsley(notes) form a 1-2 punch to rival division rivals Matt Cain(notes) and Tim Lincecum(notes).
Chris Carpenter(notes), St. Louis Cardinals When we checked in on Carpenter two months ago, he was unbeaten in six starts, though they'd been interrupted by an injury to his oblique. Since then he's been nearly as untouchable, 10-3 with a 2.10 ERA, best in the bigs. There's a case to be made for this guy as best pitcher in the league.
Mark Reynolds(notes), Arizona Diamondbacks He strikes out at rates almost impossible to fathom, but he's one of the best sluggers in the league, with the second-most homers in baseball behind only Albert Pujols(notes). He has seven in his last seven games. The guy's a beast.