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: .328/.389/.485, 6 HR, 30 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: With a two-run double during Monday night's victory against the Yankees, Rolen extended his hitting streak to 23 games. Since June 8, he has a 1.017 OPS, but the skidding Jays are 10-14 in that period. He was overlooked on the All-Star team, but he probably shouldn't have been.
You're my boy, Blue!: Rolen can be an elite hitter when healthy, but that's been rare, since his major 2005 shoulder injury. From 2005-2008, he averaged 106 games a year, and slugged .446, after he had slugged .520 up to that point in his career. After multiple shoulder surgeries, it's not clear his power will ever return. But the dude can still hit.
Think KFC will still be open?: This season is sort of a throwback to the hitter he used to be before his injury. He's hit like this before, it's just been awhile. His Batting Average on Balls in Play is 40 points higher than his career average, which is a red flag, but it's not out of line with his current 26 percent line drive percentage. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is one of the best of his career, which means he's controlling the strike zone, and that's a good sign. His mechanics have also changed: "Mentally, I decided that my hands had to go down or I was going to be injured," he told Toronto's National Post. "So the big change was mental — that I was not going to hit with my hands up anymore. That's a big deal."
What other players are currently streaking?
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The Naked Truth: .221/.314/.391
Having a nice little Saturday: His numbers on the year aren't exactly gaudy, but considering where he was on May 31 — .185 BA, .570 SLG, one homer — his present tally looks practically Lazarus-like. He's batting .290/.374/.591 with eight homers and 20 RBI over his last 29 games, which is the Papi that Boston fans are used to. It looks like his confidence in himself — not to mention the angelic patience of Terry Francona and the Boston faithful — are starting to pay off.
You're my boy, Blue!: Something's definitely been happening in the past month, but whatever it is, he's not getting lucky on balls in play — his BABIP is .297, slightly below his career average. (That's way above his BABIP from April and May, .241.) He's cut his strikeouts and upped his walks a bit, which is a good sign. But the major difference is his suddenly booming homer rate and his vastly improved hit rate.
Think KFC will still be open?: ESPN's Tristan Cockcroft is convinced: "I believe he's a lot closer in true value to his June numbers than to his April/May numbers." Meanwhile, Ortiz maintains that he knew what was going on all along: "Like I told you guys at the beginning, it's all about timing." He certainly picked a good time to rediscover his timing.
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The Naked Truth: 4-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.250 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: Isn't it nice when phenoms live up to the hype? Atlanta's Hanson, the best pitching prospect in the game not named David Price(notes), has established his major league credentials in a major way, racking up 26 straight scoreless innings from his second through sixth career starts. For his troubles, he was named the National League Rookie of the Month in June.
You're my boy, Blue!: He's been "effectively wild" — he's only had more strikeouts than walks twice in six starts — but he's awfully hard to hit. He's given up four or fewer hits in four straight starts. If you keep the ducks off the pond, it's awfully hard to get hurt. But he's been getting lucky — his BABIP is an unsustainable .219, his 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings is perplexingly low and his 23/18 K/BB is just asking for trouble. His mid-90s fastball and plus curveball are good enough pitches to get anybody out, so it's not clear why he's getting so few swings and misses.
Think KFC will still be open?: If he can't strike more people out and give fewer free passes, he's going to get into trouble, and to his credit, he knows it: "The walks are something I've never really experienced before," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I know what I'm doing wrong, and I've just got to correct it and slow myself down. I'm making it harder on myself." Not every top prospect has the humility to realize he's not yet a finished product. That may be just as impressive as his fastball.
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What other rookies are hotter than hot?
Nolan Reimold(notes), Baltimore Orioles: The AL Rookie of the Month for June, Reimold is quietly having a fine season in left field for the Baltimore Orioles, and along with Adam Jones(notes) and Nick Markakis(notes) is contributing to one of the best offensive outfields in all of baseball. He never played a day in the majors before May 14, but he's making the most of it now. Felix Pie's(notes) time in a Baltimore uniform may be running out.
Ronald Belisario(notes), Los Angeles Dodgers: A spare part discarded by the hapless Pirates, Ronald Belisario has become the single most-used reliever by Joe Torre, a manager famous for finding one setup guy and running him out whenever possible. And Belisario has delivered on the field, with a 2.42 ERA in 48 1/3 innings. But there isn't much chance this ends well. He didn't pitch more than 60 innings in either of the last two seasons, and he missed all of 2005 and 2006 with Tommy John surgery. The Dodger bullpen has been a strength all year, but if he goes down — as he surely will, if he keeps pitching in every other game — they'll have a major hole to fill.
Ricky Romero(notes), Toronto Blue Jays: In a year where nearly every Jays pitcher of note has spent time on the DL, Ricky Romero has been a godsend. In his last six starts, he has a 1.91 ERA, and he's gone at least seven innings in five of them. He never pitched this well in the minors, but he's striking people out, getting swings and misses, not walking too many people, and not getting too lucky on balls in play. That's a recipe for success and the Jays need it.