Here are 10 moments from June that reminded us baseball is great
The baseball season is nearly at its halfway point. That means that nearly half of the home runs, stolen bases, wild pitches and everything else have already come and gone, disappearing into the ether.
But don't be sad because it's over. Be glad that it happened. And that you have a full second half of the season to look forward to.
Before we do that, though, rushing headfirst into the future, let's enjoy the very best moments from the month that was.
All stats as of July 1.
10. Billy Hamilton is the fastest man on Earth
Billy Hamilton is putting up one of the most unlikely seasons you'll see in modern baseball. Despite a meager batting line of only .224/.271/.293, Hamilton has swiped 40 bases. And while he was always fast, his baserunning abilities weren't always so refined. While stealing 56 bases in 2014, Hamilton also led the league with 23 times caught stealing. This year, he's a much improved 40-for-46, good for an 87 percent success rate.
He only got faster in June. After stealing 13 bases in April and eight in May, the fastest creature on two feet swiped 19 in June. That included one game with five steals and another game with four. That basically means that he stole two home runs and a single in just two games.
That's just unfair. While some are hoping that we'll one day have a Battle of the Network Stars-like race between Hamilton and Dee Gordon, I'm hoping instead for a show where Hamilton and a jungle cat solve supernatural crimes. It'll be called "Speed Demons."
9. Giancarlo Stanton is a very strong man
We could sit here and cry over the fact that Stanton is set to miss the next four-to-six weeks with a broken hand, but no -- today we must be strong. Like Giancarlo Stanton who absolutely crushed the ball in June.
Before going down with the injury, Stanton hit .344/.404/.800 with 12 home runs in just 24 June games.
Even more amazing is just how hard Stanton hit some of those homers. According to Statcast™, Stanton has five of the 20 longest home runs this season, with two of them coming in June. Like this 478.61-foot shot off of Carlos Martinez:
Warning: you can get whiplash just from watching that.
And how could we forget this 478.38-foot shot off of Eddie Butler?
Of course, that only tells a small story of Stanton's season. He also has 12 of the 20 fastest exit velocities, including the three fastest. If you're curious, Stanton's home run off of Martinez above flew off his bat at 119.20 mph -- only third best of his hits this season.
Because of that, not only does Stanton hit massive blasts, but he can drive seemingly ordinary pitches that he has no business hitting out of the park. Like this opposite-field shot against the Mets that should have been caught long before it reached the wall.
One day, we will tell creation myths about how every time there's an earthquake, it's because Stanton flexed his biceps.
8. Alex Rodriguez enters the record books
When little children weren't hanging all around him at the Play Ball event outside of Yankee Stadium, Rodriguez was making some history. After passing Willie Mays with his 661st home run in May, A-Rod moved into second place on the all-time RBI list before he decided to take a page out of Jeter's book when it was time for hit No. 3,000.
On the first pitch he saw from Justin Verlander in the bottom of the first inning on June 19, there was an A-Bomb from A-Rod (sorry, but I believe it's a legal requirement to use John Sterling-isms when referencing milestones) into right field.
It made Rodriguez just the third player to reach the 3,000-hit plateau on a home run after Jeter and Wade Boggs. Perhaps shockingly, he's also the first ever No. 1 overall Draft pick to reach it, too.
7. The NL Central is fun
Entering June, the Pirates trailed the Cardinals in the NL Central by seven games. Led by the batting-glove-handing-out, sock-designing, Taylor-Swift-listening, greatest-living-human Andrew McCutchen -- the team went 17-9 during the month, including an eight game-winning streak from June 10-18. That included this game against the Phillies during a full moon that will likely be a key plot point in an upcoming episode of "Teen Wolf."
Only problem for the Bucs: At the end of the month, they trailed the Cardinals by eight games, thanks to the Cardinals going 18-8. It's been a long time since the Pirates have picked up any ground on the Cardinals: over the last 30 games played, the Pirates are tied with the Blue Jays for the second-best record in baseball at 19-11. But once again, the Cardinals have topped them with a 21-9 record.
And how did the Cardinals do it? By having a pitching staff full of hypnotists who have convinced teams not to cross the plate. St. Louis has allowed a shockingly low 2.8 runs per game -- .57 per game less than the second-place Pirates. Of the team's five starters, John Lackey has the highest ERA at 3.35 (also the only ERA over 3.00 and still good for a 114 ERA+), while Trevor Rosenthal has allowed two runs this year. Two! In 35 1/3 innings!
Put it all together and you should be getting ready for a exciting summer in the NL Central. And it's not just because of the Cardinals (best record in the Majors) and the Pirates (4th-best), but those young, pesky, irascible Cubs are hanging around with the eighth-best record.
Which means that we will be seeing plenty of this:
And by that, I mean important intra-division battles that end in extra-innings. But if the division just so happens to feature important extra-innings battles that have wacky endings, I won't complain.
6. Jeff Francoeur takes the hill
For eons, fans have waited for bated breath for Jeff Francoeur to take the mound. I mean, who here hasn't woken up at 2 a.m. and thought, "Wait! I should check the box score to see if Jeff Francoeur, the man with the ability to throw lightning bolts, was brought in to pitch."
It makes sense. After all, Frenchy was part-time reliever while with Triple-A El Paso last season, pitching 7 1/3 innings across eight appearances.
In June, our prayers were answered when he finally made his big league debut against the Orioles, even getting to pitch a second inning.
Though he eventually tired, giving up a home run and walking three, he still showed off good enough movement on an 89-mph fastball to pick up a strikeout.
Of course, he may be Billy Batson/Shazam who must yell a magical word to gain access to his powers. After Shazam pitched against the Orioles, Billy Batson forgot how to even throw the ball later in the month:
5. Chris Heston throws a no-hitter
For pizza fans, June 9 was a big day. Of course, it was also a big day for Giants fans, pitching fans, and people who just generally like watching good baseball.
Relying almost entirely on just his sinker and curveball, Heston dominated the Mets. The Giants rookie, who never graced a Top 100 prospect list, struck out 11 and walked none -- though he did struggle a bit as he hit three batters. He's the only pitcher to hit three batters during a no-no. (Oddly enough, a hit batsman is going to play a key role in a later no-hitter.)
It looked a little like this:
And naturally, for just the second team in history to have a no-hitter in four consecutive seasons, it ended with a Buster Posey hug. Which is the best kind of hug.
4. Nolan Arenado Hits Air Tornados
We already couldn't take our eyes off of Arenado whenever he stepped in the field, due to his continued insistence on doing absolutely unreal things any time a ball was hit near him. Hey, Nolan, you ever think that some of us need to do some household chores and can't keep our eyes glued to the screen 24/7?
In the past month, though, Arenado made sure you paid attention to him while he was doing everything -- whether it was fielding, eating, hitting, going to the grocery store, tying his shoes, etc. (Though it was mostly the hitting that we care about.)
In the month of June, Arenado hit .304/.319/.714 with 12 home runs. That includes three multi-home run games. It was a lot of this:
Of course, its not like Arenado stopped paying attention on defense, though. He still found time to field and throw a ball across county lines for the out:
3. Chris Sale doesn't like letting batters hit things
Here's a quick multiple choice test for you. Just finish this sentence:
Chris Sale is _________:
B) Very good
C) So good that everything else looks like garbage in comparison
D) I would say good, except that good reflects a moral definition and we all know the universe is meaningless chaos. So I'll just say that he's the reason for existence.
If you wrote anything other than D (with C giving you half credit), you're wrong.
Coming off his best season last year, going 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA and 208 strikeouts, Sale has somehow been even better this season. While Sale's ERA is slightly higher, at 2.87, he leads the league in FIP with 2.07 --indicating that he's been ever-so-slightly unlucky. Which isn't hard to tell when you realize how unstoppable he's been.
After striking out 12 Cardinals batters to end his June, Sale tied Pedro Martinez's record with eight straight starts in which he struck out 10 or more.
And while Martinez did it during an era in which the average K/9 across the league was 6.41 compared to this season's 7.58, that shouldn't undercut Sale's absolute dominance. After all, Pedro also had the greatest jheri curl in baseball history and we don't hold that against Sale, either.
2. The year of the rookie*
*Every year we probably say it's the year of the rookie at some time. So sue us, rookies are great.
Already spoiled with the likes of Joc Pederson, Kris Bryant and Chris Heston (see above), June saw the debut of many more wonderful, awe-astounding rookies that make you look in the mirror and say, "I'm already INSERT AGE and what have I done with my life? I'm a miserable failure."
Fortunately, once you've finished with your painful self-examination, you can watch these rookies do astounding things on the baseball field.
Like when Joey Gallo came up and smashed an upper deck shot in his big league debut and spread joy to his parent's faces:
Or Byron Buxton, who showed off his sweet set of wheels with his first MLB hit:
Or Carlos Correa, who even had to wait through a replay review to find out if he had his first big league hit and RBI.
Or Francisco Lindor, who wasted no time before upgrading the Cleveland defense:
And who can forget Steven Matz's debut in which he went 3-for-3 ... while also pitching 7 2/3 innings:
Even Kyle Schwarber got his chance, albeit briefly, when he came up for a week, going 4-for-5 in his first start.
The point is: The young keep coming and they will eventually devour us all as we grow old and infirm. Sleep well!
1. Max Scherzer is maxnificent (Get it?)
When the Nationals signed Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract, they clearly had high expectations. I think it's safe to say that he has exceeded them thus far. A big reason why the Nationals hold a two-game lead in the NL East is the right-hander, who has a 9-5 record a 1.79 ERA on the season. And he closed out June in fine fashion.
Against Milwaukee on June 14, Scherzer pitched a complete game one-hitter while striking out 16 batters. The effort netted him that rarest of rare 100 game scores:
The next time out, he was even better, picking up a no-hitter against the Pirates while striking out 11. Of course, he came within one strike of a perfect game were it not for a Jose Tabata elbow.
In his next start, the Fraternity of Johnny Vander Meer thought they might finally be able to induct a new member. Sadly, it was for naught. After going 5 1/3 no-hit innings against the Phillies, Freddy Galvis ripped a double into the right field corner -- likely due to the great jinx put on by Phillies broadcasters Tom McCarthy and Matt Stairs.
Still, these are Scherzer's numbers over his final three starts in June:
3-0, 26 IP, 2 R, 33 SO, 1 BB, 0.69 ERA. Yeah, that's pretty good.
I guess the only way he can do better is if it's revealed that he's the game's best pinch-hitter.
Matt Williams said Max Scherzer is regularly seeking pinch hit opportunities and leaves his offensive stats on his desk from time to time.- Jeff Joyce (@JeffJoyce19) July 1, 2015
As we head into the All-Star break and the second half of the season, what's in store next? Which teams will storm back into the playoff picture and which players will put themselves into awards territory? And, more importantly, will Jeff Francoeur get to pitch again? We'll just have to wait and see.