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: .311/.457/.602, 10 HR, 29 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: Youk has been one of the best hitters in the American League the past couple of years, finishing in the top six of the MVP voting in both seasons and establishing himself as the Red Sox's cleanup hitter and most reliable slugger. (Last year, he outslugged Jason Bay(notes), J.D. Drew(notes) and David Ortiz(notes).) This year, he's been even better, leading the major leagues in walks and runs scored, and is on pace to crack the 30-homer threshhold for the first time in his career.
You're my boy, Blue!: Bad news for Boston haters: the man is legit. His BABIP this year (.325) is actually lower than his career mark (.334), and his line-drive rate is likewise lower than his career norm. The main change is that he's striking out less and walking more than usual. It's slightly surprising to see a hitter continuing to add power into his early 30s, but he got a late start — though he was already a polished minor league hitter and major league part-timer, his first full season didn't come until he was 27. And it's not too surprising to see him continuing to refine his strike zone judgment, which has always been his calling card. The remarkable thing has been to watch him improve even while the Red Sox lineup around him has become less powerful. He's its best hitter right now, and it isn't even close.
Think KFC will still be open?: Yes. The home runs may decrease slightly, but even if he finishes with his usual 25-30, he'll continue to be a tremendously valuable hitter with his walks and doubles. And if his doubles keep going over the fence, he'll be the new David Ortiz — the Red Sox's last burly first baseman who added power in his early 30s.
What other players are currently streaking?
Josh Johnson(notes), Florida Marlins 5-1, 2.43 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 3.15 K/BB
You may not have realized it — he didn't get a single Cy Young vote because of the outrageously strong seasons of Tim Lincecum(notes), Adam Wainwright(notes) and Chris Carpenter(notes) — but this guy was one of the best pitchers in the NL last year. He's been even better this year. More strikeouts, though also more walks, and a possibly unsustainably low homer and hit rate. Still, the man's been murder, and he's working on a 17-inning scoreless streak. National League, you're on notice.
Mike Sweeney(notes), Seattle Mariners .309/.377/.603, 6 HR, 16 RBI
When he's not threatening to fight other teammates or offering to take a bullet for Ken Griffey, Mike Sweeney has been ripping the cover off the ball this year. He's slugging .603 — 40 points above his career high, one he set back in 2002, after signing an ill-fated five-year/$55 million extension. The man hasn't played 80 games or had 300 at-bats since 2005, but he's quietly been the Mariners' best hitter, not to mention the only power source in their lineup. He's leading the team in home runs, despite less than half of second-place slugger Franklin Gutierrez's(notes) plate appearances. It's been nice to see the erstwhile Royal finally regain some of his authority at the plate.
Jaime Garcia(notes), St. Louis Cardinals 4-2, 1.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Perhaps the best NL rookie in the non-Heyward category, the sinkerballing Garcia has been just devastating for the Cardinals, leading a rotation with four pitchers — Wainwright, Carpenter, the ghost of Brad Penny(notes) and Garcia himself — with ERAs all under 3.30. But how is he doing it? His K/BB is a not-great 1.88, his BABIP is an unsustainable .248, and his homer rate is a reaaaally unsustainable 0.16 HR per nine innings. So he's gonna start getting hit a lot harder soon. But he's having a brilliant season nonetheless. And what's cooler than having an ERA exactly equal to your WHIP?