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Pederson continues power surge with leadoff HR

MLB.com @kengurnick

CHICAGO -- It took an extra day to start the series with the Cubs, but it took Joc Pederson only two pitches into Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader day game to take Tyler Chatwood deep.

It was Pederson's eighth home run of the month and ninth of the season, a line drive that just made it into the right-field catch basket in front of the Wrigley Field bleachers.

View Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- It took an extra day to start the series with the Cubs, but it took Joc Pederson only two pitches into Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader day game to take Tyler Chatwood deep.

It was Pederson's eighth home run of the month and ninth of the season, a line drive that just made it into the right-field catch basket in front of the Wrigley Field bleachers.

View Full Game Coverage

In 13 games this month entering Tuesday, Pederson was 13-for-33 (.394) with 11 runs, five doubles and 10 RBIs.

Pederson, who began the season on the bench, has inherited significant playing time because of the season-ending Tommy John surgery for shortstop Corey Seager. Chris Taylor has moved to shortstop and opened up center field for Pederson against opposing right-handed starters.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Joc Pederson

New leader at catcher, overall on AL ASG ballot

Ramos passes Sanchez behind plate; Altuve overtakes Betts in total votes
MLB.com @castrovince

An American League backstop battle has broken out in voting on the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot.

VOTE NOW: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

An American League backstop battle has broken out in voting on the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot.

VOTE NOW: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

The Rays' Wilson Ramos has overtaken the Yankees' Gary Sanchez for the AL's starting spot behind the plate in the latest voting update released Tuesday. Voting to decide the starters for the 89th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on July 17 at Washington's Nationals Park continues until 11:59 p.m. ET on July 5.

Though catcher is the only place where a change has taken place at the top, we also have a new top overall vote-getter, with Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (1,572,101) holding a slight edge over Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts (1,568,417) among all Major Leaguers. Freddie Freeman leads the NL with 1,433,140 votes.

National League voting update

Here are the latest results in the AL:

Video: TB@HOU: Ramos opens the scoring with a 2-run jack

CATCHER
1. Wilson Ramos, Rays: 678,159
2. Gary Sanchez, Yankees: 618,899
3. Brian McCann, Astros: 401,336
4. Salvador Perez, Royals: 344,915
5. Yan Gomes, Indians: 200,275

Sanchez's spot at the top with a sub-.200 batting average got a lot of attention when the first results were released last week. Ramos has a .286 average, .332 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage, compared to Sanchez's .194 average, .294 on-base percentage and .440 slugging percentage. Ramos has made it back into the limelight after an awful right knee injury sidelined him late during a 2016 season with the Nationals in which he made the NL All-Star squad for his first Midsummer Classic selection. The other change here is Gomes' arrival into the top five, bumping the Angels' Martin Maldonado.

Video: CLE@CWS: Abreu belts an opposite-field 2-run homer

FIRST BASE
1. Jose Abreu, White Sox: 636,666
2. Mitch Moreland, Red Sox: 472,245
3. Yuli Gurriel, Astros: 368,863
4. Albert Pujols, Angels: 336,724
5. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: 333,130

Cabrera's season-ending ruptured left biceps tendon caused his fall from third to fifth, and Gurriel has risen two spots in this pecking order. But it's still Abreu well out in front in a year in which he's logged a .283/.338/.500 line for the White Sox.

Video: TB@HOU: Altuve shows off his speed, legs out a single

SECOND BASE
1. Jose Altuve, Astros: 1,572,101
2. Gleyber Torres, Yankees: 534,758
3. Dee Gordon, Mariners: 244,488
4. Jason Kipnis, Indians: 156,347
5. Jed Lowrie, A's: 130,479

Altuve has more than a million votes more than his next-closest competition, so we're going to go out on a limb and suggest he's in good shape to make his fourth straight start for the AL. Now the only question is whether the reigning AL MVP Award winner, who played a big part in the Astros' just-completed 10-0 road trip, can maintain his lead in the overall voting.

Video: MIN@CLE: Ramirez crushes 21st home run of the year

THIRD BASE
1. Jose Ramirez, Indians: 893,530
2. Miguel Andujar, Yankees: 509,188
3. Alex Bregman, Astros: 410,412
4. Adrian Beltre, Rangers: 249,080
5. Mike Moustakas, Royals: 231,363

Ramirez, with 21 long balls, is already closing in on his homer total (29) from last year, when he finished third in the AL MVP Award voting, and he continues to run away with what would be his second straight starting assignment. The rest of the top five is unchanged from last week.

Video: MIA@BAL: Machado flares 2-run single to right-center

SHORTSTOP
1. Manny Machado, Orioles: 671,133
2. Carlos Correa, Astros: 458,367
3. Francisco Lindor, Indians: 420,674
4. Didi Gregorius, Yankees: 413,135
5. Jean Segura, Mariners: 312,407

Machado, who leads a deep position in OPS (.945), homers (18) and RBIs (53), continues to be at the top of the heap here, but there were changes below him. Correa, who has been productive since his return from right side discomfort, usurped the second spot from Lindor. And Segura, who has put up an .852 OPS for the surprising Mariners, entered the top five, knocking out the Angels' Andrelton Simmons.

Video: BOS@BAL: Betts belts 1st homer since coming off DL

OUTFIELD
1. Mookie Betts, Red Sox: 1,568,417
2. Mike Trout, Angels: 1,323,292
3. Aaron Judge, Yankees: 1,061,370
4. Michael Brantley, Indians: 518,350
5. George Springer, Astros: 511,815
6. Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox: 509,780
7. Brett Gardner, Yankees: 330,970
8. Marwin Gonzalez, Astros: 300,694
9. Mitch Haniger, Mariners: 295,057
10. Josh Reddick, Astros: 278,332
11. Nicholas Castellanos, Tigers: 256,889
12. Eddie Rosario, Twins: 248,451
13. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: 239,594
14. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox: 237,937
15. Ben Gamel, Mariners: 151,097

The three starting spots seem pretty well settled here, as Trout (.332/.464/.688), Betts (.340/.419/.699) and Judge (.275/.395/.558) are all having absurdly good seasons in big markets. The only changes here are Haniger's jump from 13th to ninth, Reddick's leapfrog of Castellanos, Rosario and Bradley trading spots, and Gamel bumping the Indians' Tyler Naquin from the top 15.

Video: BOS@BAL: Martinez mashes his 22nd homer of the season

DESIGNATED HITTER
1. J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: 1,119,263
2. Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees: 478,872
3. Evan Gattis, Astros: 363,362
4. Shohei Ohtani, Angels: 350,579
5. Edwin Encarnacion, Indians: 260,915

With Ohtani out with an elbow injury and Gattis continuing to assert himself as one of the most productive players in baseball over the past month, those two flipped rankings in this week's update. But the top two spots are unchanged, and Martinez is well on his way to a much-deserved first All-Star selection since 2015, and his first turn as a starter.

Fans may cast votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- on computers, tablets and smartphones -- exclusively online using the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot until Thursday, July 5, at 11:59 p.m. ET. On smartphones and tablets, fans can also access the ballot via the MLB At Bat and MLB Ballpark mobile apps. Each fan can vote up to five times in any 24-hour period, for a maximum of 35 ballots cast.

Following the announcement of this year's All-Star starters, reserves and pitchers, fans should return to MLB.com and cast their 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Final Vote for the final player on each league's roster. Then on Tuesday, July 17, while watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, fans may visit MLB.com to submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote.

The 89th Midsummer Classic, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.

For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Yankees, Dodgers phenoms lead new ROY poll

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Once or twice over the years, we may have been guilty of overhyping a few Yankees prospects. Every kid was going to be the next Mantle or the next DiMaggio. Hey, that's part of the fun of this stuff.

Not all of them were. Between 1971 and 2016, the Yanks had just one American League Rookie of the Year Award winner -- Derek Jeter, in 1996.

Once or twice over the years, we may have been guilty of overhyping a few Yankees prospects. Every kid was going to be the next Mantle or the next DiMaggio. Hey, that's part of the fun of this stuff.

Not all of them were. Between 1971 and 2016, the Yanks had just one American League Rookie of the Year Award winner -- Derek Jeter, in 1996.

This time, we might be underselling them. First, there are kids dotted up and down Aaron Boone's lineup card. Now comes our latest AL Rookie of the Year Award poll, from 37 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

There are Yankees running first and second -- this, after Aaron Judge won it last season. In the long history of the New York Yankees, they've never had back-to-back AL Rookie of the Year Awarrd winners.

Yanks second baseman Gleyber Torres got 34 of 37 first-place votes to outdistance teammate Miguel Andujar. Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, who led our previous poll, dropped to third place (71 points) after being sidelined indefinitely with an elbow injury.

In the National League, Dodgers righty Walker Buehler continues to lead the poll, this time with 139 points. Nationals 19-year-old outfielder Juan Soto, who wasn't on the grid when the first poll was taken, finished second with 77 points, and Marlins third baseman/right fielder Brian Anderson was third. Buehler got 20 of 36 first-place votes, Soto nine and Anderson seven.

Our 37 voters were asked to rank their top three players, with a first-place vote being worth five points, three points for a second-place vote, and one point for a third-place vote. Therefore, the maximum number of points a player could get was 185. Here's a look at the voting:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
1. Gleyber Torres, Yankees (177 points)

Torres made his Major League debut in the Yanks' 19th game, and he made an immediate impact by hitting .323 in April and getting his average as high as .344 on May 10 before cooling off a bit. Only 21, he has impacted games with speed, power, etc. Torres is piling up strikeouts and will be forced to adjust as pitchers figure out his weaknesses. But his strengths far outweigh his weaknesses.

Video: NYY@WSH: Torres starts a rundown to retire Soto

2. Miguel Andujar, Yankees (80 points)
Andujar started slowly, going 3-for-28 in his first seven starts. So where was the guy who tore it up in Spring Training? That's when he started to hit, and he hasn't stopped. Andujar has a chance for 20 home runs and 50 doubles in his rookie season. Best of all, because the Yanks' lineup is so deep, he'll have a chance to go through the growing pains that are almost certain to come.

3. Shohei Ohtani, Angels (71 points)
Just when Ohtani had pretty much proven he can do the thing we thought no one would ever do again -- be a bona fide two-way player -- his right elbow got sore. The Halos still hope he can come back in some role at some point. Regardless, Ohtani has already done enough to have an entire sport excited about the possibilities.

Video: MLB Now discusses Ohtani's chances to play in 2018

Others receiving votes: Max Stassi, Astros; Hector Velazquez, Red Sox; Brad Keller, Royals.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
1. Walker Buehler, Dodgers (139 points)

Buehler began the season as a top prospect who provided the Dodgers with nice depth for a rotation that was supposed to be one of baseball's best. When injuries hit the rotation, he became critical to help the club get back on track. The Dodgers won six of Buehler's nine starts, and he compiled a solid 2.63 ERA. He has been sidelined since June 8 with a rib microfracture, and a timetable for his return is uncertain.

Video: Roberts on Buehler's timetable for return from DL

2. Juan Soto, Nationals (77 points)
None of baseball's new generation of young talent has been more impressive than this 19-year-old. Soto homered in his first start on May 21 and has not had consecutive hitless games this month. He has future superstar written all over him, and the future may be now.

Video: NYY@WSH: Soto smashes a 2-run shot to the second deck

3. Brian Anderson, Marlins (68 points)
Anderson is one of the real bright spots for a club that is completely invested in a youth movement. He has the kind of speed that can win games, and he has had his batting average around .300 and his OPS close to .800 for most of this month.

Video: SF@MIA: Anderson wins it on a sac fly in the 9th

Others receiving votes: Austin Meadows, Pirates; Christian Villanueva, Padres; Harrison Bader, Cardinals; Jack Flaherty, Cardinals; Jordan Hicks, Cardinals; Dan Winkler, Braves; Caleb Smith, Marlins.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Brian Anderson, Miguel Andujar, Walker Buehler, Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, Gleyber Torres

Don't blame Callaway for Mets' struggles

Rookie manager has dealt with injuries, slumping offense after fast start
MLB.com @MikeLupica

The manager is always an easy target when a team has been in the kind of free fall the Mets have been in since they started the season 11-1 and briefly looked like a rocket to the moon. But it is hard to look at the team Mickey Callaway has right now and blame the rookie manager on their side of New York City for where the Mets are and the way they've played for the past two months.

You want to start somewhere in understanding why the Yankees' rookie manager, Aaron Boone, is where he is and why Callaway is where he is? Start here: Boone has five guys who have hit more home runs than Callaway's top homer guys, Brandon Nimmo and Asdrubal Cabrera.

The manager is always an easy target when a team has been in the kind of free fall the Mets have been in since they started the season 11-1 and briefly looked like a rocket to the moon. But it is hard to look at the team Mickey Callaway has right now and blame the rookie manager on their side of New York City for where the Mets are and the way they've played for the past two months.

You want to start somewhere in understanding why the Yankees' rookie manager, Aaron Boone, is where he is and why Callaway is where he is? Start here: Boone has five guys who have hit more home runs than Callaway's top homer guys, Brandon Nimmo and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Nimmo hit his 12th on Monday night against the Rockies, when the Mets scored as many runs in one game -- 12 -- as they recently scored over their first eight games in June. It's why Monday night made Mets fans feel as if their team were suddenly scoring like the Golden State Warriors.

Video: NYM@COL: Nimmo homers inside and outside of the park

There are plenty of reasons for Mets fans to feel as if all their heads are about to explode, as they continue to watch too many guys who seem older than stickball at a time when flashy young hitters seem to rule the world everywhere else. There was the game not so long ago when they were so desperate to find somebody who could get a hit they batted 37-year old Jose Bautista third against the Braves -- despite the fact that Atlanta had just released him after he batted .156 in 11 games with the Braves.

Has Callaway made mistakes? They all do. But is he the guy to blame because 11-1 was followed by a 20-37 stretch? Come on. Too often this season Callaway has tried to compete with a batting order that looked as if it belonged in a Queens softball league.

Yoenis Cespedes has a right quad injury that shows no signs of healing completely anytime soon. He wasn't just supposed to be the Mets' biggest and most important hitter this season. Cespedes is one of the best they have ever had, and the biggest offensive reason they made it to the World Series in 2015. This year, he has played 37 games, hit eight home runs and batted .255.

The next-biggest stick for Callaway was supposed to be Jay Bruce, who has back and hip issues and was scratched from the lineup on Monday night in Denver. Going into that game, Bruce was hitting .212 with three home runs and an OPS of .613, which if you're looking for a analytical comparison, is the area code in Ottawa.

Michael Conforto, who was hitting like a star last year until his season ended last August with a bad left shoulder injury, got three hits against the Rockies in that 12-3 victory Monday. Those hits raised Conforto's average to .225. He was the guy who was going to pick up at least some of the slack for Cespedes and Bruce. So far it has been Nimmo instead, who got four hits against Colorado and raised his average to .287, and actually has become a flashy, young hitter that Mets fans want to watch.

Callaway's No. 3 hitter on Monday night was 32-year-old Todd Frazier, currently hitting .224. The cleanup hitter was Wilmer Flores. The right fielder was Bautista, who is hitting .183.

There was a day not long ago when the Yankees were at Citi Field. The Mets had lost the night before and were about to lose that night, before beating the Yanks, 2-0, on Sunday Night Baseball, at a time when two runs for them felt like a fireworks display over Flushing Bay.

"I honestly feel that when we come out of this -- and we will come out of this -- that we're going to be stronger for what we've been going through," Callaway said in his office. "I'm talking about in August and September. We've just got to find a way to score some runs and get healthy and not fall completely out of things before that."

Video: Must C Comeback: Mets take lead late with two homers

Callaway knows what everybody knows: His team has no chance if Cespedes doesn't get healthy; if Bruce's back and hip and bat don't get healthy, and soon. The Mets absolutely did show some stick on Monday night, and they showed some fight in coming back on the road against the D-backs on Sunday. But in this home run time in baseball, a time when the Yankees have a strong kid like Gleyber Torres hitting home runs the way he does from the No. 9 hole, the Mets' biggest offensive triumph this season, well, was Finding Nimmo. It is why Callaway's team scoring 12 in Denver felt as shocking as them starting 11-1.

And somehow, with everything that has happened, the Mets woke up on Tuesday morning just six games behind the Nationals -- who will end up winning the National League East -- in the loss column. Now we wait to see if they can ever get Cespedes back and consistently score runs and make anyone believe they can somehow climb out of that 20-37 sinkhole before the reckoning of the non-waiver Trade Deadline, when a decision will be made about dealing Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard and starting all over again.

"Nobody else cares about your problems," Callaway said.

Sometimes it seems as if the only place where the Mets lead the league is in problems. Manager isn't one of them.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com and the New York Daily News and is a best-selling author.

New York Mets

This is why Braves are being patient with market

Anthopoulos might only make 1-2 moves; notes on Machado, deGrom
MLB.com

The Braves have been one of the game's biggest surprises this season, their young team holding firm to first place in the National League East with the halfway point rapidly approaching.

Although Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos has several areas of his roster that he could address in the coming weeks, a source with knowledge of the Braves' thinking doesn't anticipate a series of major moves coming between now and July 31.

The Braves have been one of the game's biggest surprises this season, their young team holding firm to first place in the National League East with the halfway point rapidly approaching.

Although Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos has several areas of his roster that he could address in the coming weeks, a source with knowledge of the Braves' thinking doesn't anticipate a series of major moves coming between now and July 31.

"They can address a lot of areas, but they're not going to be able to address a lot of areas," the source said. "In a perfect world, they could use a bullpen guy, a front-of-the-rotation starter and a big bat, but they're not going to have the dollars to fill all those spots. They also don't want to use that much prospect capital to fill that many holes."

With their rebuild moving faster than expected, the Braves also plan to wait until mid-to-late July before making any move.

"They'll likely wait as long as they can because between now and July, there could be more players get injured, there could be dips in performance, things like that," the source said. "The needs today could be different than they are three or four weeks from now. The longer they wait, the more clearly defined the needs will be."

With the payroll nearing $120 million, Atlanta won't be in position to acquire a bench player making $4 million-$5 million or a middle reliever earning $6 million. It's also highly improbable that the Braves will be able to bring in a big-salary star, the source said, making Manny Machado an unlikely target.

"It's ridiculous," the source said of the constant Machado-to-Atlanta chatter.

With limited financial flexibility, the Braves will likely have one or two moves to make in the best-case scenario. With that in mind, Anthopoulos will want to make that move or two really count.

"They only have so many resources, whether it's money they can take on in salary or total players they'll be willing to move," the source said. "What if they make the move in June and then in July, it turns out that wasn't the primary need? Look at the Twins last year; they made a deal for Jaime Garcia and then turned around a week later and traded him away. [The Braves are] playing the slow game."

* * * * * 

Machado is the crown jewel of this trade season, one of the few race-changing hitters expected to be dealt before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Video: MIA@BAL: Machado lines a 2-out RBI single in the 8th

But one baseball insider wonders whether the Orioles will actually trade Machado before July 31, citing Baltimore's seemingly unrealistic asking price for the star shortstop.

"The offers weren't good enough over the winter, and they're apparently not good enough now," the insider said. "With every day that ticks off the calendar, you'd have to think teams will offer less, not more. The O's may have overplayed their hand."

Baltimore was said to be asking for two young, controllable starting pitchers for Machado, though that seems like a lot for a half-season or less of the three-time All-Star.

Machado is slated to become a free agent after the season, and while an acquiring team would have a chance to sell him on their city as a long-term home, it's extremely unlikely that he would sign an extension before reaching free agency.

* * * * * 

MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported Monday that the Mariners have shown interest in Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ, but a source indicated that Seattle is monitoring as many as a half-dozen starting pitchers in an effort to add an arm in the coming weeks.

Video: Morosi on potential trade fits for J.A. Happ

"They're just combing the landscape right now," one evaluator said, though a second source said the Mariners seem intent on being "aggressive" when it comes to acquiring a starter.

The biggest obstacle might not be the lack of desirable arms on the market, but rather the lack of notable prospects. According to MLB Pipeline's most recent rankings, Seattle has only one player on the Top 100 Prospects list (outfielder Kyle Lewis, No. 60).

"Their farm system is very thin," the evaluator said. "There isn't much to trade there."

* * * * * 

The Mets are prepared to listen to offers for many of their players, and while teams are certain to check in on Jacob deGrom's availability, a source said it would take "an overwhelming offer" to get the ace out of Queens.

Video: NYM@COL: deGrom strikes out 7 over 8 strong innings

"Trading him would be a huge organizational decision," the source said. "That won't stop teams from inquiring or trying to deal for him, but it's hard to see the Mets parting with him."

MLB.com's Anthony DiComo reported Monday that while the Mets will listen to offers, a team source cautioned not to expect any deals any time soon. Despite their position in the standings, the Mets "want to play out the next few weeks to see if they can climb back into contention before committing to any sort of sell-off," DiComo reported.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001

Jacob deGrom, J.A. Happ, Manny Machado

Darvish to pitch simulated game Wednesday

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish's simulated game was delayed one day because of the weather, so the right-hander will now throw on Wednesday.

Darvish had been scheduled to throw on Tuesday, but the Cubs were playing a makeup day-night doubleheader after Monday's game was postponed because of rain and a problem with the lights at Wrigley Field.

View Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish's simulated game was delayed one day because of the weather, so the right-hander will now throw on Wednesday.

Darvish had been scheduled to throw on Tuesday, but the Cubs were playing a makeup day-night doubleheader after Monday's game was postponed because of rain and a problem with the lights at Wrigley Field.

View Full Game Coverage

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said they will wait and see how Darvish feels after the session before deciding the next step. The right-hander has been on the disabled list since May 23 because of inflammation in his right triceps.

The Cubs hope Darvish can make a start before the All-Star break, but Maddon stressed that the pitcher will be needed in the second half.

"It's June," Maddon said Tuesday. "I want us to be really, really good in August and September. I want us to be fresh and I want us to be playing as good as we can possibly can play and have everybody available. The last two months to me are gold."

Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery were to start Tuesday's games, but because neither will have enough rest to start again on Saturday, the Cubs are considering their options and may promote a pitcher from Triple-A.

• The Cubs hit 10 home runs in 12 games at Wrigley Field in April when the weather conditions weren't exactly optimal.

"From a mental perspective, as a hitter, you've got to fight through that all the time," Maddon said. "This is not an excuse and I'm not trying to rationalize it, but when you say the power is down, I believe some of it is environmental and that the Lake taketh away. I don't see a difference in the power necessarily."

What's more important, Maddon said, is that the team has a better record at this point in the season (40-28) than it did one year ago, when it was 34-34 after 68 games on June 18.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Yu Darvish

When did Scherzer become world's best pitcher?

It's time to face the facts: Max Scherzer is the best pitcher on the planet.

It seems like every time he's on the mound, there's a tweet or At Bat alert or heterochromatic bat signal in the sky that the Nationals starter has 10 K's through four innings (he has 10 or more in 10 of his 15 starts in 2018). He leads the league in wins, complete games, innings pitched, strikeouts, K/9, HR/9, WHIP, FIP, DIP, DRIP and DROP [Note: Some of these are not real stats, but he's probably leading in them anyway, so we're leaving it]. 

But, when did it happen? At what point did Scherzer pass Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale as the pitcher you want on the mound with your life on the line? Let's quickly review his career and take a look. 

Your move, Phils: How Nats' trade impacts race

Herrera acquisition shows 'pen disparity between NL East contenders
MLB.com @matthewhleach

It was a strange night in the National League East race. The Phillies, the only team in the hunt for the division title that gained ground, surely can't help feeling a bit frustrated. The Nationals, who won the resumption of a suspended game but lost their nightcap, will arrive at the park on Tuesday with a spring in their step.

That's because Washington addressed a need and prevented Philadelphia from doing the same -- all in one move.

It was a strange night in the National League East race. The Phillies, the only team in the hunt for the division title that gained ground, surely can't help feeling a bit frustrated. The Nationals, who won the resumption of a suspended game but lost their nightcap, will arrive at the park on Tuesday with a spring in their step.

That's because Washington addressed a need and prevented Philadelphia from doing the same -- all in one move.

The Nats traded three prospects to Kansas City for reliever Kelvin Herrera, a pitcher who will be something of a luxury item for them. Herrera will not close, at least in the short term, but he will provide welcome depth at the back end of Washington's bullpen. Another arm was, in fact, a need, but maybe not the most pressing one facing the reigning division champs.

"We have an All-Star closer [Sean Doolittle] right now," Nats manager Dave Martinez said, "so [Herrera] will be asked to do some different things."

But this trade doesn't just make the Nats better. It makes it harder for the Phils and Braves to do the same. The Phillies don't have a clear-cut choice in the ninth, and in fact sent Opening Day closer Hector Neris to the Minor Leagues on Monday. The first-place Braves have a solid closer in Arodys Vizcaino but also plenty of late-inning questions.

And it's only in that context that the Nationals' move can be fully appreciated. Sure, Washington needed another trustworthy arm in the late innings, but it's fair to ask whether, in a vacuum, adding an eighth-inning reliever was worth the price.

But if so doing keeps your challengers at bay? Yep, that's something.

Monday night's win -- and let's remember that they did win -- highlighted an ongoing issue with the Phillies. They have quite a few exciting relievers, but on the whole, not a very good bullpen and no clear choice in the ninth.

And while the Capital-C closer can certainly be overvalued, managing a bullpen without an automatic choice in the final inning is a challenge. Manager Gabe Kapler is a smart, thoughtful baseball man with a lot of pluses, but it's asking a lot for a first-year manager to operate with an added degree of difficulty.

So the Phillies might benefit more than most contenders from adding that guy at the end of the game who makes all the other decisions a little cleaner. Instead, one of the best ones available just went to one of their rivals.

Kapler said the right things, of course.

"I believe we have guys on this roster ... that can handle high-pressure situations," Kapler said Monday night. "That's not to say you can stick anyone into a game in the ninth and they're going to perform exactly the same. I don't think that at all. But I do think we have guys who can handle those high-pressure situations."

But Kapler is learning the ropes of managing big league games and about the strengths and weaknesses of his young relievers while his team is in a close pennant race. While again acknowledging closers can be overvalued, it's easy to see where an automatic, reliable choice would have benefited him and his team.

Instead, Herrera will benefit the Nationals.

Matthew Leach is the National League executive editor for MLB.com.

Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Kelvin Herrera

Kershaw set for rehab start prior to return

MLB.com @kengurnick

CHICAGO -- Clayton Kershaw lost the debate and will make a rehab start for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Saturday before returning to the Dodgers' rotation.

After an impressive three-inning simulated game on Monday, Kershaw was hoping to return Saturday for the Dodgers against the Mets.

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CHICAGO -- Clayton Kershaw lost the debate and will make a rehab start for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Saturday before returning to the Dodgers' rotation.

After an impressive three-inning simulated game on Monday, Kershaw was hoping to return Saturday for the Dodgers against the Mets.

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"He made his case, as he always does," said manager Dave Roberts. "We're putting him in the best chance for success and health. You consider all the factors, got a lot of thoughts and opinions by people more qualified than I am, and you make a decision."

Roberts said Kershaw will throw four innings or 60 pitches for OKC. A Saturday start means Kershaw would return to the Dodgers no sooner than next Thursday's day game against the Cubs at Dodger Stadium.

The club believes Kershaw will need only one rehab start.

Kershaw has pitched in one MLB game since May 1. He went on the disabled list after that game with left biceps tendinitis. He came back for one start May 31, then went back on the DL with a lower back strain.

• The Dodgers summoned Brock Stewart to Chicago as the 26th man for the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw

MLB Buzz: Are Mets 'open for business?'

MLB.com

As the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, we'll keep you up to date with the latest news, buzz, rumors and more.

Are Mets 'open for business?'
June 18: The Mets are reportedly "open for business" as it relates to prospective trade offers ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline, including on ace Jacob deGrom, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. The club would be more inclined to move Noah Syndergaard, per Rosenthal, but it might be inclined to part with deGrom given the right return.

As the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, we'll keep you up to date with the latest news, buzz, rumors and more.

Are Mets 'open for business?'
June 18: The Mets are reportedly "open for business" as it relates to prospective trade offers ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline, including on ace Jacob deGrom, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. The club would be more inclined to move Noah Syndergaard, per Rosenthal, but it might be inclined to part with deGrom given the right return.

deGrom would cost a "boatload" in return, one source told Rosenthal, and likely for a combination of Major League talent as well as highly touted prospects, which perhaps only a handful of clubs could fulfill. deGrom has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining before he becomes a free agent, while Syndergaard wouldn't hit the market until after the 2021 season.

deGrom is firmly in the mix for the National League Cy Young Award, with the Majors' best ERA (1.55) over 87 1/3 innings in 14 starts. He's currently on pace for career bests in strikeout rate (32.8 percent), opposing batting average (.206) and WHIP (1.01), as he's one of the few glimmering spotlights for a Mets team that tumbled out of first place in early May. The right-hander did avoid a significant injury scare nearly seven weeks ago when he hyperextended his pitching elbow on an awkward swing, landing on the 10-day disabled list.

Syndergaard hasn't pitched since May 25 due to a strained ligament on his right index finger. The high-velocity right-hander missed nearly the entire 2017 season due to a partial tear in his right lat. Over 11 starts this year, Syndergaard is 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA.

Monday's report surfaced less than two weeks after general manager Sandy Alderson called the liklelihood of a teardown "very remote" in an interview with USA Today.

"Just because you tear it down doesn't mean you're going to have a great rebuild. It doesn't work that way. It just doesn't," Alderson said at the time.

In Rosenthal's report, he indicates that the club would ideally like to retain most of its controllable nucleus -- shortstop Amed Rosario, outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto and right-handers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman -- but those chips are likely the most coveted by other clubs.

Yanks, M's looking to acquire Happ

June 18: As the Yankees and Mariners have emerged as true contenders in the American League pennant race, so, too, have their roster voids -- specifically within their starting rotations. Both clubs are believed to be in the market for an available arm over the next six weeks, and MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported on Monday that each is interested in Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ.

In the midst of an All-Star-caliber season, Happ has a 3.48 ERA over 82 2/3 innings in 14 starts. He is in the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract, and due to his lingering free agency, he might not be as costly a return in what is shaping up to be a thin trade market for starters.

Both Seattle and New York have gotten above-average production from their starting staffs, though each has shown signs of vulnerability.

Video: Morosi on potential trade fits for J.A. Happ

Beyond AL Cy Young Award candidate Luis Severino, the Yankees have gotten inconsistent results from Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Montgomery was lost for the season because of Tommy John surgery and Domingo German hasn't yet exhibited enough to warrant the fifth spot for good. CC Sabathia has been reliable, when healthy. To complement their elite offense and lights-out bullpen, the Yankees have long been speculated to retool their rotation ahead of the Deadline.

Morosi noted that the Yankees might have more incentive to go after a lefty given that the division-rival Red Sox have an MLB-best .813 OPS against righties but only a .672 mark against southpaws. In addition to their 13 regular-season meetings remaining, there's a strong chance the Yankees could go through Boston in the postseason.

The Mariners' rotation has also proven to be top heavy, with arguably the AL's best starter in James Paxton. However, No. 2 starter Felix Hernandez has struggled to a career-worst 5.44 ERA, and he has given up five or more earned runs in five of his 15 starts. No. 5 starter Wade LeBlanc has been a pleasant surprise, but at 33 years old, there have been questions about his sustainability.

In a loaded AL East, Toronto entered 2018 with its most realistic avenue to the postseason via an AL Wild Card berth, but it entered Monday 12 1/2 games back of the second AL's spot. The Jays are 32-38 despite winning seven of their last 10, including sweeps of the Nationals and Orioles.

Red Sox have asked about Machado
June 18: The Red Sox have had discussions recently with the Orioles about acquiring Manny Machado, though the clubs have not been able to find a common ground to execute a potential deal, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

Boston was among the handful of clubs to inquire about Machado last offseason. Rosenthal last week speculated that the struggling Rafael Devers, once the club's No. 2 prospect, would likely be included in any potential trade for Machado.

For Baltimore, there could be increasing pressure for general manager Dan Duquette to maximize the potential return for Machado, who will hit free agency among the most coveted players this offseason. Duquette, as well as manager Buck Showalter, are in the final year of their respective contracts, and the Orioles entered Monday 28 1/2 games out of first place, with the Majors' worst record (19-50).
 

Giants going after Harper?
June 14: The Giants lost out on the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes in the offseason, despite being perhaps the most aggressive in pursuing the National League MVP Award winner via a trade from the Marlins. The Giants wound up filling out their lineup elsewhere -- trading for Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria -- but they may not be out of the market in acquiring a power-hitting corner outfielder, as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported recently that they could be a "main player" for Bryce Harper in free agency.

"They do make some sense," a friend of Harper's told Heyman.

Harper has been speculated to land a potentially historic deal, though the Giants were believed to be willing to take on the entire $295 million remaining on Stanton's contract. And general manager Bobby Evans has made it clear the club doesn't intend to rebuild in the immediate future despite a depleted farm system.

"We're going to be focused in the market as much as anybody ... the trade market as we get to the winter," Evans said in a recent interview with MLB Network Radio. "But that's so far ahead of us now. But yeah, there's always an eye on the free-agent market."

McCutchen will be a free agent this offseason, and 35-year-old left fielder Hunter Pence has struggled to stay healthy and remain productive, hitting .183/.236/.207 in 30 games. The Giants appear to be all-in on the immediate, and pursuing Harper would certainly fit that strategic mold.

Archer likely to be moved
June 13: This is far from the first time that the Chris Archer has been floated as a trade candidate, but a rival executive told MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal that he believes that a seller's market this year will make the Rays likely to move Archer before the Trade Deadline.

Video: TB@WSH: Archer on 10-day DL with abdominal strain

Archer is a two-time All-Star with a 3.67 ERA in his seven seasons in the Majors, but his current injury and struggles this year might affect his trade value -- he has a 4.24 ERA in 13 starts and is on the disabled list with a left abdominal strain without a definite timetable for his return. And Rosenthal reports that the Rays don't like the thought of trading the 29-year-old due to his team-friendly contract.

Archer could be under club control through 2021, with one year remaining on his contract plus two more years of club options. That makes him different than, for example, David Price, who was only under team control when the Rays traded him, or Evan Longoria, who had a much larger contract.

Hamels might want trade partner to pick up option
June 13: Cole Hamels has been one of the most prominent names in early-season trade buzz -- most notably as a potential trade target for the Yankees, who for all their success so far are in need of starting rotation depth. The Rangers have struggled this season, but Hamels has a 3.86 ERA and 79 strikeouts in his 13 starts.

Video: TEX@LAA: Hamels grabs strikeout No. 2,300 of career

But the veteran left-hander has a 20-team no-trade list, and a source told Rosenthal that even though Hamels recently called that protection "kind of a formality," he could still use it as leverage to ask a trade partner from that list to pick up his $20 million option for 2019. That makes sense for the 34-year-old, as the alternative to picking up his option is a $6 million buyout that would leave him facing the uncertainty of free agency in his mid-30s.

MLB.com's Jon Morosi has reported that the teams not on Hamels' no-trade list are the Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Mariners, Nationals, Phillies, Rays and Royals.

Per Rosenthal, Hamels could be a difficult fit for a team trying to remain under the luxury tax threshold, as he'll still be owed close to $8 million at the Trade Deadline, unless the Rangers include significant cash in a deal.

Video: SF@MIA: Realmuto crushes go-ahead 2-run homer in 7th

Brewers could seek to upgrade at multiple spots
June 13: Similar to the Nationals, the Brewers are a contending team that could benefit greatly from upgrades in several areas -- namely, pitcher, catcher and second base.

Milwaukee could use both a front-end starter (staff ace Jimmy Nelson is still recovering from last September's shoulder surgery) and a reliever. Plus, while second baseman Jonathan Villar has been better at the plate than last year, he's still something of a question mark and has rated as a just-below-average hitter overall, with a 97 OPS+, where league average is 100.

Video: NYY@KC: Merrifield collects 3 hits, swipes 3 bags

According to Rosenthal, the Brewers have been interested in Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield in the past. The Brewers would also face competition from other Royals suitors.

He went from jobless to powering LA's offense

Infielder leads Dodgers with 13 homers, .599 slugging percentage
MLB.com @mike_petriello

"When you're sitting there at home, you realize you have to make a change," recalled Max Muncy about being without a job last spring, "because what you're doing before wasn't really working."

A little more than a year ago, Muncy didn't have a place in the baseball world. After parts of five years in Oakland's system, the A's, who had already outrighted him off the 40-man roster in January, released him just before Opening Day. Muncy remained unemployed for nearly a month, eventually scoring a Triple-A gig with the Dodgers in late April. He hit well for Oklahoma City (.309/.414/.491), but he did not receive a September callup.

"When you're sitting there at home, you realize you have to make a change," recalled Max Muncy about being without a job last spring, "because what you're doing before wasn't really working."

A little more than a year ago, Muncy didn't have a place in the baseball world. After parts of five years in Oakland's system, the A's, who had already outrighted him off the 40-man roster in January, released him just before Opening Day. Muncy remained unemployed for nearly a month, eventually scoring a Triple-A gig with the Dodgers in late April. He hit well for Oklahoma City (.309/.414/.491), but he did not receive a September callup.

It's safe to say that things have changed. Muncy (.263/.386/.599) is regularly hitting second for a surging Dodgers lineup, one that's been the National League's best since May 15. He leads the team with 13 homers, and if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he'd have baseball's sixth-best slugging percentage. Muncy is even become something of a fan favorite, scoring his own T-shirt and theme song based on an on-air back-and-forth between the team's broadcaster, Joe Davis, and organist, Dieter Ruehle.

This has become something of a recent theme for the Dodgers, picking up essentially free talent and finding or creating stars out of them, most notably with Justin Turner and Chris Taylor. It's easy to think that Muncy is simply the next in line, that a retooled swing pushed by a hitting guru helped get the ball off the ground and unlock the talent within.

Video: SD@LAD: Muncy launches a 2-run home run in the 8th

It's true that there's some evidence of swing changes, in that perhaps Muncy is bending more, maybe using a slightly more noticeable leg kick. He admitted as such, saying that "when I got released last Spring Training, in those couple of weeks I didn't have a job, I kind of made a lot of mechanical adjustments."

That might be how this story ends, but it's not how it begins. Muncy didn't go to a fancy swing coach. He went to his dad -- a geologist.

"He knows my swing better than anybody," said Muncy when asked about his father. "So [it was] kind of me and him working on it together."

When Muncy was between teams last year, his father threw to him "almost every single day." 

Tweet from @maxmuncy9: Happy Father's Day, I wouldn't be where I was today without mine

But for all the talk of mechanical changes, the word that Muncy keeps coming back to is "confidence."

"When I was with Oakland," said Muncy on Saturday, "I was laying off the bad pitches, but …  because I had lost confidence in myself, I wasn't able to get my barrel to the ball like I should, like I am now. I wasn't chasing bad pitches when I was over there, I just wasn't squaring up the pitches I was supposed to be squaring up, whereas now, I'm squaring those pitches up -- and that's where all the difference is coming from."

Muncy made it clear he doesn't pay much attention to advanced metrics, but that doesn't mean we can't use them to tell his story. He's not wrong about "laying off the bad pitches," because that's always been a strength of his.

In 2015, only 35 hitters (of 409) chased fewer non-strikes than Muncy did.

In 2016, only seven hitters (of 413) chased fewer non-strikes than Muncy did.

In 2017, only three Triple-A hitters with as many plate appearances had a higher walk rate.

Thus far in 2018, only five hitters (of 289) have chased fewer non-strikes than Muncy, and we're talking names like Joey Votto, Joe Mauer and Mookie Betts. (Also, Cesar Hernandez and Russell Martin.) 

So we know that Muncy has had elite plate discipline, an incredibly valuable skill that's difficult to teach. Then again, he had that with the A's, too, and he hit all of .195/.290/.321 in 245 plate appearances over two seasons. It didn't seem to matter. What changed? 

"When I got picked up by the Dodgers, and I was in Triple-A, that was when I was able to start making adjustments to my mental approach at the plate, my aggressiveness, a bunch of little tweaks in that area," said Muncy.

"In a sense, my swing was still the same, but I was in a better position to start it. The swing itself, nothing had really changed in that, it's just that I was able to get myself into a better position to fire the bat quickly, and a lot of that had to do with being mentally more aggressive. Also, I was able to figure out that I could be more aggressive, mentally, but still lay off pitches that I didn't want to swing at, and when that kind of clicked for me last year, that's when things really started taking off."

Muncy hasn't actually gone after more balls in the strike zone, swinging at 54.7 percent of strikes this year after swinging at 58.1 percent of in-zone pitches in his time with the A's. He's just found far, far more production on them.

Muncy's performance on in-zone pitches
2018: .716 slugging, 55.2 percent hard-hit rate
2015-16: .394 slugging, 33.3 percent hard-hit rate

That .716 slugging on in-zone pitches is sixth best of those who have seen 100 such pitches. Looking at Muncy's combo of power and patience overall this year, the company he's keeping is nearly unbelievable. 

Muncy has actually struck out more often in 2018, up to 25.3 percent with the Dodgers after whiffing 22.3 percent of the time with the A's. While no hitter wants to strike out more, it's a good reminder that you'd happily accept more strikeouts when it comes with this much added power.

No one expects Muncy to be a true-talent Top 10 hitter all year long, but it's that combination of power and patience that gives the Dodgers confidence that this isn't just a small-sample fluke. That's according to the Statcast™ metric Expected wOBA, which looks at quality of contact (launch angle, exit velocity) and amount of contact (strikeouts, walks) to output a number similar to OBP that's free of defense or ballpark factors.

There are currently 258 hitters with 150 plate appearances. Muncy is sixth, right there with some of the game's biggest monsters.

Highest Expected wOBA in 2018
.495 -- Mookie Betts
.474 -- Mike Trout
.454 -- J.D. Martinez
.441 -- Freddie Freeman
.440 -- Joey Votto
.437 -- Max Muncy
.425 -- Brandon Belt
.416 -- Jose Martinez
.417 -- Nelson Cruz
.416 -- Robinson Cano

This doesn't guarantee that Muncy will keep this up. It just shows he hasn't faked his way to this point. He's legitimately been that good.

Even the mechanical changes that Muncy did make weren't exactly new, at least not in the way they were for Turner or Taylor. Muncy's best season in Oakland's system was back in 2013, when he hit .273/.381/.476 with 25 homers between Class A Stockton and Double-A Midland. He was an All-Star in both '13 and '14.

"I kind of went back ... the physical changes I'd made in the swing, mechanically, that was something I'd worked with the hitting coach in Triple-A last year, Shawn Wooten. He was able to pull up some film from [2013], and we kind of looked at the differences between that year and how I was in Oakland. Going back to how I was that year, 2013, that was kind of what I was thinking I was wanting to do in the first place when I was working on the changes. When he showed me the film of it, that's when I realized what I needed to be doing."

Wooten is no longer with the Dodgers, but he was credited with helping Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger improve. He might have had some part in Muncy's success, too.

That brings us back to confidence.

"From Day 1 [in Triple-A in 2017], it's, 'All right, let's start implementing the changes I'd made,'" Muncy said. "At first, it started off as just excitement to be playing, then after getting a couple hits here and there, starting to get back on my feet, realizing this works a little better than what I used to be doing, then confidence-wise, it just started building from there. It was almost like a snowball effect.

"The more hits I got the more confident I felt in the changes I'd made, and then before I knew it, it felt natural, and it was kind of just, from that point on, I'd regained all the mental confidence I'd had."

Muncy is now a relied-upon run producer for a perennial contender looking for their sixth straight division title. One imagines confidence is no longer an issue.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. MLB.com reporter Ken Gurnick contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Max Muncy

Dee Gordon magically creates runs out of thin air

When the Mariners acquired Dee Gordon from the Marlins this past offseason, it was no secret they were getting one of the fastest players in all of baseball.

But, his speed manifests itself in ways that cannot fully be comprehended until they actually happen.

Streaking Astros 'having the time of our lives'

Houston ties franchise record, winning 12th straight on Bregman's walk-off 2B
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The Astros won. Again.

And this time, in their franchise record-tying 12th consecutive victory, they didn't grab the lead until the very end of the game. Alex Bregman delivered the walk-off, two-run double to cap a comeback from four runs down and give Houston a 5-4 win over the Rays on Monday at Minute Maid Park.

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HOUSTON -- The Astros won. Again.

And this time, in their franchise record-tying 12th consecutive victory, they didn't grab the lead until the very end of the game. Alex Bregman delivered the walk-off, two-run double to cap a comeback from four runs down and give Houston a 5-4 win over the Rays on Monday at Minute Maid Park.

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Houston has compiled winning streaks of 12 games in 1999, 2004 and, now, 2018.

"We're having a blast," Bregman said. "We're having the time of our lives with our best friends in the world."

Video: TB@HOU: Bregman wins it with a 2-run walk-off double

This win required a bit of effort. Marwin Gonzalez began the ninth inning with a leadoff walk against Rays reliever Sergio Romo. Max Stassi, in his first at-bat of the evening, then rifled a single to left field. After Tony Kemp moved both runners up a base with a sacrifice bunt, George Springer reached on catcher's interference to load the bases. Bregman lined the third pitch he saw into the gap in left-center field for the game-winner.

Video: Bregman joins MLB Tonight to discuss his walk-off hit

"The guys executed the plan perfectly," said Astros starter Gerrit Cole, who labored early before settling in and pitching seven innings. "And then Bregman punished them."

Cole allowed a pair of runs in the first on Wilson Ramos' two-run shot and another two in the third on Joey Wendle's two-run single. Cole walked a career-high five batters on the night, but he retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced while throwing a season-high 116 pitches.

Video: TB@HOU: Cole punches out Adames in the 6th

"He just had a hard time finding his pitches," said Astros manager AJ Hinch. "It was the tale of two different games. He got locked in and was really, really good, and finished as strong as he's been the entire season."

The Astros (49-25) have scored 137 runs in the seventh inning or later this season, the most in the Majors.

Video: Astros reel off 12 straight wins to tie club record

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tale of two Gerrits: Monday delivered a version of Cole the Astros hadn't seen much of before. He issued three of his five walks in the third inning, and Wendle made him pay with a two-run single. But he found his command in the fourth.

He got on a roll, and finished the seventh on an athletic play on a comebacker.

Video: TB@HOU: Cole flashes the leather to retire Duffy

"It was nice to get that opportunity to hammer in some of the things that I was doing well after I got myself in a hole," Cole said of the seventh. "One more inning to take off the bullpen. One more inning to try to give the guys a shot to hold the deficit where it was."

Said Hinch: "That game was very weird from the onset, because we've never really seen Cole without command of his breaking ball. Every walk that he created seemed to hurt him. First-inning walk, then a homer, and all of a sudden, it's 2-0. Then walking the bases loaded, which is a rarity. He just had a hard time finding his pitches.

"[Cole] collecting himself and being able to stay in the game was huge for us because we didn't have to rifle through our bullpen, starting in the third or fourth inning."

Video: TB@HOU: Hinch on Astros extending win streak to 12

SOUND SMART
Bregman, who was 0-for-4 entering his final at-bat, extended his streak of reaching base to 29 consecutive games with the walk-off hit. That's the second-highest active streak in the Majors, behind Shin-Soo Choo's 32-game streak.

Speaking of Bregman, he made his second career appearance in left field. The Astros implemented two pinch-hitters in the bottom of the sixth inning, forcing multiple defensive changes, including Bregman's move to left. It was his first appearance in left field since 2016.

Video: TB@HOU: Bregman on his big hit, thrilling win

HE SAID IT
"I think that's kind of the common theme when you talk about any good team. Not only do you have the talent and the type of players that allow you to win that many games, but you have to win the ugly ones. You have to win the easy ones. You have to win the grinders. You have to come back. You have to stay ahead. You've got to be good at everything if you're going to win the number of games that we're trying to win." -- Cole

UP NEXT
The Astros send Justin Verlander to the mound at 7:10 p.m. CT on Tuesday for Game 2 of their three-game series against the Rays at Minute Maid Park. In 15 starts (100 1/3 innings), Verlander has allowed just 18 earned runs (1.61 ERA). Emerging lefty Blake Snell will make his 16th start of the season for Tampa Bay.

Christian Boutwell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston.

Houston Astros, Alex Bregman