El Home Run Derby

El segunda base de los Yankees, Robinson Canó, se llevó los honores.

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger Unanimously Win Rookie of the Year Awards

No surprise here: The American League and National League Rookie of the Year Awards went to sluggers Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger.

Both players were unanimous choices, landing on the top of all 30 ballots.

Only three previous times have both leagues’ Rookie of the Year been awarded unanimously: Benito Santiago and Mark McGwire in 1987, Mike Piazza and Tim Salmon in 1993 and Scott Rolen and Nomar Garciaparra in 1997.

Judge, 25, is also a finalist for the AL MVP (which will be announced Thursday) after leading the AL in home runs with 52. He also had the most runs scored (128) and walks drawn (127) in the AL, while striking out a major-league high 208 times. The 52 homers broke Mark McGwire’s 1987 mark (49) for dingers by a rookie.

Unlike Judge, Bellinger didn’t start the season in the majors. But once he was called up on April 25, Bellinger proved to be one of the best hitters in the NL. He hit .267 with 39 homers, 97 RBIs and .933 OPS.

In a fun coincidence, Judge and Bellinger squared off in the Home Run Derby in July, with Judge eliminating Bellinger in the semi-finals en route to becoming the first rookie to ever win the competition.

Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini were the other finalists in the AL. Bellinger beat out Pirates first baseman Josh Bell and Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong.

Cody Bellinger's Best Moments From His Rookie of the Year-Winning Season

In what will pass as shocking news if you didn't watch any baseball this season, Cody Bellinger is your National League Rookie of the Year. Such can be expected when you hit 39 home runs and post a .267/.352/.581 line as a 22-year-old and also help your team win its division and its first pennant since 1989 as part of a terrific World Series run. Fun fact: It took Cody just 43 games to pass his dad Clay in career home runs. In your face, dad!

Given that Bellinger is just 22 years old and that the Dodgers are a factory of success, expect to see a whole lot more of him and his whip-like swing over the next decade or so. But before we look ahead to 2018 and all the rest of those seasons, let's look back on Bellinger's 2017 campaign, when he came out of the minors as a fully-formed dinger god and clubbed some real good homers (and also hit for the cycle, because why not).

Bellinger's first career home run (and his second, from the same game):

Bellinger takes Andrew Miller (!) deep:

Bellinger homers twice in the first two innings against the Mets:

Bellinger goes deep for the 10th time in 10 games (please note Kiké Hernandez's reaction):

Bellinger clobbers a 446-foot homer in the Home Run Derby:

Bellinger hits for the cycle against the Marlins:

Bellinger breaks the Dodgers' franchise record for single-season homers by a rookie:

Bellinger does it all in NLDS Game 3 against the Diamondbacks:

Bellinger's game-winning double in Game 4 of the World Series:

Kudos on the big year, Cody. It should be fun to see what next year holds.

Aaron Judge's Best Moments From His Rookie of the Year-Winning Season

Aaron Judge, the beefy man-tree who plays rightfield for the Yankees, is your American League Rookie of the Year for 2017. If this is a surprise to you, it's probably because you went into a coma in late March and didn't come out of it until just now. Judge wasn't just the best freshman in this year's AL crop; he was arguably the league's best player overall (a debate that will be settled on Thursday when the BBWAA announces its AL MVP from a group of Judge, Jose Altuve and Jose Ramirez).

It was a season beyond belief for Judge, who cranked 52 home runs to go with an absurd .284/.422/.627 line, including an AL-high 127 walks (and an MLB-high 208 strikeouts), and was an integral part of a Yankees team that was supposed to be amid a rebuilding phase but instead won 91 games and came within a game of winning the pennant against the eventual World Series champion Astros. It's nice when things finally go New York's way.

There will likely be far more to come from Judge as his career continues, but let's take this moment to look back on the best moments from the giant metallic demi-god who came down from Mount Olympus and launched baseballs all over these United States (and Toronto). And by "best moments," I mean all the jaw-dropping bombs he blasted. This post is best read while listening to something loud and bombastic—maybe "Immigrant Song," or "The 1812 Overture." Enjoy!

Judge goes very deep in Seattle:

Judge crushes a third-deck homer against the Mets:

Judge goes 495 feet against the Orioles:

Judge's four 500-foot Home Run Derby homers:

Judge reaches the flagpoles in Yankee Stadium's leftfield with a 448-foot homer against the White Sox:

Judge makes a tumbling catch at Fenway (on his birthday, no less):

Judge breaks Mark McGwire's single-season rookie home run record with his 50th of the year:

Judge rips a line-drive homer in the AL wild-card game against the Twins:

Judge robs Francisco Lindor of a homer in ALDS Game 3 and owns Zack Hample in the process:

Judge makes a wall-crashing catch in the ALCS:

So there you have it: the year in Judge. Tune back next year for more of the same, most likely.

Roy Halliday

Roy Halladay #32 of the Toronto Blue Jays sits with this kids before the State Farm Home Run Derby at the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York on July 14, 2008. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Juiced baseballs? Another World Series HR derby raises more questions

After the home run derby took over the World Series again, it's tough to deny that something is different about the baseballs.  

Extreme heat may have led to record number of home runs in Game 2 of the World Series

Record heat may partly be to blame for the bizarre, historic, and exciting second game of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros on Wednesday night. 

A record-setting 8 home runs were hit during the course of 11 innings of play. Games with higher temperatures tend to, but don't always result in, a greater number of home runs, since higher temperatures allow balls to fly a bit farther than they would in colder, denser air. 

Game Two, which the Astros eventually won, had a starting temperature of 93 degrees Fahrenheit, making it one of the hottest postseason games in the history of the sport. A brush fire was burning within sight of Dodgers stadium, a testament to the extremely hot, dry, and windy conditions at game time.

Some of the homers would've been hit out of the park no matter what the temperature was. However, others, particularly the tying home run by the Astro's Marwin Gonzalez in the 9th inning, might have fallen short of the wall on a cooler day. 

Houston Astros' George Springer celebrates after hitting a two-run home run.

Houston Astros' George Springer celebrates after hitting a two-run home run.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

The first two games of the 2017 World Series took place during an unusual late season heat wave and wildfire outbreak in California. 

In fact, Game One set an all-time high temperature milestone, with a first pitch temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. This didn't just break the previous record for the hottest postseason game — it shattered it. The previous hottest postseason game had a temperature of 94 degrees at first pitch, and it took place in Phoenix in 2001, according to meteorologist Alex Lamers

On Tuesday, high temperatures reached a record-setting 108 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of southern California, which wasn't just a record for that region: It was also likely the hottest temperature ever observed in the U.S. this late in the year. 

Meteorologists and baseball fans have long known that, all things being equal, hot weather is associated with higher scoring games. Extreme heat can help make the difference between a line drive and a shallow home run, since higher temperatures allow balls to travel slightly farther. Cold temperatures, on the other hand, can slightly inhibit home runs. Statistics from games during 2017 show this temperature effect. 

MARWIN IN THE 9TH! TIE GAME.

Wow. https://t.co/A4HwUOHNZo

— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 26, 2017

According to mlb.com, major league teams tend to hit better and score more runs during hotter games. "Just 3.1 percent of at-bats ended in a home run at the coldest temperatures; 4.4 percent did at the warmest," wrote MLB columnist Mike Petriello on Oct. 24, comparing games that took place across a range of temperatures.

Given the increased likelihood of more severe and long-lasting heat waves around the world, stemming from human-caused global warming, we might need to get used to games like Wednesday night's. 

The World Series now goes to Houston, where temperatures are cooler, and a domed stadium means the climate will be more controlled. In other words, don't expect another topsy turvy home run derby of a game to occur.

Then again, with these two teams, you never know... 

Extreme heat may have led to record number of home runs in Game 2 of the World Series

Record heat may partly be to blame for the bizarre, historic, and exciting second game of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros on Wednesday night. 

A record-setting 8 home runs were hit during the course of 11 innings of play. Games with higher temperatures tend to, but don't always result in, a greater number of home runs, since higher temperatures allow balls to fly a bit farther than they would in colder, denser air. 

Game Two, which the Astros eventually won, had a starting temperature of 93 degrees Fahrenheit, making it one of the hottest postseason games in the history of the sport. A brush fire was burning within sight of Dodgers stadium, a testament to the extremely hot, dry, and windy conditions at game time.

Some of the homers would've been hit out of the park no matter what the temperature was. However, others, particularly the tying home run by the Astro's Marwin Gonzalez in the 9th inning, might have fallen short of the wall on a cooler day. 

Houston Astros' George Springer celebrates after hitting a two-run home run.

Houston Astros' George Springer celebrates after hitting a two-run home run.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

The first two games of the 2017 World Series took place during an unusual late season heat wave and wildfire outbreak in California. 

In fact, Game One set an all-time high temperature milestone, with a first pitch temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. This didn't just break the previous record for the hottest postseason game — it shattered it. The previous hottest postseason game had a temperature of 94 degrees at first pitch, and it took place in Phoenix in 2001, according to meteorologist Alex Lamers

On Tuesday, high temperatures reached a record-setting 108 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of southern California, which wasn't just a record for that region: It was also likely the hottest temperature ever observed in the U.S. this late in the year. 

Meteorologists and baseball fans have long known that, all things being equal, hot weather is associated with higher scoring games. Extreme heat can help make the difference between a line drive and a shallow home run, since higher temperatures allow balls to travel slightly farther. Cold temperatures, on the other hand, can slightly inhibit home runs. Statistics from games during 2017 show this temperature effect. 

MARWIN IN THE 9TH! TIE GAME.

Wow. https://t.co/A4HwUOHNZo

— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 26, 2017

According to mlb.com, major league teams tend to hit better and score more runs during hotter games. "Just 3.1 percent of at-bats ended in a home run at the coldest temperatures; 4.4 percent did at the warmest," wrote MLB columnist Mike Petriello on Oct. 24, comparing games that took place across a range of temperatures.

Given the increased likelihood of more severe and long-lasting heat waves around the world, stemming from human-caused global warming, we might need to get used to games like Wednesday night's. 

The World Series now goes to Houston, where temperatures are cooler, and a domed stadium means the climate will be more controlled. In other words, don't expect another topsy turvy home run derby of a game to occur.

Then again, with these two teams, you never know... 

Extreme heat may have led to record number of home runs in Game 2 of the World Series

Record heat may partly be to blame for the bizarre, historic, and exciting second game of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros on Wednesday night. 

A record-setting 8 home runs were hit during the course of 11 innings of play. Games with higher temperatures tend to, but don't always result in, a greater number of home runs, since higher temperatures allow balls to fly a bit farther than they would in colder, denser air. 

Game Two, which the Astros eventually won, had a starting temperature of 93 degrees Fahrenheit, making it one of the hottest postseason games in the history of the sport. A brush fire was burning within sight of Dodgers stadium, a testament to the extremely hot, dry, and windy conditions at game time.

Some of the homers would've been hit out of the park no matter what the temperature was. However, others, particularly the tying home run by the Astro's Marwin Gonzalez in the 9th inning, might have fallen short of the wall on a cooler day. 

Houston Astros' George Springer celebrates after hitting a two-run home run.

Houston Astros' George Springer celebrates after hitting a two-run home run.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

The first two games of the 2017 World Series took place during an unusual late season heat wave and wildfire outbreak in California. 

In fact, Game One set an all-time high temperature milestone, with a first pitch temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. This didn't just break the previous record for the hottest postseason game — it shattered it. The previous hottest postseason game had a temperature of 94 degrees at first pitch, and it took place in Phoenix in 2001, according to meteorologist Alex Lamers

On Tuesday, high temperatures reached a record-setting 108 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of southern California, which wasn't just a record for that region: It was also likely the hottest temperature ever observed in the U.S. this late in the year. 

Meteorologists and baseball fans have long known that, all things being equal, hot weather is associated with higher scoring games. Extreme heat can help make the difference between a line drive and a shallow home run, since higher temperatures allow balls to travel slightly farther. Cold temperatures, on the other hand, can slightly inhibit home runs. Statistics from games during 2017 show this temperature effect. 

MARWIN IN THE 9TH! TIE GAME.

Wow. https://t.co/A4HwUOHNZo

— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 26, 2017

According to mlb.com, major league teams tend to hit better and score more runs during hotter games. "Just 3.1 percent of at-bats ended in a home run at the coldest temperatures; 4.4 percent did at the warmest," wrote MLB columnist Mike Petriello on Oct. 24, comparing games that took place across a range of temperatures.

Given the increased likelihood of more severe and long-lasting heat waves around the world, stemming from human-caused global warming, we might need to get used to games like Wednesday night's. 

The World Series now goes to Houston, where temperatures are cooler, and a domed stadium means the climate will be more controlled. In other words, don't expect another topsy turvy home run derby of a game to occur.

Then again, with these two teams, you never know... 

First Base: Cody Bellinger vs. Yulieski Gurriel

By now the story is familiar: the son of former Yankees utilityman Clay Bellinger, a fourth-round 2013 draft pick, wasn't expected to make more than a late-season contribution to the Dodgers in 2017, having barely grazed Triple A by late 2016. A slew of injuries led to an April 25 call-up, around 11 weeks before his 22nd birthday, and he wound up doing nothing less than setting an NL rookie record for homers, participating in the Home Run Derby and supplanting Adrian Gonzalez (who missed most of the season due to a herniated disc in his lower back) at first base. He's a lock to win NL Rookie of the Year honors.

With an uppercut swing that produced a higher fly ball rate than any Dodger besides Justin Turner, Bellinger has excellent bat speed and tremendous power, mostly to his pull side. He's a disciplined hitter who battles deep into counts, an approach that makes him vulnerable to strikeouts (his 26.6% ranked second among Dodger regulars), though his 11.1% walk rate is certainly respectable. He's plenty lethal against lefties (.271/.335/.568 with 12 homers in 173 PA), so don't expect him to be particularly targeted by situational matchups. An athleticism that would play in centerfield shows up all around his game; he's a decent baserunner who stole 10 bases in 13 attempts, and an above-average fielder at first base (+2 DRS in 93 games) who has made several outstanding plays during the postseason.

The overlooked piece in Houston’s homegrown infield, Gurriel—a superstar in his native Cuba who wasn’t able to leave the country until two years ago at the age of 31—is making up for lost time. After a so-so regular season, he’s exploded in the playoffs, hitting .366/.409/.512 in 44 plate appearances. A free-swinger of the highest order, Gurriel walked only 22 times in 564 trips to the plate in 2017, but his contact-oriented approach and natural power have made him an invaluable part of the middle of Houston’s order. Defensively, he’s just about average, but the Astros will take that given his hot bat.

Edge: Dodgers

First Base: Cody Bellinger vs. Yulieski Gurriel

By now the story is familiar: the son of former Yankees utilityman Clay Bellinger, a fourth-round 2013 draft pick, wasn't expected to make more than a late-season contribution to the Dodgers in 2017, having barely grazed Triple A by late 2016. A slew of injuries led to an April 25 call-up, around 11 weeks before his 22nd birthday, and he wound up doing nothing less than setting an NL rookie record with 39 homers, participating in the Home Run Derby and supplanting Adrian Gonzalez (who missed most of the season due to a herniated disc in his lower back) at first base. He's a lock to win NL Rookie of the Year honors.

With an uppercut swing that produced a higher fly ball rate than any Dodger besides Justin Turner, Bellinger has excellent bat speed and tremendous power, mostly to his pull side. He's a disciplined hitter who battles deep into counts, an approach that makes him vulnerable to strikeouts (his 26.6% ranked second among Dodger regulars), though his 11.1% walk rate is certainly respectable. He's plenty lethal against lefties (.271/.335/.568 with 12 homers in 173 PA), so don't expect him to be particularly targeted by situational matchups. An athleticism that would play in centerfield shows up all around his game; he's a decent baserunner who stole 10 bases in 13 attempts, and an above-average fielder at first base (+2 DRS in 93 games) who has made several outstanding plays during the postseason.

The overlooked piece in Houston’s homegrown infield, Gurriel—a superstar in his native Cuba who wasn’t able to leave the country until two years ago at the age of 31—is making up for lost time. After a so-so regular season, he’s exploded in the playoffs, hitting .366/.409/.512 in 44 plate appearances. A free-swinger of the highest order, Gurriel walked only 22 times in 564 trips to the plate in 2017, but his contact-oriented approach and natural power have made him an invaluable part of the middle of Houston’s order. Defensively, he’s just about average, but the Astros will take that given his hot bat.

Edge: Dodgers

Gary Sanchez Adds Another Dimension to Yankees' Postseason Power

NEW YORK — Beer cups rained down from the grandstand level. Popcorn flew toward the heavens. The Yankees’ baby faced assassin had returned, and his re-emergence was given a proper celebration.

For some of the season, at least, Gary Sanchez was the Yankees’ best hitter. He played in just 122 games, missing time due to a biceps strain, but still managed to slug 33 home runs. Twelve of them came in August, when the Yankees’ offense was trying to survive Aaron Judge’s miserable slump. Even for part of June, when Judge established himself as one of the league’s most formidable hitters, Sanchez somehow burned even hotter.

For some of the postseason, though, he’d been the worst Yankee at the plate, entering Game 4 of the ALCS hitless in his last 18 at-bats. On Monday night, he watched as Judge finally broke through off Astros pitching. On Tuesday, it was his turn.

Sanchez awakened his slumbering bat in the Yankees’ 6–4 win on Tuesday night, driving in three with hard-hit balls to right in consecutive innings. The first, a liner into the glove of Josh Reddick, brought Didi Gregorius home from third to cut Houston’s lead to two in the seventh. The second, a two-run double hammered into the gap at 113 mph, put the Yankees ahead for two. In a postseason where the Yankees’ youngest have shone bright, Sanchez finally had his moment.

“Emotions are raw,” Sanchez said through his translator. “You’re standing on second base and can’t even control them.”

On most other teams, Sanchez would be the main attraction. He blends his massive power with steady contact at the plate, something that’s becoming increasingly rare in an age where strikeouts are accepted as a product of gaudy home run numbers. Yet in New York, a 6’7” shadow was cast over his brightest moments.

When he hit nine homers in June, Judge hit 10. When he made waves around the league by slugging 12 in August, Judge hit 15 in September. Even when he knocked Giancarlo Stanton out of the Home Run Derby with 17 homers, Judge hit 23. For most of the season, Sanchez’s production has come rather quietly, but he made a big splash on Tuesday.

Sanchez’s arrival to the ALCS only makes this Yankees lineup—one that scored eight in a Game 3 win—even scarier to the Astros, who are suddenly slipping. For the most part, Judge and Sanchez haven’t had hot streaks at the plate at the same time. The only period of the season which they did, in June, the Yankees scored a season-best 177 runs.

“It can only mean more exciting things to come,” Todd Frazier said of Sanchez’s night. “I’m pretty excited.”

Just as quickly as their bats abandoned the Yankees—Judge’s after a blistering hot September, and Sanchez’s after a solid start to October—they’ve returned. The Yankees were practically out of this series after six and a half innings on Tuesday. Now, with Sanchez in on the fun, they suddenly look like they may be the favorites against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5.

Gary Sanchez Adds Another Dimension to Yankees' Postseason Power

NEW YORK — Beer cups rained down from the grandstand level. Popcorn flew toward the heavens. The Yankees’ baby faced assassin had returned, and his re-emergence was given a proper celebration.

For some of the season, at least, Gary Sanchez was the Yankees’ best hitter. He played in just 122 games, missing time due to a biceps strain, but still managed to slug 33 home runs. Twelve of them came in August, when the Yankees’ offense was trying to survive Aaron Judge’s miserable slump. Even for part of June, when Judge established himself as one of the league’s most formidable hitters, Sanchez somehow burned even hotter.

For some of the postseason, though, he’d been the worst Yankee at the plate, entering Game 4 of the ALCS hitless in his last 18 at-bats. On Monday night, he watched as Judge finally broke through off Astros pitching. On Tuesday, it was his turn.

Sanchez awakened his slumbering bat in the Yankees’ 6–4 win on Tuesday night, driving in three with hard-hit balls to right in consecutive innings. The first, a liner into the glove of Josh Reddick, brought Didi Gregorius home from third to cut Houston’s lead to two in the seventh. The second, a two-run double hammered into the gap at 113 mph, put the Yankees ahead for two. In a postseason where the Yankees’ youngest have shone bright, Sanchez finally had his moment.

“Emotions are raw,” Sanchez said through his translator. “You’re standing on second base and can’t even control them.”

On most other teams, Sanchez would be the main attraction. He blends his massive power with steady contact at the plate, something that’s becoming increasingly rare in an age where strikeouts are accepted as a product of gaudy home run numbers. Yet in New York, a 6’7” shadow was cast over his brightest moments.

When he hit nine homers in June, Judge hit 10. When he made waves around the league by slugging 12 in August, Judge hit 15 in September. Even when he knocked Giancarlo Stanton out of the Home Run Derby with 17 homers, Judge hit 23. For most of the season, Sanchez’s production has come rather quietly, but he made a big splash on Tuesday.

Sanchez’s arrival to the ALCS only makes this Yankees lineup—one that scored eight in a Game 3 win—even scarier to the Astros, who are suddenly slipping. For the most part, Judge and Sanchez haven’t had hot streaks at the plate at the same time. The only period of the season which they did, in June, the Yankees scored a season-best 177 runs.

“It can only mean more exciting things to come,” Todd Frazier said of Sanchez’s night. “I’m pretty excited.”

Just as quickly as their bats abandoned the Yankees—Judge’s after a blistering hot September, and Sanchez’s after a solid start to October—they’ve returned. The Yankees were practically out of this series after six and a half innings on Tuesday. Now, with Sanchez in on the fun, they suddenly look like they may be the favorites against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5.

Cody Bellinger Lifts Dodgers to Third NLCS in Five Seasons

The Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks out of the Division Series with a 3-1 victory at Chase Field on Monday night. Deadline acquisition Yu Darvish gave the Dodgers just what they had hoped for when they acquired him from the Rangers on July 31, outdueling Zack Greinke, who battled to keep the Diamondbacks in the game despite having less than his best stuff.

The Dodgers will move onto the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row under manager Dave Roberts, and the third out of five overall. They’ll await the winner of the Cubs-Nationals series in their attempt to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988.

1. The Kid from Chandler

Through his first two postseason games, Cody Bellinger had shown very little of the form that produced an NL rookie record 39 homers and a .267/.352/.581 line. While the rest of his teammates went a combined 23-for-62 (.370), the 22-year-old slugger had gone just 1-for-10 with six strikeouts, though his lone hit came in the Dodgers’ four-run first inning in Game 1, and he reached on an error during a three-run fourth-inning rally that night as well. He played good defense in both games as well, but he’d yet to break out.

He did so on Monday night as the series shifted to Arizona—his home turf, as he grew up in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, the son of former Yankees utilityman Clay Bellinger, now a firefighter and his son’s Home Run Derby pitcher. The younger Bellinger put the Dodgers on the board in the first with an RBI groundout that brought in Chris Taylor, who’d ripped a 109 mph leadoff double off Greinke. With two outs in the fifth, Bellinger got ahead 3-0, took a borderline inside fastball, then launched a changeup that caught too much of the plate for a 416-foot drive to left centerfield, extending the Dodgers’ lead to 2-0.

Bellinger’s homer was just the Dodgers’ second of the series, after Justin Turner’s three-run shot in Game 1. Within the next inning, both the DIamondbacks’ Daniel Descalso and the Dodges’ Austin Barnes also added solo homers, but Arizona still held a 7-3 edge in that department this series.

Bellinger flashed the leather on Monday night, too. After Descalso trimmed the lead to 2-1 via a solo homer off Darvish, who had been virtually unhittable to that point, the first baseman tumbled over the railing of the Dodgers' dugout to snag a foul ball off the bat of Jeff Mathis. Fortunately, he was able to brace his fall with a little help from his friends:

In the sixth, as Darvish departed after hitting pinch-hitter Christian Walker on the helmet, Bellinger made an excellent throw to avoid the runner on a 3-6-3 double play off the bat of David Peralta. He immediately followed that with a diving stop of a Ketel Marte smash, throwing to Brandon Morrow covering first base for the third out. In all, it was a big night on both sides of the ball for the kid in front of his hometown crowd.

2. Something about Yu

By the numbers, Darvish didn’t have a great season, going 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA (118 ERA+) and 3.83 FIP in 186 2/3 innings split between the Rangers and Dodgers, who acquired him in a July 31 deadline blockbuster. Still, he struck out 208 hitters, and largely stayed healthy. Over his last three starts, he was simply brilliant, whiffing 21 and allowing just two runs (one earned) in 19 ? innings—the payoff of a simplified approach and mechanical changes that the Dodgers worked with him to implement after acquiring him.

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The payoff continued on Monday night, as he was utterly dominant. While Greinke slogged through five-plus frames, Darvish whizzed through his. He needed just 30 pitches to get through three innings, including a seven-pitch third that give his opposite number, who grounded out in that stretch, almost no time to sit down. Until Descalso homered in the fifth, the Diamondbacks’ only baserunner came via a first-inning bunt single by Marte, and none of the 18 hitters he faced got to a three-ball count.

After a 20-pitch fifth, by far his most laborious inning of the night, Darvish’s pitch count was at 68 when Roberts let him bat with one out and a man on third in the top of the sixth, but after nearly hitting Walker once (a review confirmed the call that it was a foul ball), he did hit him on the very next pitch, which produced a scary moment. Between the two delays, Roberts must have decided that he’d gotten enough from his 31-year-old righty and turned things over to the bullpen.

In all, Darvish struck out seven and generated 15 swings and misses. Via Brooks Baseball, he threw six different types of pitches, but just one curve and one changeup. He dialed his four-seam fastball as high as 97.8 mph, averaging 95.2 and generating 11 strikes from among the 14 he threw, three of them swings and misses. He was also was tremendously efficient with his slider (27 pitches, 21 strikes, five swings and misses), and his cutter (21 pitches, 15 strikes, four swings and misses); the latter was a pitch the Dodgers encouraged him to emphasize.

After Darvish exited, Robert used Tony Cingrani (two outs), Brandon Morrow (four outs), Kenta Maeda and Jansen (three outs apiece) to finish off the Diamondbacks, and for the first time in the series, the Dodgers’ bullpen didn’t allow a run. Peralta’s one-out ninth-inning single off Jansen was the only baserunner they allowed while striking out four. Fittingly, Jansen struck out Paul Goldschmidt, the Dodgers’ top nemesis, on a 95 mph cutter outside to end the game and the series.

For the series, the Dodgers bullpen allowed four runs (three earned) in 11 ? innings, with a 10/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Grinding Greinke

After a rough first season in Arizona in 2016, Greinke ranked among the NL’s top half-dozen hurlers in several key categories including ERA (3.20, sixth) and WAR (6.0, fourth), but he couldn’t get out of the fourth inning in the NL Wild Card Game. Even after four days of rest following his 58-pitch outing, the 33-year-old righty was anything but sharp in Game 3, though he did his best to keep the Diamondbacks in the game.

The trouble began when Taylor smoked that leadoff double into the leftfield corner on Greinke’s sixth pitch. Corey Seager followed with a seven pitch walk, and then Taylor advanced on via Justin Turner’s short fly ball and Bellinger’s grounder to first, with Paul Goldschmidt expecting to throw home but misstepping and missing first base on his first attempt. Greinke needed 29 pitches to complete the first inning thanks to a 10-pitch plate appearance by Yasiel Puig.

The 33-year-old righty burned another 25 pitches in the second inning, thanks in part to an eight-pitch walk by Chase Utley and a pesky six-pitch at-bat by Darvish, who struck out. Greinke loaded the bases in the third via a pair of walks and a Turner single. But despite walking five hitters and needing 88 pitches to get through the first four innings, he kept the score at 1-0.

Just when he put together his most impressive sequence of the night, getting Seager on a first-pitch flyball and Turner on a four-pitch strikeout to start the fifth, Greinke fell behind Bellinger 3-0, and then KABOOM.

After the Descalso homer cut the score to 2-1, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo was ready to pinch-hit for his ace in the fifth, but Bellinger’s play on Mathis left the pitcher in the leadoff position to start the sixth. On Greinke’s second pitch of the sixth, he served up an 89 mph fastball that Barnes lined 398 feet to leftfield, restoring their two-run lead.

That ended Greinke’s night at 104 pitches, of which just five were swings and misses. While the Arizona bullpen turned in four scoreless innings, 2 ? by setup man Archie Bradley, the damage had been done. Poor Fernando Rodney, the Diamondbacks closer, not only never got to fire a single arrow, he never even got to pitch in the series.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor

Back in early February, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system pegged the Dodgers to win an MLB-high 98 games thanks to their combination of star power and depth, but almost nobody predicted the stellar contributions from either Bellinger or Taylor, whose opportunities were created by injuries to Logan Forsythe, Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez. Taylor, acquired from the Mariners in June 2016 for former first-round pick Zach Lee, hit just .234/.289/.309 in 120 career games from 2014–16, and began the year in Triple A. When Logan Forsythe broke his toe in mid-April, the 27-year-old carved himself a spot in the lineup at second base, shifted to centerfield when Pederson went down with a concussion, filled in at shortstop when Corey Seager had elbow issues, and kept giving manager Dave Roberts a reason to keep writing his name in the lineup by hitting .288/.354/.496 with 21 homers, 17 steals and a 120 OPS+. His 4.8 WAR ranked third among Dodgers position players behind only Justin Turner and Seager.

Bellinger, the 22-year-old son of the former Yankees utilityman Clay Bellinger, ranked number 7 on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list this spring. After spending most of 2016 in Double A, he appeared ticketed for Triple A with perhaps a late-season callup, but in the wake of injuries to Andre Ethier and Andrew Toles in April, the kid (then still 21) was called up to play leftfield. He debuted on April 25, homered twice in his fifth game, twice again in his 10th game, and just kept bopping to the point that he earned a place in the Home Run Derby and set an NL record with 39 dingers while batting .267/.352/.581 for a 142 OPS+.

Aaron Judge Breaks Mark McGwire's Rookie Home Run Record In Historic First Season

In a year that has featured a record number of home runs, no player has symbolized the surge quite like Aaron Judge. Built like a super-sized version of Giancarlo Stanton, the 6' 7", 282-pound behemoth owns the longest (495 feet) and hardest-hit (121.1 mph) home runs of 2017 according to Statcast. As of Monday afternoon, he now owns the rookie record for home runs in a season as well as the AL lead. In an afternoon makeup game against the Royals at Yankee Stadium, the 25-year-old rightfielder mashed a pair of homers, giving him 50 for the season, one more than the A’s Mark McGwire in 1987.

As with Judge and this year’s MLB-record number of home runs, the 1987 season that served as a backdrop to McGwire was a longball-saturated one. The total of 4,458 smashed the record of 3,813 set the year before and the per-team, per game average of 1.06 was the only time before 1994 that teams broke the 1.0 mark. Big Mac obliterated the previous rookie record of 38 shared by the Reds' Frank Robinson (1956) and the Braves' Wally Berger (1938).

Judge, who homered in his first major league plate appearance last August 13 but hit just .179/.263/.345 in a 27-game cup of coffee, didn't hit his first homer of the 2017 season until April 9, the Yankees sixth game, but a 13-homer flurry over a 20-game span landed him on the cover of the May 15 issue of Sports Illustrated. He hit 30 homers prior to the All-Star break, putting him on pace for 57, and produced an AL-best 5.3 Wins Above Replacement, catapulting him into the conversation for MVP. What's more, he also won the Home Run Derby in Miami.

A second-half slump took the wind out of Judge's sails; he hit just .185/.353/.326 with three homers and 41 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances in August. Whether it was a flaw in his mechanics, a failure to adjust to the adjustments made by pitchers or a bothersome left shoulder, he was a shadow of his first-half self for several weeks, and the Yankees’ offense suffered because of it.

Since the calendar turned to September, it's been another story. Judge's home run on September 3 against the Red Sox, his 38th of the year, ended a season-high 15-game drought. He's hit 12 since then, including seven in his last six games, capped by back-to-back two-homer games against the Blue Jays on Sunday and the Royals on Monday. In Monday’s third inning, he tied McGwire's record with a 389-footer to right centerfield off Jakob Junis, and then in the seventh, he broke it via a 408-footer to left center off Trevor Cahill. For the month, he’s now hitting .307/.444/.893 with 13 homers and 26 RBIs.

The rookie home run leaderboard also features a new NL record-holder in the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger, who despite not debuting until April 25 has 39 homers; he surpassed Robinson and Berger on Friday night. Here's the new top 12:

The players with asterisks all won their league Rookie of the Year awards, which weren’t given out prior to 1947, hence no hardware for Berger, Trotsky or York. Both Judge and Bellinger are likely to join the ranks with Rookie of the Year awards of their own.

It’s no longer out of the question that Judge could win the MVP award, either. For the season, he's at .283/.418/.620, leading the league not only in homers but also runs (124), walks (120) and strikeouts (202). Entering Monday, he ranked second to Jose Altuve in both OPS+ (164 to 168) and WAR (7.3 to 8.2). At the very least, he's closed the gap on Altuve, though others such as Mike Trout and Corey Kluber could be in the picture as well.

Regardless of whether Judge wins MVP honors, he’s got the new record to top what’s already been a fantastic season. He’s a big reason the Yankees will be playing in the AL Wild Card game next week.

43-Year-Old Ichiro Suzuki Beat Giancarlo Stanton in a Home Run Derby

Giancarlo Stanton is a 6-foot-6, 249-pound muscle monster in the prime of his career. Ichiro Suzuki is a wiry 43-year-old who weighs 173 pounds. ...

Breaking Down the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Baseball's New Single-Season Home Run Record

A few years ago, the phrase “Too Many Homers” became a popular way to turn one’s nose up at a brand of winning baseball. Now, it’s become an even more common refrain. On Tuesday night, the Royals' Alex Gordon hit the 5,694th home run of the 2017 season, breaking a record that had stood since 2000. While the long ball has been one of the biggest stories in the game this year, it’s fair to say that neither chicks nor dudes dig it as much as they did a couple decades ago.

Sure, it’s still a thrill when a player mashes a dramatic homer at a key moment, but in some ways, baseball’s biggest bang has become banal. Here’s a closer look at the phenomenon through a variety of prisms highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly of this homer-happy season.

Off-the-charts rates

In 2017, teams are averaging 1.26 home runs per game, surpassing the 2000 season's 1.17 per game for the all time high. On a per-game basis, this year's rate represents a 9.1% increase over last year (1.16 per game), a 24.8% increase over 2015 (1.01 per game) and a 46.5% increase over 2014 (0.86 per game, the lowest it had been since 1992). By season's end, the 30 teams will combine to surpass 6,000 home runs for the first time.

The increased per-game rate is alarming enough, and it's more pronounced when one considers that for the 12th season in a row, we'll see a record number of strikeouts as well (over 40,000 for the first time). As a percentage of batted balls, the rate of home runs is increasing even faster than the per-game rate. This year, they count for 4.8% of all batted balls, up 10.1% from last year's record-setting level of 4.4%, up 27.3% from two years ago, and up 49.4% from 2014.

The Guillen Number

While home run rates are at an all-time high, scoring rates are not. This year' 4.66 runs per team per game is up 4.0% over last year (4.48 per game), 9.6% over two years ago (4.25 per game) and 14.5% over three years ago (4.07 per game). Even so, those 4.66 runs rank just 13th in the 25 seasons since 1993, when offense generally went on the rise thanks to a confluence of factors including expansion into high altitudes, juiced players and juiced baseballs.

One way of tracking the link between home runs and scoring is a Baseball Prospectus stat called the Guillen Number, which is the percentage of runs scored via homer. The name comes from BP alum and SI contributor Joe Sheehan, who noticed that the successful White Sox teams managed by Ozzie Guillen were actually much more reliant upon homers than their manager's smallball tendencies would have one believe.

Together, the 30 teams have combined to score 42.3% of their runs via homers this year, breaking last year's record (40.2%), which in turn broke that of the year before (37.3%). The Blue Jays' MLB-leading rate of 50.5% of runs scored is the fourth-highest since 1950, which is as far back as BP's data goes; only the 2010 Blue Jays (53.1%) and the 2016 Orioles and Yankees (51.9% and 51.1%, respectively), were higher. This year has produced six of the top 20 Guillen Number seasons since 1950 (the A's, with 48.8%, are fifth in that span), and last year produced four. Only one of the top 20 seasons happened prior to 2005, via the 1956 Reds (47.1%), who featured a rookie Frank Robinson, more on whom momentarily.

Stanton's 56

His pace has slowed over the past two weeks, but Giancarlo Stanton has finally tapped into his full potential as a slugger. His 56 homers isn't just a personal and franchise-best, it's the highest total in the majors since Ryan Howard's 58 in 2006. Going yard with a frequency that made one wonder if he’d unlocked the cheat codes to a video game, Stanton homered 42 times in a 90-game span from May 26 through September 4, and 32 in a 54-game span from July 5 through September 4. His 18 in August tied Tigers slugger Rudy York's 1937 record for the month, though he fell short of Sammy Sosa's 20-homer June 1998, the record for any month. Where a total of at least 60 appeared to be likely as September dawned—igniting debate over the legitimacy of Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73, set in 2001—Stanton has been pitched around to a much greater degree this month than any other, and had just two homers in 13 games (11 starts) from September 5–19 before connecting for number 56 on Wednesday afternoon.

Rookie records threatened

While Stanton leads the NL in homers, Yankees rookie Aaron Judge leads the AL with 45. The brawny 25-year-old rightfielder, who homered in his first major league plate appearance on August 13, 2016 but hit just .179/.263/.345 in a 27-game cup of coffee, didn't hit his first homer of the 2017 season until April 9, the Yankees sixth game, but over a 20-game span he walloped 13, which earned him the cover of the May 15 issue of Sports Illustrated. Judge reached 30 homers by the All-Star break, putting him on pace for 57, and led the league in Wins Above Replacement (5.3) as well, catapulting him into the conversation for AL MVP. A dreadful second-half slump quashed that bid, but after hitting just .185/.353/.326 with three homers and 41 strikeouts in August, he's shown signs of returning to form, with eight homers and ..266/.418/.717 line this month.

Judge has work to do to catch up with Mark McGwire's MLB rookie record of 49, set in 1987, the only season with more than 1.0 homers per team per game prior to 1994. Over in the NL, the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger has tied the Senior Circuit rookie record of 38, shared by the Boston Braves' Wally Berger (1930) and the Reds' Robinson (1956). All the more remarkable is that the now-22-year-old first baseman/outfielder didn't debut until April 25, the Dodgers' 21st game, and didn't hit his first homer until April 29, their 26th. Thanks to a binge of his own, he tied Berger and the Yankees' Gary Sanchez (2016) for the fewest games (51) to reach 20 homers, and with his second homer in that same June 19 game against the Mets, became the fastest to 21. Bellinger currently has six multi-homer games; with one more, he'll tie McGwire's rookie record of seven.

Other rapid rookies

Bellinger's race to 20 homers may not even last the season. Phillies first baseman/outfielder Rhys Hoskins didn't debut until August 10, and didn't homer until August 14, his fifth game, but with a tear that included eight in nine games, he now has 18 in 39 games, reaching every home run level from nine onward faster than any player in history. He hasn't homered in his past five games, matching the longest drought of his young major league career, but if he hits two more in the Phillies' final 11 games, he'll snatch the record from Berger, Bellinger and Sanchez.

Other rookies have gotten off to powerful starts as well. Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong didn't debut until May 28 and now has 23 homers in 96 games. A's first baseman/oufielder Matt Olson, who went homerless in 11 games last year and spent all but one game of the first two months of 2017 at Triple A Nashville, didn't hit his first homer until June 24, his ninth game of the year, but has now hit 23 in a 47-game span, including homers in each of his past five games. Including Bellinger, Judge, DeJong and Olson, nine rookies—the White Sox's Matt Davidson, the Pirates' Josh Bell, the Orioles' Trey Mancini, the Cubs' Ian Happ and the Padres' Hunter Renfroe—have reached 20 homers, a record by far; the 1964, '87, 2006 and '16 seasons each featured six such players, and the current number could increase if the Red Sox's Andrew Benintendi (19), Hoskins, the Astros' Yulieski Gurriel (17) or the Royals Jorge Bonifacio (16) add a few more. Speaking of which…

Ho hum, 20 homers

So far, 110 players have homered at least 20 times this year. That is one short of the record set last year, and with half a dozen players at 19, that mark figures to fall sometime in the next couple weeks. Prior to 2016–17, only in 1999 (103) and 2000 (102) had more than a hundred players reached 20. From among this year's 20-homer club, 38 players including Gennett (26) and the aforementioned rookies have reached that plateau for the first time.

The Orioles have tied the MLB record with seven players at 20 (Welington Castillo, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Mancini, Jonathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo). Five other teams, including both the 1996 Orioles and the aforementioned 2010 Blue Jays, had done so previously. The Cubs, Dodgers and Reds each have six, all for the first time in franchise history. At the other end of the spectrum, the Braves have just one player with 20 (Freddie Freeman), while the Giants don't have any and may finish that way, as team leader Brandon Belt (18) is on the disabled list with a concussion that may prove season-ending.

What's odd is that while the 20-homer plateau is so crowded, the 30-homer one is not. Thirty-one players have reached it, far off the record total of 47 from 2000, and shy even of last year's 38. Then again, another 17 players have 27 to 29 homers, and 14 have 25 or 26, so if a bunch of those players get hot over the season's final 12 days, that picture could change considerably.

One other remarkable fact along these lines? There are more players with 15 homers (153) than there are players qualified for the batting title (148). The average team has five such players, which is to say that the majority of each lineup consists of players with at least 15.

Multiple four-homer games

A player has hit four home runs in a major league game just 18 times; it's a feat more rare than a perfect game (23 going back to 1880, 20 since 1900). But this is just the second season that has produced multiple four-homer games, after 2002, when the Mariners' Mike Cameron (May 2) and the Dodgers' Shawn Green (May 23) both did so in the same month. This year, the Reds' Scooter Gennett (June 7) and the Diamondbacks' J.D. Martinez (September 4) both completed the feat.

Gennett is a perfect encapsulation of this homer-saturated season, a 27-year-old, 5' 10" journeyman who was released at the end of spring training and who travels under the nickname "Scooter." Last year, he hit a career-high 14 homers, and of the 18 players to complete the four-homer feat, he has he fewest career homers (61 now, 42 at the time). His four-homer game against the Cardinals was the majors’ first since the Rangers' Josh Hamilton on May 8, 2012, and while doing so, he put himself into the conversation for the greatest single-game offensive performance by adding an RBI single and totaling 10 RBIs.

The 29-year-old Martinez is more of a known power hitter, having hit as many as 38 in a season. After missing the first 33 games this year due to a sprained right foot, he hit 16 homers in 57 games before being dealt to the Diamondbacks on July 18 as part of the Tigers' ongoing teardown. Since then, he's been on fire, bashing 24 homers in 53 games including four against the division rival Dodgers on September 4. His new career-high total of 40 ranks third behind Stanton and Judge.

Somebody stinks

Over his first three seasons, Rougned Odor emerged as an asset for the Rangers; last year, he set career highs with 33 homers and 2.4 WAR for a division-winning team. Despite 29 homers this year, he's in danger of an ignominious feat. Prior to this year, the lowest OPS+ for any batting title-qualified player with at least 20 homers was 73, by the Orioles' Tony Batista in 2003 (he hit an ugly 235/.270/.393 to get there). Odor has just a 67 OPS+ (.209/.251/.405), meaning that he's 33% less productive than the average hitter this year, and 6% less productive than Batista. (Hat-tip to ESPN’s Sam Miller for this tidbit.)

The foul smell goes deeper than Odor. Five other qualified players have an OPS+ of 85 or lower and at least 20 homers: the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, the Phillies' Maikel Franco, the Indians' Mike Napoli, the Angels' Albert Pujols and the Rockies' Trevor Story, last year’s early-season darling. Only in 2004 has there been a season with more than two such unproductive sluggers; that year saw Batista (by then an Expo), the White Sox's Joe Crede and the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez all sink that low.

Replacement-level sluggers

Drilling down even further, 10 players with at least 20 homers have a sub-zero WAR (Baseball-Reference version), which is to say that despite their displays of power, they've been as bad or worse than a typical waiver-wire pickup or minor league callup. That's nearly as many as the next two highest seasons combined: five in 2008 and six in 2010.

The Orioles have two such players (Chris Davis and Trumbo) as do the Phillies (Franco and Tommy Joseph), Rangers (Odor and Mike Napoli) and Blue Jays (Bautista and Kendrys Morales). The other two are Pujols and the Red Sox's Hanley Ramirez. Bautista (-1.8 WAR), Pujols (-1.7) and Joseph (-1.3) are in the running for the worst such season this year, though they've all got bad work to do to catch the Phillies' Rico Brogna (-2.5 WAR in 1997)

End stage Pujols

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is that the active home run leader, Pujols—who’s seventh all-time with 613—is in contention for the worst season of any position player. The 37-year-old slugger became the ninth player to reach 600 homers on June 3. With 22 this year, he's surpassed Sammy Sosa (609) and Jim Thome (612) on the all-time list, but he's hit just .242/.287/.388 for an 81 OPS+ in 588 PA, that while spending the bulk of his time as a designated hitter and playing just six games in the field. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the game's best first baseman since Lou Gehrig, but lower-body injuries have sapped his mobility to the point that he has just a .250 batting average on balls in play. The final four years of his 10-year, $240 million contract, during which his salary will rise to $30 million annually, promise to be every bit as ugly, if not worse.

Breaking Down the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Baseball's New Single-Season Home Run Record

A few years ago, the phrase “Too Many Homers” became a popular way to turn one’s nose up at a brand of winning baseball. Now, it’s become an even more common refrain. On Tuesday night, the Royals' Alex Gordon hit the 5,694th home run of the 2017 season, breaking a record that had stood since 2000. While the long ball has been one of the biggest stories in the game this year, it’s fair to say that neither chicks nor dudes dig it as much as they did a couple decades ago.

Sure, it’s still a thrill when a player mashes a dramatic homer at a key moment, but in some ways, baseball’s biggest bang has become banal. Here’s a closer look at the phenomenon through a variety of prisms highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly of this homer-happy season.

Off-the-charts rates

In 2017, teams are averaging 1.26 home runs per game, surpassing the 2000 season's 1.17 per game for the all time high. On a per-game basis, this year's rate represents a 9.1% increase over last year (1.16 per game), a 24.8% increase over 2015 (1.01 per game) and a 46.5% increase over 2014 (0.86 per game, the lowest it had been since 1992). By season's end, the 30 teams will combine to surpass 6,000 home runs for the first time.

The increased per-game rate is alarming enough, and it's more pronounced when one considers that for the 12th season in a row, we'll see a record number of strikeouts as well (over 40,000 for the first time). As a percentage of batted balls, the rate of home runs is increasing even faster than the per-game rate. This year, they count for 4.8% of all batted balls, up 10.1% from last year's record-setting level of 4.4%, up 27.3% from two years ago, and up 49.4% from 2014.

The Guillen Number

While home run rates are at an all-time high, scoring rates are not. This year' 4.66 runs per team per game is up 4.0% over last year (4.48 per game), 9.6% over two years ago (4.25 per game) and 14.5% over three years ago (4.07 per game). Even so, those 4.66 runs rank just 13th in the 25 seasons since 1993, when offense generally went on the rise thanks to a confluence of factors including expansion into high altitudes, juiced players and juiced baseballs.

One way of tracking the link between home runs and scoring is a Baseball Prospectus stat called the Guillen Number, which is the percentage of runs scored via homer. The name comes from BP alum and SI contributor Joe Sheehan, who noticed that the successful White Sox teams managed by Ozzie Guillen were actually much more reliant upon homers than their manager's smallball tendencies would have one believe.

Together, the 30 teams have combined to score 42.3% of their runs via homers this year, breaking last year's record (40.2%), which in turn broke that of the year before (37.3%). The Blue Jays' MLB-leading rate of 50.5% of runs scored is the fourth-highest since 1950, which is as far back as BP's data goes; only the 2010 Blue Jays (53.1%) and the 2016 Orioles and Yankees (51.9% and 51.1%, respectively), were higher. This year has produced six of the top 20 Guillen Number seasons since 1950 (the A's, with 48.8%, are fifth in that span), and last year produced four. Only one of the top 20 seasons happened prior to 2005, via the 1956 Reds (47.1%), who featured a rookie Frank Robinson, more on whom momentarily.

Stanton's 56

His pace has slowed over the past two weeks, but Giancarlo Stanton has finally tapped into his full potential as a slugger. His 56 homers isn't just a personal and franchise-best, it's the highest total in the majors since Ryan Howard's 58 in 2006. Going yard with a frequency that made one wonder if he’d unlocked the cheat codes to a video game, Stanton homered 42 times in a 90-game span from May 26 through September 4, and 32 in a 54-game span from July 5 through September 4. His 18 in August tied Tigers slugger Rudy York's 1937 record for the month, though he fell short of Sammy Sosa's 20-homer June 1998, the record for any month. Where a total of at least 60 appeared to be likely as September dawned—igniting debate over the legitimacy of Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73, set in 2001—Stanton has been pitched around to a much greater degree this month than any other, and had just two homers in 13 games (11 starts) from September 5–19 before connecting for number 56 on Wednesday afternoon.

Rookie records threatened

While Stanton leads the NL in homers, Yankees rookie Aaron Judge leads the AL with 45. The brawny 25-year-old rightfielder, who homered in his first major league plate appearance on August 13, 2016 but hit just .179/.263/.345 in a 27-game cup of coffee, didn't hit his first homer of the 2017 season until April 9, the Yankees sixth game, but over a 20-game span he walloped 13, which earned him the cover of the May 15 issue of Sports Illustrated. Judge reached 30 homers by the All-Star break, putting him on pace for 57, and led the league in Wins Above Replacement (5.3) as well, catapulting him into the conversation for AL MVP. A dreadful second-half slump quashed that bid, but after hitting just .185/.353/.326 with three homers and 41 strikeouts in August, he's shown signs of returning to form, with eight homers and ..266/.418/.717 line this month.

Judge has work to do to catch up with Mark McGwire's MLB rookie record of 49, set in 1987, the only season with more than 1.0 homers per team per game prior to 1994. Over in the NL, the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger has tied the Senior Circuit rookie record of 38, shared by the Boston Braves' Wally Berger (1930) and the Reds' Robinson (1956). All the more remarkable is that the now-22-year-old first baseman/outfielder didn't debut until April 25, the Dodgers' 21st game, and didn't hit his first homer until April 29, their 26th. Thanks to a binge of his own, he tied Berger and the Yankees' Gary Sanchez (2016) for the fewest games (51) to reach 20 homers, and with his second homer in that same June 19 game against the Mets, became the fastest to 21. Bellinger currently has six multi-homer games; with one more, he'll tie McGwire's rookie record of seven.

Other rapid rookies

Bellinger's race to 20 homers may not even last the season. Phillies first baseman/outfielder Rhys Hoskins didn't debut until August 10, and didn't homer until August 14, his fifth game, but with a tear that included eight in nine games, he now has 18 in 39 games, reaching every home run level from nine onward faster than any player in history. He hasn't homered in his past five games, matching the longest drought of his young major league career, but if he hits two more in the Phillies' final 11 games, he'll snatch the record from Berger, Bellinger and Sanchez.

Other rookies have gotten off to powerful starts as well. Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong didn't debut until May 28 and now has 23 homers in 96 games. A's first baseman/oufielder Matt Olson, who went homerless in 11 games last year and spent all but one game of the first two months of 2017 at Triple A Nashville, didn't hit his first homer until June 24, his ninth game of the year, but has now hit 23 in a 47-game span, including homers in each of his past five games. Including Bellinger, Judge, DeJong and Olson, nine rookies—the White Sox's Matt Davidson, the Pirates' Josh Bell, the Orioles' Trey Mancini, the Cubs' Ian Happ and the Padres' Hunter Renfroe—have reached 20 homers, a record by far; the 1964, '87, 2006 and '16 seasons each featured six such players, and the current number could increase if the Red Sox's Andrew Benintendi (19), Hoskins, the Astros' Yulieski Gurriel (17) or the Royals Jorge Bonifacio (16) add a few more. Speaking of which…

Ho hum, 20 homers

So far, 110 players have homered at least 20 times this year. That is one short of the record set last year, and with half a dozen players at 19, that mark figures to fall sometime in the next couple weeks. Prior to 2016–17, only in 1999 (103) and 2000 (102) had more than a hundred players reached 20. From among this year's 20-homer club, 38 players including Gennett (26) and the aforementioned rookies have reached that plateau for the first time.

The Orioles have tied the MLB record with seven players at 20 (Welington Castillo, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Mancini, Jonathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo). Five other teams, including both the 1996 Orioles and the aforementioned 2010 Blue Jays, had done so previously. The Cubs, Dodgers and Reds each have six, all for the first time in franchise history. At the other end of the spectrum, the Braves have just one player with 20 (Freddie Freeman), while the Giants don't have any and may finish that way, as team leader Brandon Belt (18) is on the disabled list with a concussion that may prove season-ending.

What's odd is that while the 20-homer plateau is so crowded, the 30-homer one is not. Thirty-one players have reached it, far off the record total of 47 from 2000, and shy even of last year's 38. Then again, another 17 players have 27 to 29 homers, and 14 have 25 or 26, so if a bunch of those players get hot over the season's final 12 days, that picture could change considerably.

One other remarkable fact along these lines? There are more players with 15 homers (153) than there are players qualified for the batting title (148). The average team has five such players, which is to say that the majority of each lineup consists of players with at least 15.

Multiple four-homer games

A player has hit four home runs in a major league game just 18 times; it's a feat more rare than a perfect game (23 going back to 1880, 20 since 1900). But this is just the second season that has produced multiple four-homer games, after 2002, when the Mariners' Mike Cameron (May 2) and the Dodgers' Shawn Green (May 23) both did so in the same month. This year, the Reds' Scooter Gennett (June 7) and the Diamondbacks' J.D. Martinez (September 4) both completed the feat.

Gennett is a perfect encapsulation of this homer-saturated season, a 27-year-old, 5' 10" journeyman who was released at the end of spring training and who travels under the nickname "Scooter." Last year, he hit a career-high 14 homers, and of the 18 players to complete the four-homer feat, he has he fewest career homers (61 now, 42 at the time). His four-homer game against the Cardinals was the majors’ first since the Rangers' Josh Hamilton on May 8, 2012, and while doing so, he put himself into the conversation for the greatest single-game offensive performance by adding an RBI single and totaling 10 RBIs.

The 29-year-old Martinez is more of a known power hitter, having hit as many as 38 in a season. After missing the first 33 games this year due to a sprained right foot, he hit 16 homers in 57 games before being dealt to the Diamondbacks on July 18 as part of the Tigers' ongoing teardown. Since then, he's been on fire, bashing 24 homers in 53 games including four against the division rival Dodgers on September 4. His new career-high total of 40 ranks third behind Stanton and Judge.

Somebody stinks

Over his first three seasons, Rougned Odor emerged as an asset for the Rangers; last year, he set career highs with 33 homers and 2.4 WAR for a division-winning team. Despite 29 homers this year, he's in danger of an ignominious feat. Prior to this year, the lowest OPS+ for any batting title-qualified player with at least 20 homers was 73, by the Orioles' Tony Batista in 2003 (he hit an ugly 235/.270/.393 to get there). Odor has just a 67 OPS+ (.209/.251/.405), meaning that he's 33% less productive than the average hitter this year, and 6% less productive than Batista. (Hat-tip to ESPN’s Sam Miller for this tidbit.)

The foul smell goes deeper than Odor. Five other qualified players have an OPS+ of 85 or lower and at least 20 homers: the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, the Phillies' Maikel Franco, the Indians' Mike Napoli, the Angels' Albert Pujols and the Rockies' Trevor Story, last year’s early-season darling. Only in 2004 has there been a season with more than two such unproductive sluggers; that year saw Batista (by then an Expo), the White Sox's Joe Crede and the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez all sink that low.

Replacement-level sluggers

Drilling down even further, 10 players with at least 20 homers have a sub-zero WAR (Baseball-Reference version), which is to say that despite their displays of power, they've been as bad or worse than a typical waiver-wire pickup or minor league callup. That's nearly as many as the next two highest seasons combined: five in 2008 and six in 2010.

The Orioles have two such players (Chris Davis and Trumbo) as do the Phillies (Franco and Tommy Joseph), Rangers (Odor and Mike Napoli) and Blue Jays (Bautista and Kendrys Morales). The other two are Pujols and the Red Sox's Hanley Ramirez. Bautista (-1.8 WAR), Pujols (-1.7) and Joseph (-1.3) are in the running for the worst such season this year, though they've all got bad work to do to catch the Phillies' Rico Brogna (-2.5 WAR in 1997)

End stage Pujols

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is that the active home run leader, Pujols—who’s seventh all-time with 613—is in contention for the worst season of any position player. The 37-year-old slugger became the ninth player to reach 600 homers on June 3. With 22 this year, he's surpassed Sammy Sosa (609) and Jim Thome (612) on the all-time list, but he's hit just .242/.287/.388 for an 81 OPS+ in 588 PA, that while spending the bulk of his time as a designated hitter and playing just six games in the field. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the game's best first baseman since Lou Gehrig, but lower-body injuries have sapped his mobility to the point that he has just a .250 batting average on balls in play. The final four years of his 10-year, $240 million contract, during which his salary will rise to $30 million annually, promise to be every bit as ugly, if not worse.

Breaking Down the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Baseball's New Single-Season Home Run Record

A few years ago, the phrase “Too Many Homers” became a popular way to turn one’s nose up at a brand of winning baseball. Now, it’s become an even more common refrain. On Tuesday night, the Royals' Alex Gordon hit the 5,694th home run of the 2017 season, breaking a record that had stood since 2000. While the long ball has been one of the biggest stories in the game this year, it’s fair to say that neither chicks nor dudes dig it as much as they did a couple decades ago.

Sure, it’s still a thrill when a player mashes a dramatic homer at a key moment, but in some ways, baseball’s biggest bang has become banal. Here’s a closer look at the phenomenon through a variety of prisms highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly of this homer-happy season.

Off-the-charts rates

In 2017, teams are averaging 1.26 home runs per game, surpassing the 2000 season's 1.17 per game for the all time high. On a per-game basis, this year's rate represents a 9.1% increase over last year (1.16 per game), a 24.8% increase over 2015 (1.01 per game) and a 46.5% increase over 2014 (0.86 per game, the lowest it had been since 1992). By season's end, the 30 teams will combine to surpass 6,000 home runs for the first time.

The increased per-game rate is alarming enough, and it's more pronounced when one considers that for the 12th season in a row, we'll see a record number of strikeouts as well (over 40,000 for the first time). As a percentage of batted balls, the rate of home runs is increasing even faster than the per-game rate. This year, they count for 4.8% of all batted balls, up 10.1% from last year's record-setting level of 4.4%, up 27.3% from two years ago, and up 49.4% from 2014.

The Guillen Number

While home run rates are at an all-time high, scoring rates are not. This year' 4.66 runs per team per game is up 4.0% over last year (4.48 per game), 9.6% over two years ago (4.25 per game) and 14.5% over three years ago (4.07 per game). Even so, those 4.66 runs rank just 13th in the 25 seasons since 1993, when offense generally went on the rise thanks to a confluence of factors including expansion into high altitudes, juiced players and juiced baseballs.

One way of tracking the link between home runs and scoring is a Baseball Prospectus stat called the Guillen Number, which is the percentage of runs scored via homer. The name comes from BP alum and SI contributor Joe Sheehan, who noticed that the successful White Sox teams managed by Ozzie Guillen were actually much more reliant upon homers than their manager's smallball tendencies would have one believe.

Together, the 30 teams have combined to score 42.3% of their runs via homers this year, breaking last year's record (40.2%), which in turn broke that of the year before (37.3%). The Blue Jays' MLB-leading rate of 50.5% of runs scored is the fourth-highest since 1950, which is as far back as BP's data goes; only the 2010 Blue Jays (53.1%) and the 2016 Orioles and Yankees (51.9% and 51.1%, respectively), were higher. This year has produced six of the top 20 Guillen Number seasons since 1950 (the A's, with 48.8%, are fifth in that span), and last year produced four. Only one of the top 20 seasons happened prior to 2005, via the 1956 Reds (47.1%), who featured a rookie Frank Robinson, more on whom momentarily.

Stanton's 56

His pace has slowed over the past two weeks, but Giancarlo Stanton has finally tapped into his full potential as a slugger. His 56 homers isn't just a personal and franchise-best, it's the highest total in the majors since Ryan Howard's 58 in 2006. Going yard with a frequency that made one wonder if he’d unlocked the cheat codes to a video game, Stanton homered 42 times in a 90-game span from May 26 through September 4, and 32 in a 54-game span from July 5 through September 4. His 18 in August tied Tigers slugger Rudy York's 1937 record for the month, though he fell short of Sammy Sosa's 20-homer June 1998, the record for any month. Where a total of at least 60 appeared to be likely as September dawned—igniting debate over the legitimacy of Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73, set in 2001—Stanton has been pitched around to a much greater degree this month than any other, and had just two homers in 13 games (11 starts) from September 5–19 before connecting for number 56 on Wednesday afternoon.

Rookie records threatened

While Stanton leads the NL in homers, Yankees rookie Aaron Judge leads the AL with 45. The brawny 25-year-old rightfielder, who homered in his first major league plate appearance on August 13, 2016 but hit just .179/.263/.345 in a 27-game cup of coffee, didn't hit his first homer of the 2017 season until April 9, the Yankees sixth game, but over a 20-game span he walloped 13, which earned him the cover of the May 15 issue of Sports Illustrated. Judge reached 30 homers by the All-Star break, putting him on pace for 57, and led the league in Wins Above Replacement (5.3) as well, catapulting him into the conversation for AL MVP. A dreadful second-half slump quashed that bid, but after hitting just .185/.353/.326 with three homers and 41 strikeouts in August, he's shown signs of returning to form, with eight homers and ..266/.418/.717 line this month.

Judge has work to do to catch up with Mark McGwire's MLB rookie record of 49, set in 1987, the only season with more than 1.0 homers per team per game prior to 1994. Over in the NL, the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger has tied the Senior Circuit rookie record of 38, shared by the Boston Braves' Wally Berger (1930) and the Reds' Robinson (1956). All the more remarkable is that the now-22-year-old first baseman/outfielder didn't debut until April 25, the Dodgers' 21st game, and didn't hit his first homer until April 29, their 26th. Thanks to a binge of his own, he tied Berger and the Yankees' Gary Sanchez (2016) for the fewest games (51) to reach 20 homers, and with his second homer in that same June 19 game against the Mets, became the fastest to 21. Bellinger currently has six multi-homer games; with one more, he'll tie McGwire's rookie record of seven.

Other rapid rookies

Bellinger's race to 20 homers may not even last the season. Phillies first baseman/outfielder Rhys Hoskins didn't debut until August 10, and didn't homer until August 14, his fifth game, but with a tear that included eight in nine games, he now has 18 in 39 games, reaching every home run level from nine onward faster than any player in history. He hasn't homered in his past five games, matching the longest drought of his young major league career, but if he hits two more in the Phillies' final 11 games, he'll snatch the record from Berger, Bellinger and Sanchez.

Other rookies have gotten off to powerful starts as well. Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong didn't debut until May 28 and now has 23 homers in 96 games. A's first baseman/oufielder Matt Olson, who went homerless in 11 games last year and spent all but one game of the first two months of 2017 at Triple A Nashville, didn't hit his first homer until June 24, his ninth game of the year, but has now hit 23 in a 47-game span, including homers in each of his past five games. Including Bellinger, Judge, DeJong and Olson, nine rookies—the White Sox's Matt Davidson, the Pirates' Josh Bell, the Orioles' Trey Mancini, the Cubs' Ian Happ and the Padres' Hunter Renfroe—have reached 20 homers, a record by far; the 1964, '87, 2006 and '16 seasons each featured six such players, and the current number could increase if the Red Sox's Andrew Benintendi (19), Hoskins, the Astros' Yulieski Gurriel (17) or the Royals Jorge Bonifacio (16) add a few more. Speaking of which…

Ho hum, 20 homers

So far, 110 players have homered at least 20 times this year. That is one short of the record set last year, and with half a dozen players at 19, that mark figures to fall sometime in the next couple weeks. Prior to 2016–17, only in 1999 (103) and 2000 (102) had more than a hundred players reached 20. From among this year's 20-homer club, 38 players including Gennett (26) and the aforementioned rookies have reached that plateau for the first time.

The Orioles have tied the MLB record with seven players at 20 (Welington Castillo, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Mancini, Jonathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo). Five other teams, including both the 1996 Orioles and the aforementioned 2010 Blue Jays, had done so previously. The Cubs, Dodgers and Reds each have six, all for the first time in franchise history. At the other end of the spectrum, the Braves have just one player with 20 (Freddie Freeman), while the Giants don't have any and may finish that way, as team leader Brandon Belt (18) is on the disabled list with a concussion that may prove season-ending.

What's odd is that while the 20-homer plateau is so crowded, the 30-homer one is not. Thirty-one players have reached it, far off the record total of 47 from 2000, and shy even of last year's 38. Then again, another 17 players have 27 to 29 homers, and 14 have 25 or 26, so if a bunch of those players get hot over the season's final 12 days, that picture could change considerably.

One other remarkable fact along these lines? There are more players with 15 homers (153) than there are players qualified for the batting title (148). The average team has five such players, which is to say that the majority of each lineup consists of players with at least 15.

Multiple four-homer games

A player has hit four home runs in a major league game just 18 times; it's a feat more rare than a perfect game (23 going back to 1880, 20 since 1900). But this is just the second season that has produced multiple four-homer games, after 2002, when the Mariners' Mike Cameron (May 2) and the Dodgers' Shawn Green (May 23) both did so in the same month. This year, the Reds' Scooter Gennett (June 7) and the Diamondbacks' J.D. Martinez (September 4) both completed the feat.

Gennett is a perfect encapsulation of this homer-saturated season, a 27-year-old, 5' 10" journeyman who was released at the end of spring training and who travels under the nickname "Scooter." Last year, he hit a career-high 14 homers, and of the 18 players to complete the four-homer feat, he has he fewest career homers (61 now, 42 at the time). His four-homer game against the Cardinals was the majors’ first since the Rangers' Josh Hamilton on May 8, 2012, and while doing so, he put himself into the conversation for the greatest single-game offensive performance by adding an RBI single and totaling 10 RBIs.

The 29-year-old Martinez is more of a known power hitter, having hit as many as 38 in a season. After missing the first 33 games this year due to a sprained right foot, he hit 16 homers in 57 games before being dealt to the Diamondbacks on July 18 as part of the Tigers' ongoing teardown. Since then, he's been on fire, bashing 24 homers in 53 games including four against the division rival Dodgers on September 4. His new career-high total of 40 ranks third behind Stanton and Judge.

Somebody stinks

Over his first three seasons, Rougned Odor emerged as an asset for the Rangers; last year, he set career highs with 33 homers and 2.4 WAR for a division-winning team. Despite 29 homers this year, he's in danger of an ignominious feat. Prior to this year, the lowest OPS+ for any batting title-qualified player with at least 20 homers was 73, by the Orioles' Tony Batista in 2003 (he hit an ugly 235/.270/.393 to get there). Odor has just a 67 OPS+ (.209/.251/.405), meaning that he's 33% less productive than the average hitter this year, and 6% less productive than Batista. (Hat-tip to ESPN’s Sam Miller for this tidbit.)

The foul smell goes deeper than Odor. Five other qualified players have an OPS+ of 85 or lower and at least 20 homers: the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, the Phillies' Maikel Franco, the Indians' Mike Napoli, the Angels' Albert Pujols and the Rockies' Trevor Story, last year’s early-season darling. Only in 2004 has there been a season with more than two such unproductive sluggers; that year saw Batista (by then an Expo), the White Sox's Joe Crede and the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez all sink that low.

Replacement-level sluggers

Drilling down even further, 10 players with at least 20 homers have a sub-zero WAR (Baseball-Reference version), which is to say that despite their displays of power, they've been as bad or worse than a typical waiver-wire pickup or minor league callup. That's nearly as many as the next two highest seasons combined: five in 2008 and six in 2010.

The Orioles have two such players (Chris Davis and Trumbo) as do the Phillies (Franco and Tommy Joseph), Rangers (Odor and Mike Napoli) and Blue Jays (Bautista and Kendrys Morales). The other two are Pujols and the Red Sox's Hanley Ramirez. Bautista (-1.8 WAR), Pujols (-1.7) and Joseph (-1.3) are in the running for the worst such season this year, though they've all got bad work to do to catch the Phillies' Rico Brogna (-2.5 WAR in 1997)

End stage Pujols

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is that the active home run leader, Pujols—who’s seventh all-time with 613—is in contention for the worst season of any position player. The 37-year-old slugger became the ninth player to reach 600 homers on June 3. With 22 this year, he's surpassed Sammy Sosa (609) and Jim Thome (612) on the all-time list, but he's hit just .242/.287/.388 for an 81 OPS+ in 588 PA, that while spending the bulk of his time as a designated hitter and playing just six games in the field. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the game's best first baseman since Lou Gehrig, but lower-body injuries have sapped his mobility to the point that he has just a .250 batting average on balls in play. The final four years of his 10-year, $240 million contract, during which his salary will rise to $30 million annually, promise to be every bit as ugly, if not worse.

Let the Race Begin! Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander Among Best Storylines as Playoffs Approach

As the 2017 regular season enters its final month, at least three of the division races appear to be sewn up, but even the teams leading those division—the Astros in the AL West, the Nationals in the NL East and the Dodgers in the NL West—have plenty at stake. So to do the teams in wild card hunts that could get particularly wild this year, and some wide-open awards races as well. With all of that in mind, here are 10 story lines that figure to be at the forefront in September.

Clayton Kershaw's return from the disabled list and the Dodgers' run at history

For the second year in a row, Kershaw's quest for a fourth Cy Young was derailed by a back injury, but this time it was merely a lower back strain instead of a herniated disc, and instead of missing 2 1/2 months, the 29-year-old southpaw will have missed just five weeks when he takes the mound against the Padres on Friday. The Dodgers didn't miss him as much as you might think, going 23–10 without him and putting themselves in position for an historic win total (they're on pace to set an expansion-era NL record with 112 wins). But to capture their first championship since 1988, they'll need their ace in top form.

Giancarlo Stanton's home run heroics

Thanks to a binge of 30 homers in 50 games, Stanton became the sixth player to reach 50 before the end of August and tied Tigers slugger Rudy York's 1937 record with 18 homers for the month. Based on his full-season output, he's on pace for 63 home runs, and if he continues at a pace closer to his recent one he'll wind up with more, though probably not enough to surpass Barry Bonds' 2001 record of 73. Still, not only will any final total at this level stand as a remarkable feat, it might earn Stanton the NL MVP award.

The Cubs' bid to repeat their long-awaited championship

At the All-Star break, the Cubs were just 43–45, 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central and bearing scant resemblance to the team that steamrolled the NL and outlasted the Indians to win the franchise's first championship in 108 years. They kicked off the second half with a trade for Jose Quintana and a six-game winning streak, and enough has gone right for them to go 30–15 in the second half, tied with the Nationals for the NL's second-best record, and good enough to swing the division lead by nine games, to up 3 1/2 on the Brewers. Neither their lineup (which is currently without Willson Contreras and Addison Russell due to injures) nor their rotation (which is without Jon Lester) is at full strength, but they may have just enough to claim another division title and then take their chances in October.

Newly-acquired Justin Verlander tries to bolster the flagging Astros’ rotation

In a last-minute, waiver-deadline move, the 34-year-old Tigers ace agreed to waive his no-trade clause and join the Astros. Houston couldn’t afford to stand pat at the August 31 deadline given its 12–19 slide since July 28 that threatens their standing as the AL’s top playoff seed. That’s particularly true given the clubhouse commotion over general manager Jeff Luhnow’s failure to add significant upgrades at the July 31 deadline, and perhaps the understandable desire to give a region devastated by Hurricane Harvey a welcome distraction. While Verlander isn’t the dominant force that he once was, his second-half splits (2.41 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 10.4 K/9) make him a welcome addition to a rotation in which Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. had delivered ERAs of 5.35 and 6.25 since June 3 and spent far more time on the disabled list than on the active roster. The Astros (80–53) lead the Angels (69–65) by 11 1/2 games in the AL West but have just a 3 1/2 game lead on the Indians (76–56) for the league’s best record.

The upgraded Angels vie for a playoff spot as Mike Trout scrambles to make up ground in the AL MVP race

When Trout went down with a torn ligament in his left thumb on May 28—interrupting a career-best start—it appeared to sound the death knell to his chances for repeating as MVP and bringing home his third award overall. At the time, the Angels were just 26–27, not to be taken seriously as wild card contenders. Lo and behold, the team stayed afloat during Trout’s six-week absence and is now 1 1/2 games behind the upstart Twins for the second wild card spot.

Trout is hitting .327.459/.667, leading the league in the last two categories via the phantom at-bat rule, meaning that even with an 0-for-26 (to reach the minimum number of plate appearances to) he would still be ahead of Jose Altuve's .414 OBP and Aaron Judge's .575 SLG, and likewise for his 200 OPS+ with respect to Altuve's 169. Even with the absence, his 5.8 WAR is third in the league behind Altuve and teammate Andrelton Simmons. With the Angels having added leftfielder Justin Upton and second baseman Brandon Phillips in separate deals on Thursday, they’re clearly in it to win it, and if they succeed in securing a wild card spot, it could turn the narrative in Trout’s favor.

Aaron Judge's second-half slump and the Yankees' attempt to return to the postseason

The 25-year-old Judge was the toast of baseball during the first half, hitting .328/.448/.691 with an MLB-high 30 homers while leading the league in on-base and slugging percentages as well as WAR (5.3), then capping that with a Home Run Derby win. While he's still likely to bring home AL Rookie of the Year honors, he's been unable to shake a second-half slump (.179/.346/.354, 7 HR, 35% K/PA). With Gary Sanchez rounding into form and others such as Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius helping to pick up the slack, the Yankees own a 1 ½-game lead over the Twins for the top wild card seed and have a 90.6% chance of returning to the playoffs—either by wild card or overtaking the Red Sox, who lead them by 5 1/2 games—for just the second time since 2012 according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds. But their chances of doing more than another one-and-done appearance would be much higher if Judge could recover his first-half form.

Bryce Harper's race against the clock

With a 15-game lead in the NL East, the Nationals are coasting to their second straight division title and fourth in six seasons, but if they hope to advance past the Division Series for the first time, they'll need Harper in working order. The 24-year-old slugger was in the thick of the NL MVP race (.326/.419/.614, 29 HR, 4.7 WAR) when he slipped on a wet first base on August 12 and suffered what at first appeared to be a season-ending left knee injury.

The diagnosis wasn't so severe, a hyperextension and a significant bone bruise, and the team expected him to return this season, but didn’t offer a timetable. Two and a half weeks later, manager Dusty Baker described Harper as frustrated and said he was "a long way from running," while Harper himself said that he's also dealing with a calf strain in the same leg. All of that rules out a rehab assignment, since the team's farm clubs' seasons will be over after September 4, and while that still leaves nearly a four-week window of otherwise low-stakes Nationals games for him to return to, any setback could be costly.

A potential triumph for Team Entropy

Despite the three runaway division races, there's suspense to be had with regards to the playoff participants, which increases the odds of maximum end-of-season baseball. Late in the 2011 season, I coined the phrase "Team Entropy"—taking a page from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all systems tend toward disorder—to describe the phenomenon of rooting for scenarios that produced chaos in the form of tiebreaker scenarios and maximum baseball. Since the dawn of the two wild card format in 2012, there's been just one Game 163 play-in, compared to three straight from 2007–09, but every year, the races have gone down to the wire. With eight AL teams—the Yankees Twins, Angels, Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Royals and Rays—separated by only five games for the two wild card spots, things could get particularly crazy. It will take a bit more good luck for the NL race to produce similar chaos, as the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers, Cardinals and Marlins are separated by eight games, but if that race tightens up, the NL Central could as well.

Chris Sale and Corey Kluber going down to the wire in AL Cy Young race

A few weeks ago, it appeared that Chris Sale was well on his way to his first Cy Young award, as he led the league in the three Pitching Triple Crown categories (wins, ERA and strikeouts) as well as innings, FIP and the Baseball-Reference version of WAR. Even so, 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was amid a spectacular 13-start run since returning from a lower back strain, preserving his chance at claiming a second award. Since then, Kluber has kept up the great work while Sale has been drubbed twice. The Indians' ace owns a 1.90 ERA in 17 starts since coming off the DL, and an AL-best 2.63 mark overall, while Sale is up to 2.77; Kluber also has the lead in WAR, 6.0 to 5.3. Sale still leads the league in strikeouts by a wide margin (264 to Chris Archer's 225 and Kluber's 215) and is on pace to be the first AL hurler to strike out 300 since Pedro Martinez in 1999.

The NL awards races remain competitive

With Harper's candidacy on ice and Stanton’s chances perhaps linked to the Marlins staying relevant late into the month, the strong seasons of Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Nolan Arenado—all of whom currently rank among the top four in WAR behind Stanton—could compete for voters' attention. The Cy Young race is interesting as well, with Max Scherzer vying for his third award, leading in strikeouts (230) and tied with teammate Gio Gonzalez for the league lead in WAR (6.6) but having twice been sidelined in August due to neck tightness. Even with time missed, there's a case to be made for Kershaw, who's tied for the league lead in wins (15), leads in ERA (2.04) and is fifth in WAR (4.3); a strong comeback combined with the further absence of Scherzer could make things interesting.

Let the Race Begin! Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander Among Best Storylines as Playoffs Approach

As the 2017 regular season enters its final month, at least three of the division races appear to be sewn up, but even the teams leading those division—the Astros in the AL West, the Nationals in the NL East and the Dodgers in the NL West—have plenty at stake. So to do the teams in wild card hunts that could get particularly wild this year, and some wide-open awards races as well. With all of that in mind, here are 10 story lines that figure to be at the forefront in September.

Clayton Kershaw's return from the disabled list and the Dodgers' run at history

For the second year in a row, Kershaw's quest for a fourth Cy Young was derailed by a back injury, but this time it was merely a lower back strain instead of a herniated disc, and instead of missing 2 1/2 months, the 29-year-old southpaw will have missed just five weeks when he takes the mound against the Padres on Friday. The Dodgers didn't miss him as much as you might think, going 23–10 without him and putting themselves in position for an historic win total (they're on pace to set an expansion-era NL record with 112 wins). But to capture their first championship since 1988, they'll need their ace in top form.

Giancarlo Stanton's home run heroics

Thanks to a binge of 30 homers in 50 games, Stanton became the sixth player to reach 50 before the end of August and tied Tigers slugger Rudy York's 1937 record with 18 homers for the month. Based on his full-season output, he's on pace for 63 home runs, and if he continues at a pace closer to his recent one he'll wind up with more, though probably not enough to surpass Barry Bonds' 2001 record of 73. Still, not only will any final total at this level stand as a remarkable feat, it might earn Stanton the NL MVP award.

The Cubs' bid to repeat their long-awaited championship

At the All-Star break, the Cubs were just 43–45, 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central and bearing scant resemblance to the team that steamrolled the NL and outlasted the Indians to win the franchise's first championship in 108 years. They kicked off the second half with a trade for Jose Quintana and a six-game winning streak, and enough has gone right for them to go 30–15 in the second half, tied with the Nationals for the NL's second-best record, and good enough to swing the division lead by nine games, to up 3 1/2 on the Brewers. Neither their lineup (which is currently without Willson Contreras and Addison Russell due to injures) nor their rotation (which is without Jon Lester) is at full strength, but they may have just enough to claim another division title and then take their chances in October.

Newly-acquired Justin Verlander tries to bolster the flagging Astros’ rotation

In a last-minute, waiver-deadline move, the 34-year-old Tigers ace agreed to waive his no-trade clause and join the Astros. Houston couldn’t afford to stand pat at the August 31 deadline given its 12–19 slide since July 28 that threatens their standing as the AL’s top playoff seed. That’s particularly true given the clubhouse commotion over general manager Jeff Luhnow’s failure to add significant upgrades at the July 31 deadline, and perhaps the understandable desire to give a region devastated by Hurricane Harvey a welcome distraction. While Verlander isn’t the dominant force that he once was, his second-half splits (2.41 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 10.4 K/9) make him a welcome addition to a rotation in which Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. had delivered ERAs of 5.35 and 6.25 since June 3 and spent far more time on the disabled list than on the active roster. The Astros (80–53) lead the Angels (69–65) by 11 1/2 games in the AL West but have just a 3 1/2 game lead on the Indians (76–56) for the league’s best record.

The upgraded Angels vie for a playoff spot as Mike Trout scrambles to make up ground in the AL MVP race

When Trout went down with a torn ligament in his left thumb on May 28—interrupting a career-best start—it appeared to sound the death knell to his chances for repeating as MVP and bringing home his third award overall. At the time, the Angels were just 26–27, not to be taken seriously as wild card contenders. Lo and behold, the team stayed afloat during Trout’s six-week absence and is now 1 1/2 games behind the upstart Twins for the second wild card spot.

Trout is hitting .327.459/.667, leading the league in the last two categories via the phantom at-bat rule, meaning that even with an 0-for-26 (to reach the minimum number of plate appearances to) he would still be ahead of Jose Altuve's .414 OBP and Aaron Judge's .575 SLG, and likewise for his 200 OPS+ with respect to Altuve's 169. Even with the absence, his 5.8 WAR is third in the league behind Altuve and teammate Andrelton Simmons. With the Angels having added leftfielder Justin Upton and second baseman Brandon Phillips in separate deals on Thursday, they’re clearly in it to win it, and if they succeed in securing a wild card spot, it could turn the narrative in Trout’s favor.

Aaron Judge's second-half slump and the Yankees' attempt to return to the postseason

The 25-year-old Judge was the toast of baseball during the first half, hitting .328/.448/.691 with an MLB-high 30 homers while leading the league in on-base and slugging percentages as well as WAR (5.3), then capping that with a Home Run Derby win. While he's still likely to bring home AL Rookie of the Year honors, he's been unable to shake a second-half slump (.179/.346/.354, 7 HR, 35% K/PA). With Gary Sanchez rounding into form and others such as Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius helping to pick up the slack, the Yankees own a 1 ½-game lead over the Twins for the top wild card seed and have a 90.6% chance of returning to the playoffs—either by wild card or overtaking the Red Sox, who lead them by 5 1/2 games—for just the second time since 2012 according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds. But their chances of doing more than another one-and-done appearance would be much higher if Judge could recover his first-half form.

Bryce Harper's race against the clock

With a 15-game lead in the NL East, the Nationals are coasting to their second straight division title and fourth in six seasons, but if they hope to advance past the Division Series for the first time, they'll need Harper in working order. The 24-year-old slugger was in the thick of the NL MVP race (.326/.419/.614, 29 HR, 4.7 WAR) when he slipped on a wet first base on August 12 and suffered what at first appeared to be a season-ending left knee injury.

The diagnosis wasn't so severe, a hyperextension and a significant bone bruise, and the team expected him to return this season, but didn’t offer a timetable. Two and a half weeks later, manager Dusty Baker described Harper as frustrated and said he was "a long way from running," while Harper himself said that he's also dealing with a calf strain in the same leg. All of that rules out a rehab assignment, since the team's farm clubs' seasons will be over after September 4, and while that still leaves nearly a four-week window of otherwise low-stakes Nationals games for him to return to, any setback could be costly.

A potential triumph for Team Entropy

Despite the three runaway division races, there's suspense to be had with regards to the playoff participants, which increases the odds of maximum end-of-season baseball. Late in the 2011 season, I coined the phrase "Team Entropy"—taking a page from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all systems tend toward disorder—to describe the phenomenon of rooting for scenarios that produced chaos in the form of tiebreaker scenarios and maximum baseball. Since the dawn of the two wild card format in 2012, there's been just one Game 163 play-in, compared to three straight from 2007–09, but every year, the races have gone down to the wire. With eight AL teams—the Yankees Twins, Angels, Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Royals and Rays—separated by only five games for the two wild card spots, things could get particularly crazy. It will take a bit more good luck for the NL race to produce similar chaos, as the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers, Cardinals and Marlins are separated by eight games, but if that race tightens up, the NL Central could as well.

Chris Sale and Corey Kluber going down to the wire in AL Cy Young race

A few weeks ago, it appeared that Chris Sale was well on his way to his first Cy Young award, as he led the league in the three Pitching Triple Crown categories (wins, ERA and strikeouts) as well as innings, FIP and the Baseball-Reference version of WAR. Even so, 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was amid a spectacular 13-start run since returning from a lower back strain, preserving his chance at claiming a second award. Since then, Kluber has kept up the great work while Sale has been drubbed twice. The Indians' ace owns a 1.90 ERA in 17 starts since coming off the DL, and an AL-best 2.63 mark overall, while Sale is up to 2.77; Kluber also has the lead in WAR, 6.0 to 5.3. Sale still leads the league in strikeouts by a wide margin (264 to Chris Archer's 225 and Kluber's 215) and is on pace to be the first AL hurler to strike out 300 since Pedro Martinez in 1999.

The NL awards races remain competitive

With Harper's candidacy on ice and Stanton’s chances perhaps linked to the Marlins staying relevant late into the month, the strong seasons of Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Nolan Arenado—all of whom currently rank among the top four in WAR behind Stanton—could compete for voters' attention. The Cy Young race is interesting as well, with Max Scherzer vying for his third award, leading in strikeouts (230) and tied with teammate Gio Gonzalez for the league lead in WAR (6.6) but having twice been sidelined in August due to neck tightness. Even with time missed, there's a case to be made for Kershaw, who's tied for the league lead in wins (15), leads in ERA (2.04) and is fifth in WAR (4.3); a strong comeback combined with the further absence of Scherzer could make things interesting.

Let the Race Begin! Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander Among Best Storylines as Playoffs Approach

As the 2017 regular season enters its final month, at least three of the division races appear to be sewn up, but even the teams leading those division—the Astros in the AL West, the Nationals in the NL East and the Dodgers in the NL West—have plenty at stake. So to do the teams in wild card hunts that could get particularly wild this year, and some wide-open awards races as well. With all of that in mind, here are 10 story lines that figure to be at the forefront in September.

Clayton Kershaw's return from the disabled list and the Dodgers' run at history

For the second year in a row, Kershaw's quest for a fourth Cy Young was derailed by a back injury, but this time it was merely a lower back strain instead of a herniated disc, and instead of missing 2 1/2 months, the 29-year-old southpaw will have missed just five weeks when he takes the mound against the Padres on Friday. The Dodgers didn't miss him as much as you might think, going 23–10 without him and putting themselves in position for an historic win total (they're on pace to set an expansion-era NL record with 112 wins). But to capture their first championship since 1988, they'll need their ace in top form.

Giancarlo Stanton's home run heroics

Thanks to a binge of 30 homers in 50 games, Stanton became the sixth player to reach 50 before the end of August and tied Tigers slugger Rudy York's 1937 record with 18 homers for the month. Based on his full-season output, he's on pace for 63 home runs, and if he continues at a pace closer to his recent one he'll wind up with more, though probably not enough to surpass Barry Bonds' 2001 record of 73. Still, not only will any final total at this level stand as a remarkable feat, it might earn Stanton the NL MVP award.

The Cubs' bid to repeat their long-awaited championship

At the All-Star break, the Cubs were just 43–45, 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central and bearing scant resemblance to the team that steamrolled the NL and outlasted the Indians to win the franchise's first championship in 108 years. They kicked off the second half with a trade for Jose Quintana and a six-game winning streak, and enough has gone right for them to go 30–15 in the second half, tied with the Nationals for the NL's second-best record, and good enough to swing the division lead by nine games, to up 3 1/2 on the Brewers. Neither their lineup (which is currently without Willson Contreras and Addison Russell due to injures) nor their rotation (which is without Jon Lester) is at full strength, but they may have just enough to claim another division title and then take their chances in October.

Newly-acquired Justin Verlander tries to bolster the flagging Astros’ rotation

In a last-minute, waiver-deadline move, the 34-year-old Tigers ace agreed to waive his no-trade clause and join the Astros. Houston couldn’t afford to stand pat at the August 31 deadline given its 12–19 slide since July 28 that threatens their standing as the AL’s top playoff seed. That’s particularly true given the clubhouse commotion over general manager Jeff Luhnow’s failure to add significant upgrades at the July 31 deadline, and perhaps the understandable desire to give a region devastated by Hurricane Harvey a welcome distraction. While Verlander isn’t the dominant force that he once was, his second-half splits (2.41 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 10.4 K/9) make him a welcome addition to a rotation in which Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. had delivered ERAs of 5.35 and 6.25 since June 3 and spent far more time on the disabled list than on the active roster. The Astros (80–53) lead the Angels (69–65) by 11 1/2 games in the AL West but have just a 3 1/2 game lead on the Indians (76–56) for the league’s best record.

The upgraded Angels vie for a playoff spot as Mike Trout scrambles to make up ground in the AL MVP race

When Trout went down with a torn ligament in his left thumb on May 28—interrupting a career-best start—it appeared to sound the death knell to his chances for repeating as MVP and bringing home his third award overall. At the time, the Angels were just 26–27, not to be taken seriously as wild card contenders. Lo and behold, the team stayed afloat during Trout’s six-week absence and is now 1 1/2 games behind the upstart Twins for the second wild card spot.

Trout is hitting .327.459/.667, leading the league in the last two categories via the phantom at-bat rule, meaning that even with an 0-for-26 (to reach the minimum number of plate appearances to) he would still be ahead of Jose Altuve's .414 OBP and Aaron Judge's .575 SLG, and likewise for his 200 OPS+ with respect to Altuve's 169. Even with the absence, his 5.8 WAR is third in the league behind Altuve and teammate Andrelton Simmons. With the Angels having added leftfielder Justin Upton and second baseman Brandon Phillips in separate deals on Thursday, they’re clearly in it to win it, and if they succeed in securing a wild card spot, it could turn the narrative in Trout’s favor.

Aaron Judge's second-half slump and the Yankees' attempt to return to the postseason

The 25-year-old Judge was the toast of baseball during the first half, hitting .328/.448/.691 with an MLB-high 30 homers while leading the league in on-base and slugging percentages as well as WAR (5.3), then capping that with a Home Run Derby win. While he's still likely to bring home AL Rookie of the Year honors, he's been unable to shake a second-half slump (.179/.346/.354, 7 HR, 35% K/PA). With Gary Sanchez rounding into form and others such as Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius helping to pick up the slack, the Yankees own a 1 ½-game lead over the Twins for the top wild card seed and have a 90.6% chance of returning to the playoffs—either by wild card or overtaking the Red Sox, who lead them by 5 1/2 games—for just the second time since 2012 according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds. But their chances of doing more than another one-and-done appearance would be much higher if Judge could recover his first-half form.

Bryce Harper's race against the clock

With a 15-game lead in the NL East, the Nationals are coasting to their second straight division title and fourth in six seasons, but if they hope to advance past the Division Series for the first time, they'll need Harper in working order. The 24-year-old slugger was in the thick of the NL MVP race (.326/.419/.614, 29 HR, 4.7 WAR) when he slipped on a wet first base on August 12 and suffered what at first appeared to be a season-ending left knee injury.

The diagnosis wasn't so severe, a hyperextension and a significant bone bruise, and the team expected him to return this season, but didn’t offer a timetable. Two and a half weeks later, manager Dusty Baker described Harper as frustrated and said he was "a long way from running," while Harper himself said that he's also dealing with a calf strain in the same leg. All of that rules out a rehab assignment, since the team's farm clubs' seasons will be over after September 4, and while that still leaves nearly a four-week window of otherwise low-stakes Nationals games for him to return to, any setback could be costly.

A potential triumph for Team Entropy

Despite the three runaway division races, there's suspense to be had with regards to the playoff participants, which increases the odds of maximum end-of-season baseball. Late in the 2011 season, I coined the phrase "Team Entropy"—taking a page from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all systems tend toward disorder—to describe the phenomenon of rooting for scenarios that produced chaos in the form of tiebreaker scenarios and maximum baseball. Since the dawn of the two wild card format in 2012, there's been just one Game 163 play-in, compared to three straight from 2007–09, but every year, the races have gone down to the wire. With eight AL teams—the Yankees Twins, Angels, Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Royals and Rays—separated by only five games for the two wild card spots, things could get particularly crazy. It will take a bit more good luck for the NL race to produce similar chaos, as the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers, Cardinals and Marlins are separated by eight games, but if that race tightens up, the NL Central could as well.

Chris Sale and Corey Kluber going down to the wire in AL Cy Young race

A few weeks ago, it appeared that Chris Sale was well on his way to his first Cy Young award, as he led the league in the three Pitching Triple Crown categories (wins, ERA and strikeouts) as well as innings, FIP and the Baseball-Reference version of WAR. Even so, 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was amid a spectacular 13-start run since returning from a lower back strain, preserving his chance at claiming a second award. Since then, Kluber has kept up the great work while Sale has been drubbed twice. The Indians' ace owns a 1.90 ERA in 17 starts since coming off the DL, and an AL-best 2.63 mark overall, while Sale is up to 2.77; Kluber also has the lead in WAR, 6.0 to 5.3. Sale still leads the league in strikeouts by a wide margin (264 to Chris Archer's 225 and Kluber's 215) and is on pace to be the first AL hurler to strike out 300 since Pedro Martinez in 1999.

The NL awards races remain competitive

With Harper's candidacy on ice and Stanton’s chances perhaps linked to the Marlins staying relevant late into the month, the strong seasons of Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Nolan Arenado—all of whom currently rank among the top four in WAR behind Stanton—could compete for voters' attention. The Cy Young race is interesting as well, with Max Scherzer vying for his third award, leading in strikeouts (230) and tied with teammate Gio Gonzalez for the league lead in WAR (6.6) but having twice been sidelined in August due to neck tightness. Even with time missed, there's a case to be made for Kershaw, who's tied for the league lead in wins (15), leads in ERA (2.04) and is fifth in WAR (4.3); a strong comeback combined with the further absence of Scherzer could make things interesting.

Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor is in the Judge's Chambers at Yankee Stadium

Earlier in the season, we heard a lot about the swarth of seats in right field that have been converted to the "Judge's Chambers." That's because the player who the Chambers are named after, Aaron Judge, was one of the best hitters in baseball and routinely lit up Yankee Stadium with homers.

After he put on an incredible performance to win this year's Home Run Derby—and after everyone was quick to use that as evidence that he's the new Face of Baseball—Judge has had a pretty terrible second half. So yeah, the Judge's Chambers aren't as hot as they used to be.

Tonight, however, the Judge's Chambers are alive and well. That's because Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Bronx native and avid Yankee fan, is seated in the Chambers to watch the Yankees take on the Red Sox.

Don't you love when puns come true?!

Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor is in the Judge's Chambers at Yankee Stadium

Earlier in the season, we heard a lot about the swarth of seats in right field that have been converted to the "Judge's Chambers." That's because the player who the Chambers are named after, Aaron Judge, was one of the best hitters in baseball and routinely lit up Yankee Stadium with homers.

After he put on an incredible performance to win this year's Home Run Derby—and after everyone was quick to use that as evidence that he's the new Face of Baseball—Judge has had a pretty terrible second half. So yeah, the Judge's Chambers aren't as hot as they used to be.

Tonight, however, the Judge's Chambers are alive and well. That's because Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Bronx native and avid Yankee fan, is seated in the Chambers to watch the Yankees take on the Red Sox.

Don't you love when puns come true?!

Video: Gary Sanchez hits a 493-foot home run

More than a month after the Home Run Derby, Logan Morrison continues to eat crow for his comments concerning Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Back in July, Morrison said of Sanchez, who was invited to the Derby, “Gary shouldn’t be there. Gary’s a great player, but he shouldn’t be in the Home Run Derby.” He added, referring […]

Video: Gary Sanchez hits a 493-foot home run

More than a month after the Home Run Derby, Logan Morrison continues to eat crow for his comments concerning Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Back in July, Morrison said of Sanchez, who was invited to the Derby, “Gary shouldn’t be there. Gary’s a great player, but he shouldn’t be in the Home Run Derby.” He added, referring […]

Video: Gary Sanchez hits a 493-foot home run

More than a month after the Home Run Derby, Logan Morrison continues to eat crow for his comments concerning Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Back in July, Morrison said of Sanchez, who was invited to the Derby, “Gary shouldn’t be there. Gary’s a great player, but he shouldn’t be in the Home Run Derby.” He added, referring […]

Aaron Judge is Mortal: Analyzing What is Causing His Second-Half Slump

Aaron Judge was the most interesting man in baseball during the first half of this season, a Statcast wonder, a Sports Illustrated cover subject, an All-Star starter and the Home Run Derby champion. The 6' 7", 285-pound rightfielder hit an MLB-high 30 homers before the break—that's a 57-homer pace over a full season, if you don't have your calculator handy—powering the Yankees into position for a wild card berth. Since the All-Star break, however, it's been an entirely different story.

The contrast between Judge's first half and second half performances is stark. After hitting .328/.448/.691 in the first half and leading the league in on-base and slugging percentages as well as WAR (5.3), he's hit just .169/.329/.355 and his WAR has actually slipped back to 5.2. He's also made the wrong kind of history, striking out in 37 consecutive games, the most ever by a position player. Explanations abound, none of them fully satisfying. The latest includes the possibility that his woes are physical, at least in part. According to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, Judge "appeared in the [Fenway Park visitor’s] clubhouse with his left shoulder iced heavily after Sunday's game. Judge said twice that the shoulder 'doesn't bother me at all,'” but he also conceded, "I'm not getting the job done. … It's a little disappointing not to get the job done, but nothing you can do about it. You can't pout, you can't cry. You've just got to keep working and move on."

While manager Joe Girardi suggested that Judge's issues are related to his swing mechanics, neither Judge nor hitting coach Alan Cockrell believe that's the case. Via Newsday's Erik Boland, Judge said, "The big adjustment is I’m missing my pitch. They’re leaving some over the plate. Earlier in the year, I wasn’t missing those. I was putting those in play, I’d put it in the gap, put a good swing on it. The past four weeks, I’m fouling those pitches off. Now it’s 0-1. Then they’re giving me a dirty pitch and it’s 0-2, and before you know it, you’re always in that fighting mode [behind in the count] instead of being on the attack. So I just can’t miss my pitch, that’s the biggest thing.”

Judge was bound to regress at least somewhat after that torrid first-half performance. But while he still leads the AL with 37 dingers and has a shot at Mark McGwire’s rookie record of 49, his game has become practically all-or-nothing. While he struck out in 29.8% of his plate appearances prior to the break, he's at 37.4% since, having tied the major league record of 37 consecutive games with a K set by former Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman in 1971 and '72. Only three other streaks among the top 15 came from non-pitchers in a single season: the Brewers' Geoff Jenkins, the Mariners' Mike Cameron and the Rockies' Brad Hawpe all struck out in 26 straight games, the first two in 2001, the last in '07. As with home runs, strikeouts are at a record level in 2017, but that's still eye-opening.

The strikeouts camouflage the extent to which Judge's performance in both halves has been driven by drastic shifts on batting average on balls in play. In the first half, Judge had a .426 BABIP, a mark that would stand as the highest since World War II if maintained over a full season (Rod Carew's .408 in 1977 is the record). In other words, that shiny batting line was all but certain to erode. Meanwhile, his .233 BABIP since the break would be the majors' fourth worst this year; teammate Todd Frazier has the worst at .221.

Of course, underlying BABIP is the quality of contact, which can be measured in multiple ways. Via FanGraphs, Judge's rate of hard-hit balls in the first half was 49.0%, third in the majors behind the Tigers' Nick Castellanos (49.6%) and Miguel Cabrera (49.5%), but in the second it's fallen to 34.3%, 89th among the 173 qualifiers but still above the MLB average of 32.1%. In terms of average exit velocity as measured by Statcast, Judge's balls in play have dropped from 95.9 mph before the break to 92.8 mph after, and if we exclude the groundballs from that, the drop is from 100.3 mph to 92.8 mph (again). Even his average home run distance has dropped, from 413 feet to 406.

So Judge isn't making contact as often, isn't hitting balls as hard when he does make contact and isn't getting as good a set of results all the way around. What about pitch selection? Using data from Brooks Baseball, Judge has fallen off drastically against four-seam fastballs, from a .318 batting average and .705 slugging percentage in the first half to .154 and .269 in the second. His drop-off has been not quite as pronounced against sinkers (.362/.741 in the first half, .263/.474 in the second) but it's nearly unprintable for sliders (from .207/.414 to .039/.154). Granted, those are small sample sizes but still, he has just one hit, a homer, out of 26 sliders with which he made contact since the break. Meanwhile, Judge's rate of whiffs per swing has gone up in the second half for practically every type of pitch: four-seamers (26.4% to 27.8%), sinkers (20.0% to 32.5%), sliders (46.1% to 67.2%), curves (51.9% to 554.6%) and changeups (40.7% to 47.6%).

FanGraphs' Travis Sawchik has a more comprehensive breakdown of the pitch selection Judge has faced. The whole thing is worth reading, but the take-home is that pitchers are adjusting to the slugger. Judge is seeing more fastballs high or above the zone in the second half than the first (from 10.9% of all pitches to 14.5%), and likewise for more fastballs away or away off the plate (18.4% to 22.3%)—and he’s particularly having trouble making contact with the ones high and away.

Judge isn't the only reason that the Yankees' offense has fallen off from 5.55 runs per game before the All-Star break to 4.14 since, including 3.84 this month. Frazier hasn't helped as much as hoped (.221/.348/.389) since arriving in a trade with the White Sox, and while both Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury have produced memorable moments since returning from long injury-related absences, they're batting a combined .167/.269/.333 nonetheless, and tStarlin Castro and Matt Holliday are still on the disabled list.

The Yankees will need several of those hitters to improve their production in order to hold onto a wild-card spot (they lead the Twins by 2 1/2 games for the top spot) or make another run at the Red Sox, whom they trail by 4 1/2 games. But whatever the explanation for his woes—psychological, physical, mechanical, or voodoo curse—Judge’s rebound would go a long way toward helping them reach October.

Aaron Judge gets dwarfed for once as WWE stars present him with a title belt

Some WWE stars came to give Aaron Judge a title belt for his Home Run Derby win, and made him look small.

Aaron Judge gets dwarfed for once as WWE stars present him with a title belt

Some WWE stars came to give Aaron Judge a title belt for his Home Run Derby win, and made him look small.

6'7": Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, RF

Though he's cooled off since a remarkable first half capped by his victory in the Home Run Derby, Judge has powered the Yankees into playoff contention with an AL-best 36 homers; he also leads in slugging percentage (.608) and ranks third in WAR (5.6). The force with which Judge sentences baseball to die is something to behold; on back-to-back days in June, he launched the season's longest home run (495 feet) and set a record for the highest exit velocity of a home run in the Statcast era (121.1 mph).

Total players: 19

Honorable mention: Andrew Miller

Aaron Judge Is Now A WWE Champion

Aaron Judge has cooled off considerably since winning the Home Run Derby, but his win in the event became official on Tuesday when WWE superstars awarded him a championship belt.

Braun Strowman, Big Cass and Alexa Bliss, all in New York for Sunday's SummerSlam event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, made a visit to Yankee Stadium to meet Judge and hand him a shiny new title.

More importantly for the Yankees, with the team struggling over the past several weeks, they may have found the help their lineup needs.

Behold the Awesome Power of Peak Giancarlo Stanton and His Incredible Home Run Display

Throughout the first half of the season, the baseball world was captivated by a pair of rookie sluggers who clubbed their way to the top of the home run leaderboards in their respective leagues, the Yankees' Aaron Judge in the AL and the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger in the NL. Cast as a younger, larger version of the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, the 6'7", 280-pound Judge hit a 495-foot homer, made the cover of Sports Illustrated and won the Home Run Derby title in Miami. The 21-year-old Bellinger was called up on April 25 and produced six multi-home run games before the All-Star break.

But since the Midsummer Classic, the 6'6", 245-pound Stanton has reclaimed his throne as the most fearsome power hitter in baseball. On the strength of a remarkable stretch of home runs, he has overtaken both rivals for the major league home run lead, set a new career high and is now aiming for some particularly rarefied air.

On Monday night at Marlins Park, Stanton hit his 10th home run in his team's past 11 games in an 8-3 win against the Giants. It was also his 16th of the second half and his 22nd since July 5, giving him a franchise-record 43 on the season.

WATCH: Stanton sets Marlins' home run record

Even for a player whose prodigious power has been his calling card since arriving in the majors in 2010, this is an incredible display. The now-27-year-old Stanton set off a fireworks show in last year's Home Run Derby in San Diego, winning it for the first time, but even so, his season was like so many others in his career—abbreviated. He played in just 119 games because of injuries, his fourth season out of five with fewer than 145. From 2012 to '16, he averaged just 115 games per year, and he's led the league in home runs just once: 2014, when he hit 37. Last year's 27 homers matched his total in just 74 games in 2015 (when he missed more than half the season due to a fractured hamate), while his .489 slugging percentage represented a drop of 117 points from the year before.

SI Vault: Why Giancarlo Stanton is a Miami masterpiece, by Ben Reiter (03.02.15)

Though overshadowed by Judge and Bellinger, Stanton quietly started 2017 very well, homering seven times apiece in April, May and June. In the final week before the All-Star break, he hit five in five games, bookended by multi-homer outings against the Cardinals and the Giants. The burst propelled him past Bellinger and into a tie with Joey Votto for the NL lead at the break with 26, four fewer than Judge had in the AL. It took Stanton a few days after the break to resume his slugging, but beginning with another two-homer game on July 17 against the Phillies, he's been on the kind of tear that usually involves video game cheat codes: 17 homers in his last 26 games, a 106-homer pace over 162 games. That includes homers in his last five games, matching the longest streak of his career, set from August 14-17, 2011.

Stanton's blast on Monday moved him past Gary Sheffield's 1996 total for the most in Marlins' history and has left the rest of this year’s field in the dust; Judge, who also went deep on Monday against the Mets, leads with AL with 36 homers while Bellinger's 34 is now a distant second in the NL. If Stanton were to merely finish out the year maintaining the same rate of home runs per game as he did through the first three months, he'd finish with 55, the most in the majors since the Phillies' Ryan Howard hit 58 in 2006. However, reaching 60—which only Babe Ruth and Roger Maris have done outside of the Steroid Era—would be tough, and catching Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73 would appear to be all but impossible. To tie Bonds, Stanton would have to hit 30 homers in the Marlins' final 45 games, a 108-homer pace—similar to what he's done over the past month but all but impossible to sustain—if projected over a full season.

Speaking of Bonds, as I noted last week, Stanton is the lone active player under age 30 with at least 200 homers; he has 251. Having his first 40-homer season under his belt would appear to be a necessary precondition for anyone hoping to mount a threat to Bonds' career record of 762 homers; for Stanton, it will take 12 more such seasons and change, giving him a shot at the record in his age-40 season. Of course, that's one heck of a longshot, but it's worth noting given that the only other players young enough and with enough dingers in the bank to be in that particular conversation are former MVP winners Mike Trout (26, but still in his age-25 season; 191 home runs) and Bryce Harper (24; 150 home runs and recently sent to the disabled list with a knee injury) and Bellinger (21).

Speaking of long shots, with Stanton it’s not just about home run totals, it's about distance. Via Baseball Savant, his average home run entering Monday's game projected to 418 feet, tops in the majors among those with at least 25 homers and second among all those with at least 10, trailing only the Rockies' Mark Reynolds, who has the advantage of playing in high altitude Colorado. An MLB-high seven of Stanton's 43 homers have gone at least 440 feet, as many as the combined totals of the second-ranked Wil Myers (four). Even with the time he's missed, Stanton's 15 such homers over the past three seasons—the Statcast era, so to speak—is tops, ahead of the 12 by the Mariners' Nelson Cruz. He has four homers of at least 470 feet in that span, as many as the combined total of Cruz and the Dodgers' Joc Pederson, the only other players with multiple long-distance shots, and to date, the 504-foot homer he hit off the Rockies' Chad Bettis in Colorado last Aug. 6 is the longest of the span.

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Stanton's latest burst has come against the backdrop of the sale of the Marlins' franchise; on Friday, it was announced that a group headed by financier Bruce Sherman, with Derek Jeter on board as the CEO, has agreed to purchase the team from Jeffrey Loria for $1.2 billion. What remains to be seen is whether the new owners will hold onto Stanton, whom the Loria regime signed to a record-setting 13-year, $325 million extension in November 2014—more than double the amount that the team contributed to the building of Marlins Park. The deal is heavily backloaded; Stanton is making just $14.5 million in salary this yea before the figure jumps to $25 million next year. While just about every team could use Stanton, the general feeling in the industry is that if Miami wants to do more than dump Stanton's salary in order to jump-start the franchise out of its mediocrity, it will have to eat a hefty portion of that in order to boost the quality of players it would receive in return.

Stanton's latest hot streak only raises the stakes for such a trade, though at this point, it's not something likely to happen this season, even given the reports that he has passed through waivers. In the meantime, we should just enjoy the fireworks he's setting off, because peak Stanton is a rare and wondrous sight to behold.

Behold the Awesome Power of Peak Giancarlo Stanton and His Incredible Home Run Display

Throughout the first half of the season, the baseball world was captivated by a pair of rookie sluggers who clubbed their way to the top of the home run leaderboards in their respective leagues, the Yankees' Aaron Judge in the AL and the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger in the NL. Cast as a younger, larger version of the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, the 6'7", 280-pound Judge hit a 495-foot homer, made the cover of Sports Illustrated and won the Home Run Derby title in Miami. The 21-year-old Bellinger was called up on April 25 and produced six multi-home run games before the All-Star break.

But since the Midsummer Classic, the 6'6", 245-pound Stanton has reclaimed his throne as the most fearsome power hitter in baseball. On the strength of a remarkable stretch of home runs, he has overtaken both rivals for the major league home run lead, set a new career high and is now aiming for some particularly rarefied air.

On Monday night at Marlins Park, Stanton hit his 10th home run in his team's past 11 games in an 8-3 win against the Giants. It was also his 16th of the second half and his 22nd since July 5, giving him a franchise-record 43 on the season.

WATCH: Stanton sets Marlins' home run record

Even for a player whose prodigious power has been his calling card since arriving in the majors in 2010, this is an incredible display. The now-27-year-old Stanton set off a fireworks show in last year's Home Run Derby in San Diego, winning it for the first time, but even so, his season was like so many others in his career—abbreviated. He played in just 119 games because of injuries, his fourth season out of five with fewer than 145. From 2012 to '16, he averaged just 115 games per year, and he's led the league in home runs just once: 2014, when he hit 37. Last year's 27 homers matched his total in just 74 games in 2015 (when he missed more than half the season due to a fractured hamate), while his .489 slugging percentage represented a drop of 117 points from the year before.

SI Vault: Why Giancarlo Stanton is a Miami masterpiece, by Ben Reiter (03.02.15)

Though overshadowed by Judge and Bellinger, Stanton quietly started 2017 very well, homering seven times apiece in April, May and June. In the final week before the All-Star break, he hit five in five games, bookended by multi-homer outings against the Cardinals and the Giants. The burst propelled him past Bellinger and into a tie with Joey Votto for the NL lead at the break with 26, four fewer than Judge had in the AL. It took Stanton a few days after the break to resume his slugging, but beginning with another two-homer game on July 17 against the Phillies, he's been on the kind of tear that usually involves video game cheat codes: 17 homers in his last 26 games, a 106-homer pace over 162 games. That includes homers in his last five games, matching the longest streak of his career, set from August 14-17, 2011.

Stanton's blast on Monday moved him past Gary Sheffield's 1996 total for the most in Marlins' history and has left the rest of this year’s field in the dust; Judge, who also went deep on Monday against the Mets, leads with AL with 36 homers while Bellinger's 34 is now a distant second in the NL. If Stanton were to merely finish out the year maintaining the same rate of home runs per game as he did through the first three months, he'd finish with 55, the most in the majors since the Phillies' Ryan Howard hit 58 in 2006. However, reaching 60—which only Babe Ruth and Roger Maris have done outside of the Steroid Era—would be tough, and catching Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73 would appear to be all but impossible. To tie Bonds, Stanton would have to hit 30 homers in the Marlins' final 45 games, a 108-homer pace—similar to what he's done over the past month but all but impossible to sustain—if projected over a full season.

Speaking of Bonds, as I noted last week, Stanton is the lone active player under age 30 with at least 200 homers; he has 251. Having his first 40-homer season under his belt would appear to be a necessary precondition for anyone hoping to mount a threat to Bonds' career record of 762 homers; for Stanton, it will take 12 more such seasons and change, giving him a shot at the record in his age-40 season. Of course, that's one heck of a longshot, but it's worth noting given that the only other players young enough and with enough dingers in the bank to be in that particular conversation are former MVP winners Mike Trout (26, but still in his age-25 season; 191 home runs) and Bryce Harper (24; 150 home runs and recently sent to the disabled list with a knee injury) and Bellinger (21).

Speaking of long shots, with Stanton it’s not just about home run totals, it's about distance. Via Baseball Savant, his average home run entering Monday's game projected to 418 feet, tops in the majors among those with at least 25 homers and second among all those with at least 10, trailing only the Rockies' Mark Reynolds, who has the advantage of playing in high altitude Colorado. An MLB-high seven of Stanton's 43 homers have gone at least 440 feet, as many as the combined totals of the second-ranked Wil Myers (four). Even with the time he's missed, Stanton's 15 such homers over the past three seasons—the Statcast era, so to speak—is tops, ahead of the 12 by the Mariners' Nelson Cruz. He has four homers of at least 470 feet in that span, as many as the combined total of Cruz and the Dodgers' Joc Pederson, the only other players with multiple long-distance shots, and to date, the 504-foot homer he hit off the Rockies' Chad Bettis in Colorado last Aug. 6 is the longest of the span.

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Stanton's latest burst has come against the backdrop of the sale of the Marlins' franchise; on Friday, it was announced that a group headed by financier Bruce Sherman, with Derek Jeter on board as the CEO, has agreed to purchase the team from Jeffrey Loria for $1.2 billion. What remains to be seen is whether the new owners will hold onto Stanton, whom the Loria regime signed to a record-setting 13-year, $325 million extension in November 2014—more than double the amount that the team contributed to the building of Marlins Park. The deal is heavily backloaded; Stanton is making just $14.5 million in salary this yea before the figure jumps to $25 million next year. While just about every team could use Stanton, the general feeling in the industry is that if Miami wants to do more than dump Stanton's salary in order to jump-start the franchise out of its mediocrity, it will have to eat a hefty portion of that in order to boost the quality of players it would receive in return.

Stanton's latest hot streak only raises the stakes for such a trade, though at this point, it's not something likely to happen this season, even given the reports that he has passed through waivers. In the meantime, we should just enjoy the fireworks he's setting off, because peak Stanton is a rare and wondrous sight to behold.

The Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Is (Briefly) Restored as the Two Battle for AL East Supremacy

They're baaaack. This weekend, the Red Sox pay a visit to the Bronx to renew pleasantries with the Yankees. For as familiar and fatiguing as this rivalry can feel—even within the Northeast Corridor—this is the first time since September 24–25, 2011 that the two teams have squared off in the second half while running first and second (in either order) atop the AL East.

This is the fourth series of the season between the arch-rivals, and while the Yankees (60–53) hold a 6–3 advantage in games over the Red Sox (65–49) thus far, they've tumbled 7 1/2 games relative to the Sox since taking two out of three from them at Yankee Stadium June 6–8, going from three games ahead in the AL East to 4 1/2 back.

Even if first place isn't immediately at stake this weekend, it's been a while since so much was on the line between these two teams. From 1998 through 2009, the Yankees won the AL East 10 times, including nine in a row from '98 through '06. The Red Sox were runners up 10 times in that span (including eight in a row from 1998–2005) and claimed the AL wild card seven times; only in 2007 did they flip the regular season script, winning the division while the Yankees took the wild card. Each finished third once in that span, Boston in 2006 and the Yankees in '08.

The Yankees' dominance carried over to the postseason as they won championships every year from 1998–2000 plus pennants in '01 and '03. They knocked off the Red Sox in 1999 and '03, the latter in a thrilling seven-game ALCS capped by Aaron Boone's walkoff home run off Tim Wakefield, but the next year the Red Sox turned the tables, mounting an unprecedented comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit in the ALCS and winning their first World Series in 86 years. They won again in 2007, while the Yankees did so in 2009.

Since then, both teams have had only intermittent success and they haven't finished first and second in either configuration. The Red Sox have ridden a rollercoaster, making the playoffs only in 2013 (winning the World Series for the third time in a decade) and 2016 (losing in the Division Series) and finishing last in the division and well below .500 three times. While the Yankees haven't finished below .500 since 1992, and made the playoffs every year from 2010–12, they didn't get further than the ALCS in any of those years, and since then have played in just one postseason game, losing the 2015 AL wild card to the Astros.

As for this season, the Yankees were second in the AL East, the Red Sox in third when the two teams played at Fenway Park on April 26–27, with the Bronx Bombers winning both and climbing into a first place tie with the Orioles. Still leading the division, with the Red Sox in second, the Yankees took two out of three at Yankee Stadium from June 6–8. By the time the two teams opened the second half with a four-game series in Boston, the Sox were atop the division and the Yankees in third; they split those four games, including a Sunday doubleheader that made up a rainout from their April series.

Though the two teams have generally played well since that last series, with the Red Sox going 13–8 and the Yankees 13–10, the anxiety levels appear to have increased for the two teams. The Yankees were the more active of the pair at this year's trade deadline. They added third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox, upgrading at third base and a powerful but fatigued bullpen. They brought over righty Sonny Gray from the A’s and Jaime Garcia from the Twins to patch up a rotation that had lost Michael Pineda for the season.

They won seven out of eight from July 25–31, but have gone just 3–6 in August, scoring three runs or fewer in seven of those games and putting up zeroes in both of Gray's starts. Rookie Aaron Judge, who emerged as a superstar in the first half and then won the Home Run Derby, has skidded to a .172/.336/.356 line since then, and both Jacoby Ellsbury and rookie Clint Frazier have struggled as well. The latter is now on the disabled list with an oblique strain, joining the previously productive Matt Holliday, who crashed and burned to a .136/.165/.198 clip to start the second half before going on the disabled list with a back strain.

If there's good news for the Yankees, it's that Aaron Hicks, who hit .290/.398/.515 before going on the DL with an oblique strain in late June, returned to the lineup on Thursday night, and that both displaced third baseman Chase Headley and newly-acquired Garrett Cooper (obtained from Milwaukee for reliever Tyler Webb) have shored up an unproductive situation at first base, with the former hitting .333/.384/.489 in 99 PA in the second half, the latter .378/.385/.568 in 39 PA.

The Red Sox's moves before the deadline weren't as splashy as those of the Yankees. They didn't dig nearly as deep into their farm system, but they did improve their team by adding utilityman (and former Yankee) Eduardo Nunez, who has hit a torrid .420/.442/.780 in 52 PA, mostly while filling in for the injured Dustin Pedroia (since returned from a bout of left knee inflammation), and reliever Addison Reed, who has added depth to a bullpen hit hard by injuries.

While the arrival of 20-year-old top prospect Rafael Devers has shored up third base (he's hitting .319/.396/.553 in 53 PA), Boston's offense is still unimposing; just four regulars are posting an OPS+ above 100, led by Mookie Betts (109). It remains bizarre that the Sox stood pat with the underwhelming Mitch Moreland at first base instead of adding Yonder Alonso or Lucas Duda, neither of whom would have cost much in trade. Duda wound up with the Rays, who remain in the wild card hunt but have sputtered to a 12–14 record in the second half, while Alonso is now in Seattle.

The bigger concern for Boston is the loss of David Price for the second time this year due to elbow inflammation in late July. He's made just 11 starts and pitched to a 3.82 ERA/3.98 FIP overall while going to war with the local media and team broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, and it's not yet clear whether he'll even pitch again this year. Newly acquired Chris Sale is the leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young, but last year's winner, Rick Porcello, has regressed to a 4.63 ERA/4.39 FIP. Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez have picked up the slack such that the rotation's 4.03 ERA and 3.85 FIP both rank second in the league, but if the playoffs were to start today, it would look less than imposing.

That said, they would appear to have a slight edge in the pitching matchups in this series, with Rodriguez (4.08 ERA/4.15 FIP) going up against Garcia (4.49 ERA/4.03 FIP) on Friday night, Pomeranz (3.36 ERA /3.68 FIP) against newly-minted staff ace Luis Severino (2.91 ERA/2.09 FIP) on Saturday and Sale (2.57 ERA/1.97 FIP) against rookie Jordan Montgomery (4.05 ERA/3.95 FIP) on Sunday night.

With those dozen years of sparring still not entirely erased from memory thanks to so many larger-than-life characters and memorable battles, the rest of the country may roll their eyes and scream “East Coast bias!” given the extent to which this matchup consumes oxygen. Still, the two teams’ collective history means plenty of hype no matter where they are in the standings. At least this time, there’s so much more at stake besides bragging rights.

MLB 2017 Season: Rookie Sensations Taking Over And Los Angeles Dodgers Chasing History

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers are the first pair of young stars to each record 30 home runs since 2007. Aaron Judge has homered a league-leading 34 times this season. During the All-Star Home Run Derby, Judge became the first rookie to win the race outright. Cody Bellinger has homered 30 times this season, and is the 3rd fastest player to hit 30 home runs in history, in just 87 games. Bellinger is a big part of the Dodgers’ success this year. The red-hot Dodgers lead the league with a record of 80-33, and have completed the best 50-game stretch since 1912 with 43-7. The Dodgers also have a good chance of making history with the most wins in a season.

MLB 2017 Season: Rookie Sensations Taking Over And Los Angeles Dodgers Chasing History

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers are the first pair of young stars to each record 30 home runs since 2007. Aaron Judge has homered a league-leading 34 times this season. During the All-Star Home Run Derby, Judge became the first rookie to win the race outright. Cody Bellinger has homered 30 times this season, and is the 3rd fastest player to hit 30 home runs in history, in just 87 games. Bellinger is a big part of the Dodgers’ success this year. The red-hot Dodgers lead the league with a record of 80-33, and have completed the best 50-game stretch since 1912 with 43-7. The Dodgers also have a good chance of making history with the most wins in a season.

MLB 2017 Season: Rookie Sensations Taking Over And Los Angeles Dodgers Chasing History

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers are the first pair of young stars to each record 30 home runs since 2007. Aaron Judge has homered a league-leading 34 times this season. During the All-Star Home Run Derby, Judge became the first rookie to win the race outright. Cody Bellinger has homered 30 times this season, and is the 3rd fastest player to hit 30 home runs in history, in just 87 games. Bellinger is a big part of the Dodgers’ success this year. The red-hot Dodgers lead the league with a record of 80-33, and have completed the best 50-game stretch since 1912 with 43-7. The Dodgers also have a good chance of making history with the most wins in a season.

MLB 2017 Season: Rookie Sensations Taking Over And Los Angeles Dodgers Chasing History

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers are the first pair of young stars to each record 30 home runs since 2007. Aaron Judge has homered a league-leading 34 times this season. During the All-Star Home Run Derby, Judge became the first rookie to win the race outright. Cody Bellinger has homered 30 times this season, and is the 3rd fastest player to hit 30 home runs in history, in just 87 games. Bellinger is a big part of the Dodgers’ success this year. The red-hot Dodgers lead the league with a record of 80-33, and have completed the best 50-game stretch since 1912 with 43-7. The Dodgers also have a good chance of making history with the most wins in a season.

MLB 2017 Season: Rookie Sensations Taking Over And Los Angeles Dodgers Chasing History

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers are the first pair of young stars to each record 30 home runs since 2007. Aaron Judge has homered a league-leading 34 times this season. During the All-Star Home Run Derby, Judge became the first rookie to win the race outright. Cody Bellinger has homered 30 times this season, and is the 3rd fastest player to hit 30 home runs in history, in just 87 games. Bellinger is a big part of the Dodgers’ success this year. The red-hot Dodgers lead the league with a record of 80-33, and have completed the best 50-game stretch since 1912 with 43-7. The Dodgers also have a good chance of making history with the most wins in a season.