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: 8-3, 3.74 ERA, 1.259 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: Beckett had a really rough patch in a three-start stretch from April 25-May 5, when he gave up 30 hits, 18 runs, and four homers in 15 2/3 innings, but he's pitched quite effectively the rest of the way, with a 2.38 ERA in his 11 other starts. The capper came last week in Atlanta, where he needed only 94 pitches to throw a five-hit shutout, his first in a Boston uniform.
You're my boy, Blue!: Beckett has always been known as a good pitcher, albeit prone to inconsistency and an occasional injury (most recently, a DL trip last August). There has never been any question about his talent, just some doubt over whether he could ever harness it consistently. He hasn't exactly been consistent his year, especially considering the six-run shelling the Phillies dealt him on June 14, but with four scoreless efforts in his last six starts, he and his team probably won't mind the slipups as much.
Think KFC will still be open?: Consistency is key. "You don't want to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Beckett told WEEI's Rob Bradford. "I've been pretty good about that my whole career." His numbers are a little out of whack because of that horrible late April stretch, but his components are otherwise right around his career levels. He probably won't win the Cy Young, but he can sit comfortably atop a rotation that really needs him if the Red Sox are to stay comfortably atop the AL East.
What other players are hotter than hot right now?
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The Naked Truth: .373/.414/.589, 7 HR, 31 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: A year after coming over in the Delmon Young(notes) trade, Jason Bartlett — a formerly light-hitting shortstop with a career OPS under .700, before this year — has somehow transformed himself into one of the best hitters in baseball. Thanks to a DL stint, he's still 16 PA shy of qualifying for the batting title, but if he were qualified he'd have the highest average in the majors this side of Joe Mauer(notes) (who also isn't yet qualified). Since returning, he's picked up where he left off. In six games since coming off the DL, he's batting .375/.385/.542.
You're my boy, Blue!: Bartlett's a wonderful story, but it won't continue. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is .403, 79 points above his career average, and while his walks and strikeouts are more or less normal (not much of either) his home run-to-fly ball ratio is literally 13 times higher than it was last year. Something's gotta give, and his numbers will suffer painfully for it. He may not go back to being a sub-.700 OPS hitter, but he'll certainly go back to being a sub-.900 OPS hitter.
Think KFC will still be open?: For now, Bartlett knows he's living a charmed life, telling MLB.com, "Just let me do my thing and keep it under the radar... it could leave you any day." Too late, I'm afraid. With 40 percent of the season over, he's been a bright spot on a largely disappointing Rays team, so he's very much on the radar.
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The Naked Truth: 7-3, 2.74 ERA, 1.210 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: At age 23, King Felix is in his fifth major league season. He faced impossible expectations as a prospect, with an upper-90s fastball and tremendous curve, and he disappointed some when his first few seasons turned out to be merely very good. This year, he seems to have taken a leap forward, as he's among the AL's leaders in strikeouts and ERA.
You're my boy, Blue!: As with Josh Beckett, it's actually been a feast-or-famine season for Felix, who has given up five runs on four occasions and has shut out the other team five times. In his last six starts, he has an ERA of 1.00 through 45 innings, with 42 K and 13 BB. This is why they call him the King. Why the inconsistency, then? He does have an occasional tendency toward the gopherball, and will occasionally let the other team bunch hits together. He has an unusually high career BABIP (.313). He's getting more swings and misses this year than ever before, but when he's slightly off his game, he's around the plate and will let some crooked numbers go up.
Think KFC will still be open?: He has gone at least 7 innings in six of his last eight starts, suggesting that he may be getting stronger as the year goes on. The Mariners have always tried to be cautious with his innings, so they may also be trying to take him off the leash. Felix had to grow up on a big stage when the Mariners promoted him to the bigs as a teen, and he's taking the responsibility of his talent seriously. "Learning to control my emotions — that's the biggest thing," he told Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post. "Now I control the [strike] zone." Yes, he does. The scariest thing is that he might be capable of being even better.
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Who else is streaking through the quad?
Prince Fielder(notes), Milwaukee Brewers Prince snapped a six-game hitting streak Sunday night, but he's still batting .370 with a 1.158 OPS and 12 RBI in his last seven games, at the grand age of 24. With Rickie Weeks(notes) gone for the year and Bill Hall(notes) and J.J. Hardy(notes) slumping badly, Fielder and Ryan Bran are pretty much responsible for the entire Brewers offense.
Albert Pujols(notes), St. Louis Cardinals He was just named NL Player of the Week for the second time this season, which is kind of silly when you think about it. When is he not the player of the week? He's the best hitter in the world. He got the award last week after putting up four homers and 11 RBI. But come on. Who else would you give it to?
Pablo Sandoval(notes), San Francisco Giants The Ben Zobrist(notes) of the NL, Sandoval has already started at 3B, 1B, C, and DH, and he's by far the Giants' best hitter, with a .926 OPS — 13th in the NL. His BABIP is crazily high, and he doesn't quite walk enough for comfort, but he had a monster season in the minors last year, so even if he comes back to earth a bit, he's got a very good chance of having a very good career. He's looking a lot like the real deal.