Graduation papers for Lucas Giolito

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Props to everyone who was early to the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9640/" data-ylk="slk:Lucas Giolito">Lucas Giolito</a> breakout (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Props to everyone who was early to the Lucas Giolito breakout (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

School is just about out for summer. Gowns are ordered, caps are thrown, speeches are given. Parchment is handed out.

Add Lucas Giolito to all this pomp and circumstance. It looks like Chicago’s young right-hander has graduated, too, smashing the league in his age-24 season.

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Giolito already had a good case for a breakout story, but the finishing touches were applied during a brilliant Thursday shutout at Houston (4 H, 1 BB, 9 K). When anyone completes a game in 2019, let alone throws a shutout, you want to start hugging strangers. To see someone do it against one of the American League’s deepest lineups is stunning.

Giolito’s seasonal numbers are strong (2.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), but the story really kicks into gear this month. Giolito has won his last four turns, and his monthly logs add up to dominance: 33.1 IP, 21 H, 5 R, 9 BB, 36 K. That’s a 1.35 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. No wonder the guy was a consensus Top 10 prospect back in 2015 and 2016; at one point, Giolito was the top pitching prospect in baseball.

The usual paths to improvement are driving the story. Giolito’s slider has become a knockout pitch against right-handers (the league is batting .067 against it), while an improved change is helping him handle lefties. He’s throwing more strikes and more early strikes, he’s getting into more two-strike counts, and he’s getting more chases.

The ERA estimators have difference of opinion on where the story is headed. Giolito’s FIP is almost identical to his ERA, but his SIERA is 3.82 and xFIP suggests 3.77. I’m not a fan of using a standard HR/FB rate — you’ll never get near stars and outliers if you embrace that stat — but we can at least accept that Giolito’s 6.3 HR/FB is likely to go up.

Nonetheless, I’m not throwing cold water on the story. Giolito has earned Circle of Trust privileges. I had him as a $10 arm in the preliminary Shuffle Up, but a Houston shutout deserves a new view of things. Perhaps he’ll chase into the teens, and become the established arm — and maybe even the star — that was expected all along. His next two starts (Kansas City, Cleveland) are appointment viewing.

Just another Harvey Day

The way Matt Harvey is pitching these days, you wonder how he’s not on the Orioles. The nasty Minnesota offense ate Harvey’s lunch Thursday, pushing the righty’s ERA to 7.50. Four homers, eight more runs, rockets left and right.

This is where we apply Coughlin’s Law — anything else is something better. But, remarkably, the Angels say they’re not taking Harvey from the rotation. Tuesday’s start at Oakland could be another softball game.

To be fair, the Minnesota wrecking crew deserves much of the credit. This monster mash can make anyone look bad. The Twins pounded out eight homers and 17 hits en route to their 16 runs. Minnesota leads the majors in runs, homers, slugging percentage and OPS. It’s second in average, sixth in OBP. It’s a deep lineup that never lets up.

And it’s not like everything has fallen Minnesota’s way. Nelson Cruz and catcher breakout Mitch Garver are hurt. Miguel Sano is just getting back into the swing of things. Marwin Gonzalez has an ugly .245/.317/.377 line.

But the Twins quickly shifted from “AL Central sleeper” to “AL Central bully.” At 33-16, Minnesota has the best record in baseball. It’s tied with Houston for the best run differential. This is a club with no obvious weaknesses (though the bullpen has merely been average). The starting staff is deep, with a horse up front, and the defense is strong, too.

Go ahead, start feeling Minnesota. This is likely to be a full-year story.

Mariners looking shipwrecked now

Not all quick starts have staying power. Seattle’s 13-2 binge to open the year has quickly turned into an irrelevant piece of trivia.

The Mariners are 13-27 since, collapsing in just about every way imaginable. They’re carrying the fourth-worst ERA, and they have the worst defense in baseball (by far). The Seattle offense that was so good in April has been slightly below average in May. (Dan Vogelbach, it’s time for some adjustments.)

Yuseki Kikuchi has been about as good as advertised, and I’m still a Marco Gonzalez fan, despite his soft-tossing approach. But let’s attack the rest of this pitching staff. Wade LeBlanc, Mike Leake, and Tom Milone are never far from a crooked number.

I doubt this will be popular, but maybe Hunter Strickland could be worth a DL stash. The Mariners haven’t found a closer over the last two months, and Strickland is closing in on a rehab assignment. The save chase does funny things to us all.

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