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10 players whose trade stock is on the rise

MLB.com @feinsand

The Manny Machado Watch continues to dominate all conversation surrounding the trade market, but as the calendar inches closer to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, a big bullpen arm moved this week -- a possible sign of things to come.

MLB Buzz: Catch up on the latest trade chatter

The Manny Machado Watch continues to dominate all conversation surrounding the trade market, but as the calendar inches closer to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, a big bullpen arm moved this week -- a possible sign of things to come.

MLB Buzz: Catch up on the latest trade chatter

Kansas City dealt closer Kelvin Herrera to Washington on Monday, giving the Nationals an All-Star-caliber arm to pair with Sean Doolittle at the back end of the bullpen. Last week, we cited relievers Herrera, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Shane Greene as some of the players whose trade stock was rising, so who has seen their value increase during the past seven days?

Manny Machado, Orioles
Machado certainly hasn't let the trade speculation bother him on the field, where he continues to produce as one of the league's best hitters. The shortstop hit safely in five of six games this week, leaving him with a .304/.369/.554 slash line. The biggest question remains whether any team will step up and pay the steep price being asked by the Orioles for their franchise player and impending free agent.
Potential fits: Phillies, Cardinals

Adam Jones, Orioles
Machado might be getting most of the attention in Baltimore these days, but Jones -- a five-time All-Star and longtime face of the franchise -- has been swinging a hot bat in June (.328/.375/.418), and he might be attractive to a team looking for both a productive outfielder and veteran presence. The 32-year-old is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season.
Potential fit: D-backs

Video: OAK@SD: Lowrie cranks a 2-run jack to right field

Jed Lowrie, A's
The versatile Oakland infielder is having a strong offensive season -- his 11 home runs and 47 RBIs are putting him on a pace to set career highs in both categories. Lowrie, 34, has played primarily at second base this season, though he's capable of moving around the infield wherever he's needed. Lowrie could be the ultimate utility player/insurance policy for any contender.
Potential fits: D-backs, Braves

Joakim Soria, White Sox
After suffering through a difficult May, Soria regained the closer's job for the White Sox, and he has been nearly perfect in June, going 6-for-6 in save opportunities while not allowing a run in nine appearances. He won't be a ninth-inning option for many contenders, but the 34-year-old would add late-inning depth to most bullpens.
Potential fits: Astros, Cardinals

Video: TEX@KC: Statcast™ measures Choo's 49-degree leadoff HR

Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers
Choo turns 36 next month, but while his best days are behind him, the outfielder/DH has shown this season that he can still hit, already launching 13 home runs. Choo's OPS is .919 against right-handers, making him an ideal platoon option for an American League team that has the ability to play him at DH and in the corner outfield spots. Choo has been on fire this month, with his June OPS sitting at 1.054 entering the weekend.
Potential fits: Angels, Twins

Darren O'Day, Orioles
Britton and Brach are obvious trade candidates thanks to their expiring contracts, but the Orioles would probably love to shed O'Day's contract this summer. The right-hander is owed about $5 million over the rest of this season and another $9 million in 2019. He's been excellent since returning from the DL less than two weeks ago, throwing four scoreless innings while giving up one hit with no walks and seven strikeouts.
Potential fits: Giants, Indians

Jurickson Profar, Rangers
The onetime No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, Profar's career hasn't lived up to expectations. The 25-year-old filled in admirably for Elvis Andrus during the starting shortstop's stint on the DL, and Profar has already set career bests with eight homers and 41 RBIs thanks to a strong performance this month. However, Andrus' return leaves Profar as a man without a position. Texas plans to keep Profar in the lineup by moving him around the diamond, but with Andrus and second baseman Rougned Odor firmly planted at their respective positions, the Rangers could deal Profar to address another area on their roster.
Potential fits: D-backs, Phillies

Video: TEX@KC: Hamels strikes out 7, allows 0 earned over 7

Cole Hamels, Rangers
Hamels posted another strong start this week, holding the Royals to one unearned run over seven innings. That outing lowered his ERA to 3.41, while his seven strikeouts kept his ratio at one per inning for the year. Hamels remains one of the few proven starters with postseason experience on the market, and with a number of teams looking to add an arm to the rotation, the Rangers are in a good position to deal.
Potential fits: Yankees, Brewers

J.A. Happ, Blue Jays
Happ continues to be one of the more intriguing names on the trade market, though the Blue Jays haven't committed to selling just yet. Happ is 5-0 with a 2.35 ERA over his past seven outings, holding hitters to a .155 batting average and a .469 OPS in those starts. The 35-year-old is owed about $7 million over the rest of the season, but he's set to become a free agent this fall, making him a strong rental candidate.
Potential fits: Yankees, Mariners

Video: OAK@SD: Treinen K's the side to earn the save in 10th

Blake Treinen, A's
It was only 11 months ago that the Nationals dealt Treinen to Oakland as part of the deal for Doolittle and Ryan Madson, giving up on their onetime closer after a dreadful first half that saw him struggle to the tune of a 5.73 ERA. But the 29-year-old has been simply brilliant this season, successfully converting 16 of 17 save opportunities, including each of his past 15. Treinen has a 1.03 ERA, a sub-1.000 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 35 innings. With a modest $2.15 million salary and two more years of club control, Treinen could be a sought-after bullpen arm in the coming weeks.
Potential fits: Indians, Astros

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.

Shin-Soo Choo, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Adam Jones, Jed Lowrie, Manny Machado, Darren O'Day, Jurickson Profar, Joakim Soria, Blake Treinen

7 potential trade destinations for Machado

Cubs, Cardinals among most likely suitors for Orioles shortstop
MLB.com

Before summer had even officially begun, the non-waiver Trade Deadline season got underway when the Royals sent closer Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals for three prospects. While Manny Machado might not be the next guy to go, there's a good chance that the Orioles will trade him between now and July 31.

MLB Buzz: Catch up on all of the latest trade chatter

Before summer had even officially begun, the non-waiver Trade Deadline season got underway when the Royals sent closer Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals for three prospects. While Manny Machado might not be the next guy to go, there's a good chance that the Orioles will trade him between now and July 31.

MLB Buzz: Catch up on all of the latest trade chatter

The O's listened to offers for Machado this past offseason, looking for a similar trade to the one the Braves got when they sent Jason Heyward to the Cardinals along with Jordan Walden for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins in November 2014. At that point, Heyward had one year left before free agency.

While the trade market is saturated with third-base options -- including Mike Moustakas, Josh Donaldson and Adrian Beltre -- Machado rises above the pack. He's still just 25 years old, has experience playing both shortstop and third base, and he is excelling at the plate this season (145 wRC+).

Although Machado is now closer to free agency than Heyward was when he was dealt, the Orioles should still be able to get a package similar to the Heyward trade, and certainly more than what the Tigers received from the D-backs for J.D. Martinez last July (Minor Leaguers Sergio Alcantara, Jose King and Dawel Lugo). Find out below which teams are most likely to be interested, and what they might offer for Machado's services.

Cubs
Adding Machado would clearly upgrade an offense that has been inconsistent this season, tying for second among MLB teams in runs scored during May, but finishing tied for 14th in April and tied for 22nd in June. The Cubs have the ability to send controllable Major League talent back, which might be of interest to the Orioles, with Addison Russell or even Ian Happ headlining a package to Baltimore. Including a pitching prospect like 2017 first-round Draft pick Alex Lange, an LSU product whom scouts tab as a potential mid-rotation starter in the future, would be difficult for the O's to turn down.

Video: DeRo discusses his Top 5 trade candidates

D-backs
Like the Cubs, the D-backs' lineup has faced its share of inconsistency this season, ranking last in the Majors in runs scored in May and leading the category in June. While Paul Goldschmidt is back to raking at the dish after struggling in May, Arizona can certainly use another bat in the middle of the order, especially after seeing the impact Martinez had last year. The O's and D-backs had ongoing discussions about a Machado trade during the offseason, and they have maintained an open dialogue, so a deal could come together rather quickly. Offering two pitchers from the group of Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener and Matt Tabor, plus another low-level prospect, could be enough to get a deal done.

Dodgers
With Corey Seager out for the year following Tommy John surgery, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor regressing from last season, and Justin Turner struggling since he returned from the disabled list, the offense remains the Dodgers' biggest weakness. Acquiring Machado would help soften the blow if the Dodgers' most productive hitters to this point -- Matt Kemp and Max Muncy -- tail off. Los Angeles also needs another reliever and could expand the trade to include Brad Brach. A package of outfielders Alex Verdugo and Yusniel Diaz and infielder Gavin Lux would be a good starting point.

Phillies
The Phils have surprisingly remained in the National League East race despite some obvious weaknesses, and adding Machado makes even more sense now that J.P. Crawford is out until at least the end of July with a fractured left hand. Sixto Sanchez, Philadelphia's No. 1 prospect, would likely have to headline a deal with Baltimore, though a combination of outfielder Mickey Moniak and right-hander Seranthony Dominguez may also intrigue the Orioles.

Video: Phillies GM Klentak talks bullpen, Trade Deadline

Cardinals
Although shortstop Paul DeJong is nearing a return from a fractured left hand, and third baseman Matt Carpenter has turned his season around after a slow start, the Cardinals are still a potential suitor for Machado. Scoring runs remains a struggle for St. Louis despite Marcell Ozuna's torrid June; the club is 18th in that category this month. With Machado in the fold, the Cards could shift either DeJong or Carpenter to second base, a position at which the Cards rank 23rd in OPS (.623). The Cardinals' bullpen has also been decimated by injuries, so they could look to expand the deal to include All-Star closer Zach Britton. St. Louis has several pitching prospects who could fill the O's biggest need, including right-hander Dakota Hudson and outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O'Neill may also entice Baltimore.

Red Sox
Boston arguably needs bullpen help more than a temporary fix at third base while Rafael Devers continues his development, but the club's lineup has some weaknesses with Eduardo Nunez, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Vazquez all carrying OPS marks below .630 and Devers sitting at .696. The Red Sox probably doesn't have the Minor League talent to swing a deal for Machado and Brach without including Devers, but perhaps Blake Swihart and a top prospect such as left-hander Jay Groome would intrigue the Orioles.

Video: Herrera trade brings urgency to the Trade Deadline

Braves
Atlanta has a wealth of quality pitching prospects, which dovetails with the O's top need. Meanwhile, the Braves could use an upgrade at third base and a middle-of-the-order presence to pair with Freddie Freeman and take some of the pressure off youngsters Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. A pitching prospect such as Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson or Luiz Gohara and another Minor Leaguer such as converted catcher Alex Jackson or backstop William Contreras (the younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras) would help fill important needs for Baltimore.

Jim Duquette, who was the Mets' GM in 2004, offers his opinions as an analyst and columnist for MLB.com.

Top 100 Prospects update: 15 rise, 8 fall, 5 enter

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

Our annual midsummer overhaul of MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list is still a month away. Before we get to that, we're back with our second series of tweaks.

We now have two-plus months of Minor League performance to evaluate, compared to a month when we made our first series of adjustments in early May, so we were more aggressive this time around.

Our annual midsummer overhaul of MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list is still a month away. Before we get to that, we're back with our second series of tweaks.

We now have two-plus months of Minor League performance to evaluate, compared to a month when we made our first series of adjustments in early May, so we were more aggressive this time around.

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

When we reconsidered the top 15 prospects on the list, we left only the top two guys (Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) in place. We also moved 15 players up and eight down by a significant amount, and added five new prospects at the bottom of the Top 100:

The Top 15

green up arrow Juan Soto, OF, Nationals (No. 13 to No. 3)
Nineteen-year-olds aren't supposed to jump from Class A to the big leagues in six weeks and hit .326/.423/.596 with six homers in their first 27 games in the Majors.

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

green up arrow Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros (No. 14 to No. 10)
After selling out a bit for power while slamming a career-high 25 homers in 2017, he's showing more patience while continuing to drive the ball and looks like a perennial 20-20 player.

green up arrow Royce Lewis, SS, Twins (No. 18 to No. 13)
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 Draft has been everything expected offensively and better than anticipated at shortstop.

red down arrow Francisco Mejia, C, Indians (No. 11 to No. 17)
He didn't cross the Mendoza Line for good until June 3, and while he's starting to hit like his old self, there are increasing concerns that he lacks the receiving skills to be an everyday catcher.

Thirteen prospects in our previous top 15 moved at least slightly, so we're not going to break them all down individually. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. leaped over Reds third baseman Nick Senzel and Nationals outfielder Victor Robles into our top five. Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley remained just ahead of White Sox righty Michael Kopech as the highest-ranked pitcher, though both slid out of the top 10.

Risers

green up arrow Mike Soroka, RHP, Braves (No. 26 to No. 16)
He's always had polish, his stuff seems to get better every year and he has looked at home in Atlanta at age 20.

Video: NYM@ATL: Soroka's no-hit bid ends on Conforto's knock

green up arrow Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics (No. 31 to No. 22)
His pitchability and his changeup rank among the best in the Minors, and he's a rare southpaw who can hit 98 mph with his fastball.

green up arrow Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers (No. 48 to No. 32)
Regarded as the best pure hitter in the 2017 Draft, he has looked exactly like that while batting .335/.392/.534 and reaching Double-A in his first full pro season.

green up arrow Jesus Sanchez, OF, Rays (No. 49 to 37)
A natural hitter with the chance for solid tools across the board, he's thriving in Class A as a 20-year-old.

green up arrow Jo Adell, OF, Angels (No. 53 to No. 38)
Questions about his ability to handle quality pitching dogged him as an amateur but didn't stop him from going 10th overall in the 2017 Draft, and he's dispelling them by hitting .318/.373/.617 with 14 homers and 11 steals in 50 games across two Class A levels.

Video: Top Prospects: Jo Adell, OF, Angels

green up arrow Dylan Cease, RHP, White Sox (No. 52 to No. 43)
He's making strides with his control and command, and his mid-90s fastball and hammer curveball are as good as ever.

green up arrow Dane Dunning, RHP, White Sox (No. 65 to No. 56)
While he doesn't have the sexiest stuff among White Sox starting pitcher prospects, he commands a solid arsenal and looks like a lock to be a mid-rotation starter.

green up arrow Austin Riley, 3B, Braves (No. 72 to No. 52)
He continues to improve at tapping into his considerable power potential and playing the hot corner, so it might not be long before Atlanta summons him.

green up arrow Tyler O'Neill, OF, Cardinals (No. 73 to No. 53)
With 46 homers in 171 Triple-A games, he has nothing left to prove in Triple-A but no path to immediate playing time in St. Louis.

Video: KC@STL: O'Neill homers in his third straight game

green up arrow Yordan Alvarez, OF/1B, Astros (No. 74 to No. 54)
Plucked from the Dodgers in a trade before making his pro debut, he has raked ever since and looks like he'll hit for plenty of average and power.

green up arrow Carter Kieboom, SS, Nationals (No. 79 to No. 66)
There may not be another shortstop prospect who can match his combination of hitting ability, power, patience and consistent contact.

green up arrow Sean Murphy, C, Athletics (No. 92 to No. 70)
Not only is his combination of arm strength and receiving ability as good as any catcher's in the Minors, but he's also improving as a hitter and making the most of his raw power.

green up arrow Alex Kirilloff, OF, Twins (No. 98 to No. 71)
The Rookie-level Appalachian League MVP in his 2016 pro debut, he missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery and has reclaimed his all-around hitting ability this spring.

green up arrow Andres Gimenez, SS, Mets (No. 99 to No. 72)
He's more advanced offensively than Amed Rosario was at the same stage (age 19) and is no slouch with the glove either.

green up arrow Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets (No. 100 to No. 73)
He somehow hasn't gotten the acclaim that should come from hitting .301/.390/.543 in two-plus years as a pro.

Fallers

red down arrow Austin Hays, OF, Orioles (No. 32 to unranked)
The first player from the 2016 Draft to reach the Majors, he has battled shoulder and ankle injuries this year and batted .224/.259/.375 in Double-A.

red down arrow Heliot Ramos, OF, Giants (No. 54 to No. 74)
The five-tool ability and huge ceiling are still there, though he's going to need to cut down on his strikeouts.

red down arrow Jorge Mateo, SS/OF, Athletics (No. 62 to No. 76)
His approach at the plate has disintegrated, which makes it difficult for him to take advantage of his game-changing speed.

red down arrow Chance Adams, RHP, Yankees (No. 66 to unranked)
With his command regressing as he repeats Triple-A, he looks like he might be more of a reliever than a mid-rotation starter.

red down arrow J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, Astros (No. 67 to unranked)
He has wipeout stuff but can't always locate it where he wants, and he has made just two starts this year because of an undisclosed injury.

red down arrow Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, Twins (No. 69 to No. 77)
After dominating at every previous level of the Minors, he hit the wall in Triple-A at the end of 2017 and again this year.

red down arrow Pavin Smith, 1B, D-backs (No. 81 to unranked)
The No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 Draft is controlling the strike zone, but an advanced college hitter should produce better than a .229/.337/.379 line in Class A Advanced.

red down arrow D.J. Peters, OF, Dodgers (No. 96 to unranked)
His power is jaw-dropping but his 32 percent strikeout rate in Double-A is worrisome.

New Additions

green up arrow Griffin Canning, RHP, Angels (unranked to No. 96)
Concerns about his pre-Draft MRI knocked him from the first round to the second in 2017, yet he has reached the mid-90s with his fastball and showed an array of solid secondary pitches while reaching Triple-A just 12 starts into his pro debut this year.

Video: Top Prospects: Griffin Canning, RHP, Angels

green up arrow Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates (unranked to No. 97)
He has shown the ability to put the bat on the ball and play a fine third base, and now he's starting to display the power scouts always believed he had.

green up arrow Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Twins (unranked to No. 98)
Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, he can hit 100 mph and also miss bats with both his slider and curveball.

green up arrow Zack Collins, C, White Sox (unranked to No. 99)
While his power and patience were evident in his first two pro seasons, he's hitting the ball with more authority in 2018.

green up arrow Christin Stewart, OF, Tigers (unranked to No. 100)
He's an all-bat guy, but his bat has produced 81 homers in 402 pro games.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Andrelton channeling Gwynn by avoiding Ks

Halos shortstop on pace for lowest strikeout rate in 20 years
MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

Throughout his career, Andrelton Simmons has worked defensive magic at shortstop.

This season, he has become something of a magician at the plate, too. His trick? He has stopped striking out.

Throughout his career, Andrelton Simmons has worked defensive magic at shortstop.

This season, he has become something of a magician at the plate, too. His trick? He has stopped striking out.

Since returning from a short stint on the disabled list June 16, Simmons has gone just 2-for-20, but he has run his streak to 21 games without a K -- the longest by an Angels player since Spike Owen went 27 straight in 1994. Going back to May 3, Simmons has just one strikeout over 153 plate appearances, spanning 36 games (all starts).

Across the Majors, Ks continue to climb. MLB hitters struck out in a record 21.6 percent of their plate appearances in 2017, and they are ahead of that pace in '18 (22.4 percent). Yet while enjoying easily his most productive season with the bat -- .a 311/.379/.430 slash line for a well above-average 128 wRC+ -- Simmons is avoiding punchouts at a rate not seen in 20 years.

Simmons' 3.8 percent strikeout rate is the lowest for a qualified player since Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn's 3.6 percent in 1998. Gwynn, one of the game's great pure hitters, had a strikeout rate that was about 21 percent as high as the MLB rate that season. Simmons' current K-rate is about 17 percent as high as the league-wide rate.

So how is it that the Halos shortstop has dropped his strikeout rate (from 10.4 percent) while MLB hitters as a group rack up more and more whiffs against an army of pitchers with sizzling velocity and physics-defying offspeed stuff?

"Honestly, I have no idea," Simmons told MLB.com Angels beat reporter Maria Guardado. "I try to do basically the same thing -- just pitch recognition has been a little better. Approach has been a little better, so I think those are the factors for me that have helped me."

Simmons theorized that harder swings and more home runs could be linked to the overall strikeout trend, and he may be right. But when it comes to his own enviable ability to avoid the K, he insists it's not the result of a concerted effort.

"I hope I don't strike out a lot, but I don't really mind striking out," Simmons said. "I just happen not to. … That's a result of having better at-bats, I think, and taking pitches I shouldn't swing at."

That last point is an important one. Compared with the previous few seasons, Simmons' swing rate against pitches in the zone is about the same, as is his contact rate. But what has changed significantly is his chase rate, with Simmons ranking in the top 10 percent of MLB hitters in terms of laying off those out-of-zone pitches.

Simmons' chase rate by season, 2015-18
2015: 25.3 percent
2016: 26.2 percent
2017: 26.7 percent
2018: 18.8 percent

When Simmons does swing the bat -- at any pitch -- he has missed just 11.9 percent of the time, which gives him for the fourth-lowest such rate of 240 batters with at least 300 swings (teammate Ian Kinsler ranks first, at 10.6 percent). Simmons doesn't fall into two-strike situations often, but when he does, he has avoided the K on more than 94 percent of pitches he has seen.

It all adds up to a stat line that seems like an anachronism: 265 plate appearances, 25 walks, 10 strikeouts.

No qualified hitter since Placido Polanco in 2007 has finished with a strikeout rate below five percent. None has finished below six percent since Nori Aoki in '13. Joe Panik's 8.9 percent in '16 was the lowest mark of the past two seasons, and this year, Cleveland's Michael Brantley is the closest to Simmons, at 8.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Simmons is on track to become the first qualified hitter to finish with at least twice as many walks as strikeouts since slap-hitting second baseman Luis Castillo (2005), who was preceded in each of the previous three seasons by Barry Bonds.

Simply avoiding strikeouts isn't enough, of course. Many top hitters succeed while striking out more than 20 percent of the time, and some of the lowest-strikeout hitters are not particularly productive.

For Simmons, however, the formula is working. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all are career bests. His wRC+ -- a park-adjusted offensive metric in which 100 is league average -- has climbed for the fourth straight year, up from a low of 71 in 2014. His 128 wRC+ this year is about equal to what Nolan Arenado posted in '17.

So while Simmons' glove has retained its glory, it's no longer his only source of magic.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Los Angeles Angels, Andrelton Simmons

deGrom watch, Phils-Nats series top weekend

MLB.com @castrovince

There are people -- people with these things called calendars -- who will try to tell you summer began with the so-called "summer solstice" on Thursday. Ah, but we know better, don't we, baseball fans? We know summer technically began the minute the boys of summer took to the fields at the start of this 2018 season (even though the weather in April was memorably miserable).

Anyway, it's good to have the calendar crowd along for the ride now. Summer's here, and the time is right for watching baseball from your seat. The races are real, the halfway point is approaching and these are five topics worth tracking as we head into the weekend:

There are people -- people with these things called calendars -- who will try to tell you summer began with the so-called "summer solstice" on Thursday. Ah, but we know better, don't we, baseball fans? We know summer technically began the minute the boys of summer took to the fields at the start of this 2018 season (even though the weather in April was memorably miserable).

Anyway, it's good to have the calendar crowd along for the ride now. Summer's here, and the time is right for watching baseball from your seat. The races are real, the halfway point is approaching and these are five topics worth tracking as we head into the weekend:

1. The Phil of the chase
Are both of the National League East's surprise squads legit? Well, the Braves sure appear to be just that, because, you know, it is June 22 and they are in first place in the division with the league's second-best run differential.

The Phillies, though, appeared to be slipping back in the pack when they dropped seven of their first eight games this month. The good thing about being ahead of schedule in your rebuild is that you're ahead of schedule in your rebuild. The bad thing is that people will point to every misstep as the beginning of the crash back to reality.

Video: MIL@PHI: Eflin tosses six strong innings vs. Brewers

But the Phils have rebounded in a big way with consecutive series wins against the Rockies, Brewers and Cardinals. And now they've got a three-game set at Nationals Park this weekend that serves as another chance to prove their staying power against a division power. They avoid facing Max Scherzer and are throwing the red-hot Zach Eflin tonight (7:05 ET) and All-Star candidate Aaron Nola on Saturday (4:05 p.m.). One subplot surrounding this series is that the Nats landed Kelvin Herrera in the trade market this week, but that's not going to be the last deal that goes down in this division.

"What we've said all along is that if we can come out of June in a good position and get ourselves on a roll going into July," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told reporters, "that would put us in position to make additions."

The Phillies are rolling right now, and continuing that roll against the Nats would sure give the front office additional incentive to make a big push.

2. deGreat
We nearly had a Clayton Kershaw-Jacob deGrom duel on tap for Dodgers-Mets on Saturday at Citi Field, but L.A. has opted to give Kershaw, returning from a back injury, a rehab start at Triple-A Oklahoma City before he rejoins the active roster. So it's Caleb Ferguson on the hill instead for the visitors in the 7:15 p.m. ET game.

But deGrom's having a pretty "peak Kershaw"-like 2018 so far (minus the wins, of course), and that's plenty attractive on its own. He owns a 0.90 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings over his last 11 starts. He's gotten the win in just three of them because of, well, reasons, but deGrom's performance in a rough season for the Mets only increases the talk of what a valuable trade chip he would be this summer.

Video: NYM@ATL: deGrom strikes out 7 over 7 strong innings

The Mets are not likely to take advantage of that value, but, were they to actually dangle deGrom, the Dodgers would be an ideal suitor. Los Angeles' current front office has been reluctant to complete deals involving multiple top prospects, but the injury issues that have hampered Kershaw and the rotation at large (and Kershaw's potential to opt-out at year's end) make a compelling argument for diving in here.

Anyway, that's all just fun trade banter, unlikely to be realized in real life. All that really matters this weekend is that we get to see deGrom continue his bid for the NL Cy Young Award, and maybe he'll get enough support to actually come away with his second victory in as many starts.

3. You again?
The Mariners and Red Sox played a four-game series at Safeco Field last weekend in which three of the games were decided by a single run. In the first game, there was a vintage David Price-Felix Hernandez duel. In the second, there was a late-inning rally by that never-say-die Seattle squad. In the third, there was a beautiful battle between knuckleballer Steven Wright and junkballer Wade LeBlanc, resulting in a 1-0 M's win. And though the Red Sox erupted offensively in a lopsided series finale, the two clubs split the series and likely came away with an increased appreciation for their potential October opponent.

Video: BOS@SEA: LeBlanc strikes out 9 over 7 2/3 scoreless

So what do you say we do it again?

The M's and Sox will meet this time at Fenway Park in a three-game set that begins at 7:10 tonight, with a LeBlanc-Wright reunion. LeBlanc retired 22 straight in his 1-0 victory over Boston last week, and Wright has a 0.44 ERA in 20 2/3 innings over three starts this month. These guys might not have great "stuff," but watching them oppose each other is great stuff.

4. Cardinal sins
The NL Central was billed as a three-team race going into the season, with the Brewers and Cardinals both in hot pursuit of the two-time-defending-division-champion Cubs. And though the Pirates have had moments of friskiness that have amplified that outlook, the three-team-race idea has generally held true.

Video: MLB Tonight: Yadier Molina's return, swing evolution

But the Cards have been lagging in that race in recent weeks. Injuries to Paul DeJong and the since-returned Yadier Molina -- as well as bullpen, defense and extra-base-hit issues (only the Marlins have fewer) -- have caught up to this club, which has dropped four of its last six series. The rotation hasn't been as sharp in June, and the departure of the DL'd Michael Wacha, who was otherwise having an excellent season, with an oblique strain isn't helping matters there.

With all of the above serving as a backdrop to how the Cards handle the midseason trade market, series like the four-gamer continuing this weekend against the Brew Crew take on added prominence. The Cardinals were pounded in an 11-3 loss in Thursday's opener. The series continues tonight with Jack Flaherty opposing Junior Guerra at 8:10 p.m. at Miller Park.

5. Bieber fever
Shane Bieber is going to have to endure the Justin Bieber puns for as long as he pitches in the big leagues. And right now, with Carlos Carrasco on the shelf with a bruised forearm, which he sustained on a comebacker, Bieber is in the big leagues indefinitely.

Video: MIN@CLE: Bieber fans 7 in first Major League win

A fourth-round pick in 2016, Bieber wasn't what you'd call an uber-prospect. But a ridiculous 14.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Minors had a way of elevating his profile, and he showed great composure in pitching around traffic to limit the damage to one run over 5 2/3 innings in his first big league win against the Twins on Sunday.

In giving Bieber an idea of how to prepare himself between starts, Indians manager Terry Francona pointed Bieber to two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and said, "Follow him." Bieber has drawn comparisons to Kluber for his poise and command. So let's see what the 23-year-old can do opposite Mike Fiers and the Tigers in his next opportunity, at 7:10 ET tonight at Progressive Field.

And sure, keep the Bieber jokes coming, if you feel that's your Purpose.

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.

Gleyber's swing not the only thing that's sweet

Yankees rookie developed love for Baby Bottle Pop candy thanks to Gregorius
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius slaps hands with his teammates in the center of the diamond, jogs to the dugout and puts away his gear. He makes his way to the Yankees' clubhouse and strides to his locker. Gregorius whips out his cell phone, opens the Twitter app and describes a Yanks win in 280 characters or less. Though, for him, the emphasis is never on himself, and always on emojis.

Every Bronx Bomber has his own emoji. CC Sabathia is a Santa Claus, Giancarlo Stanton is a volcano, Gary Sanchez is an octopus, Brett Gardner is a clown, Aaron Judge is, well, a judge, and the list goes on.

NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius slaps hands with his teammates in the center of the diamond, jogs to the dugout and puts away his gear. He makes his way to the Yankees' clubhouse and strides to his locker. Gregorius whips out his cell phone, opens the Twitter app and describes a Yanks win in 280 characters or less. Though, for him, the emphasis is never on himself, and always on emojis.

Every Bronx Bomber has his own emoji. CC Sabathia is a Santa Claus, Giancarlo Stanton is a volcano, Gary Sanchez is an octopus, Brett Gardner is a clown, Aaron Judge is, well, a judge, and the list goes on.

So when it came time for Gleyber Torres' highly anticipated big league debut at the end of April, fans patiently awaited and constantly refreshed Gregorius' Twitter page for the big reveal. But not even Gregorius could predict the sugar-induced events he set in motion.

The emoji emerged a day after Torres' Major League debut, during a Monday night game against the Twins in the Bronx. The rookie stroked an eighth-inning single to center for his first career hit on April 23, and Gregorius was ready to show us what he had in mind.

Enter: A baby bottle.

The Yankees shortstop introduced the red-hot rookie as a white baby bottle emoji with a light blue rim and a curved yellow spout. It was then decided Torres, 21 years old and the youngest Yankee on the 25-man roster, would be dubbed the baby of the team.

Tweet from @DidiG18: Didi Gregorius tweet

Besides fun and games, Gregorius' emoji choice had a larger impact on Torres -- one involving cavities.

Torres is breaking into history books and turning heads across coasts for putting up video-game numbers in his first Major League season. Then at the end of the day, he's going back to his locker and eating … Baby Bottle Pops. It's a lollipop candy introduced by the manufacturer Topps in a baby bottle shape, near identical to Torres' namesake emoji.

So what came first, the chicken or the egg?

After Gregorius started using the baby bottle emoji for Torres in his tweets, the Baby Bottle Pop company (founded in 1998, just two years after Torres was born) sent both players boxes of the candy. Gregorius, not a fan of the candy itself, handed his portion of the Baby Bottle Pops to Torres.

Prior to the company's kind gesture, Torres had never tried the candy. Now, he can't get enough of it. Torres discovered his favorite flavors (watermelon and strawberry) and started dipping the pop into the accompanying sugar compartment for the full Baby Bottle Pop experience. And he's ordering more boxes.

Tweet from @DidiG18: Didi Gregorius tweet 2

Torres is unusually gifted at accepting whatever comes his way. From taking the big leagues by the reins to poking fun at his own youth by snacking on Baby Bottle Pops, Torres embraces challenges and self deprecation alike. Instead of feeling as if he's been demoted to sitting alone in the school cafeteria, Torres embraces his "baby" title in the Yanks' clubhouse with open arms.

"I enjoy everything, I think that's the most important thing," Torres said. "Just enjoy."

Asked if he'll consider a possible sponsorship or small advertisement for the Baby Bottle Pop company, the rookie didn't rule it out.

"Not yet, I'll wait," Torres said.

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

New York Yankees, Gleyber Torres

Rejuvenated Kemp leads LA in Showcase game

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Matt Kemp got hurt last year, then he got heavy, then he got the heave-ho to a team that didn't want him.

This is not the normal path to an All-Star berth and Comeback Player of the Year Award, but that's where Kemp is headed with the Dodgers, who face the Mets on Friday night in the MLB Network Showcase game.

NEW YORK -- Matt Kemp got hurt last year, then he got heavy, then he got the heave-ho to a team that didn't want him.

This is not the normal path to an All-Star berth and Comeback Player of the Year Award, but that's where Kemp is headed with the Dodgers, who face the Mets on Friday night in the MLB Network Showcase game.

Kemp was a Dodgers superstar, a two-time All-Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner, signed to a $160 million contract. As a rookie, his manager compared him to Chipper Jones for raw talent. In 2011, he nearly went 40/40 and finished second in MVP voting to Ryan Braun.

Then came the swoon, a career knocked off its axis by two plays. He ran too hard into the wall at Coors Field and damaged a shoulder, then he didn't run hard enough from third base to home and made an awkward slide that broke his ankle.

Add in arthritic hips and recurring hamstring issues and Kemp had a body no longer conducive to Gold Glove outfield play.

But things happen. And the ultimate irony is that this unwanted player is back with his original club and looking a lot like that MVP talent again, leading the club in average (.322), RBIs (43) and doubles (16, tied) while ranking second home runs (12, tied) and third in OPS (.908).

"He's doing everything he can to help us win games," said manager Dave Roberts. "Without him and his production the first couple of months, I don't know where we'd be. To say he'd be leading the league in hitting, I wouldn't expect that. But the big hits, driving in runs -- I'm not surprised at all."

That would put Roberts among the few true believers, because Kemp doubters were everywhere when the head-scratching headline crossed that the Dodgers had reacquired him in December. The Dodgers made no secret that this was an equal salary swap -- financial engineering, MLB style.

They sent roughly $45 million in 2018 salaries (belonging to Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson) to Atlanta and took back the roughly $45 million owed to Kemp over the next two years. Pushing salary from one year to the next dropped the Dodgers under the competitive balance tax for 2018, resetting penalties.

The Dodgers' plan was to flip Kemp at the first opportunity, but nobody else wanted him, either, so the Dodgers brought him to camp. The player that showed up, however, wasn't the one Atlanta traded.

During the winter, Kemp bought a house in Texas, huddled up with former Major Leaguers Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins, and rededicated himself to being great. He changed his diet and got a personal chef, hired a personal trainer to put his body back together and changed his mindset. He lost 40 pounds and gained back some of those lost defensive skills.

"It's certainly not something we expected," general manager Farhan Zaidi told David Vassegh on AM 570 DodgerTalk. "The credit all goes to Matt for sticking with it, even when there wasn't an obvious path to playing time. His teammates love him, and maybe under the radar he's played amazing defense. That became a liability the last couple years, but with his conditioning during the offseason, he's made a lot of plays for us defensively. He wants to get back to the time when he took a lot of pride in his defense. We've all been pleased with the attitude and performance. He's really done it all."

Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Kemp

Crew clobbers Cards, back alone atop Central

MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- For the Brewers' offense right now, it's boom or bust -- there isn't much of an in-between. Take the last six games: 1 run, 13, 1, 9, 0, 3.

Add Thursday night's series opener with the Cardinals to the boom category, as the Brewers teed off on two-time All-Star Carlos Martinez and Brent Suter delivered a strong outing in an 11-3 win at Miller Park. Milwaukee has sole possession again of first place in the NL Central with its National League-best 44th win.

View Full Game Coverage

MILWAUKEE -- For the Brewers' offense right now, it's boom or bust -- there isn't much of an in-between. Take the last six games: 1 run, 13, 1, 9, 0, 3.

Add Thursday night's series opener with the Cardinals to the boom category, as the Brewers teed off on two-time All-Star Carlos Martinez and Brent Suter delivered a strong outing in an 11-3 win at Miller Park. Milwaukee has sole possession again of first place in the NL Central with its National League-best 44th win.

View Full Game Coverage

"You take the 11-run nights. It's what you do," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "If you can take advantage of some mistakes, take advantage of pitches and put a big number up there on some nights, for sure that's good. But it's not really reflective of the next day."

And, early on, the Brewers definitely took advantage of Martinez, who entered the night with a 2.73 ERA. They grabbed the lead in the first on a bizarre play that saw Cards left fielder Marcell Ozuna climb the wall, seemingly prepared to rob Jesus Aguilar of a home run, but the ball actually bounced off the lower half of the wall and ended up being a two-run double. By the time there was one out in the fourth inning, every Brewer (except the scuffling Eric Sogard and the pitcher, Suter) had a base knock -- and catcher Manny Pina had two extra-base hits (six total in his last 10 games).

Video: STL@MIL: Pina crushes a solo homer to left-center

The Brewers forced Martinez out after four as his ERA ballooned to 3.24 with seven runs allowed (five earned). Milwaukee had five extra-base hits, including a leadoff homer in the fourth by Pina, but "boom" nights don't happen without being opportunistic of a few gift runs, and the Cardinals provided six of those.

Lorenzo Cain hit a grounder to Matt Carpenter at third with one out in the fourth. Carpenter couldn't make the backhanded stop and was charged with an error. Cain scored on Travis Shaw's double, and Shaw advanced home on a pair of wild pitches -- scoring on a ball that slipped out of Martinez's hand and ended up halfway up the third-base line.

Video: STL@MIL: Shaw plates Cain with opposite-field double

"I don't know if his cleat got stuck. I'm not sure," Counsell said of the wild pitch. "It wasn't an injury or anything. I thought his cleat might have gotten stuck. That's as far as I saw."

Video: STL@MIL: Shaw scores on Martinez's wacky wild pitch

Eric Thames extended the Brewers' lead with a bases-clearing triple -- his first of 2018 -- in the seventh inning, all unearned runs after an error by second baseman Jedd Gyorko earlier in the frame. Thames scored on another error by Gyorko, the sixth unearned run of the game charged to the Cardinals.

But Suter didn't need all of the insurance his offense provided him. After Carpenter drilled an 86.4-mph fastball down the middle of the plate to center for a home run on the first pitch of the game, Suter settled in by getting soft contact, and retired the next 12 Cardinals he faced.

"Not that I just laid it in there, but it kind of fired me up," Suter said. "It was like, 'OK, they're coming out swinging. I have to locate better and come out with that much more conviction on my early pitches.' After that, I was able to get some early outs and keep them off the bases."

Suter picked up his team-high eighth win of the season, exiting after seven innings of two-run, two-hit ball, while striking out five.

Video: STL@MIL: Suter holds Cards to 2 runs over 7 innings

On matching a career high with seven innings pitched for the second straight start, Suter said: "The efficiency was there and just being able to fight through any kind of fatigue and being able to make pitches late. It's something I trained for in the offseason, so to see it be able to come to fruition the last couple starts feels good."

Taylor Williams and Dan Jennings both struggled finishing the game in relief of Suter. Williams stranded the bases loaded in the eighth, and Jennings allowed three hits and a run in the ninth.

Cain (right hamstring) was replaced by Domingo Santana after the fourth inning for precautionary reasons, but Counsell said he expects him to be in the lineup tomorrow. Cain was 2-for-3 with two runs and a RBI.

Video: STL@MIL: Cain drives in Thames to pad Brewers' lead

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Aguilar's home run?: Aguilar nearly had a home run in the first inning -- or at least that's what Ozuna thought. Aguilar hit a fly ball to deep left-center, and Ozuna attempted to scale the wall as if to rob a home run, but the ball caromed off the base of the wall and went for a two-run double for the Brewers, pushing them ahead for good.

"I kind of hit it good, until I saw Ozuna jump," Aguilar said. "But I thought I got lucky on that play."

Probably more important, though, was the Brewers' success against Martinez in that first inning. Entering the game as a team with a .192 average (10-for-52) with one RBI over two games against Martinez this season, Milwaukee went 3-for-6 with two RBIs in the first frame alone.

"[Martinez is] a familiar foe, for sure," Counsell said. "We just took advantage of an off-night for him. It was good that we did. Some guys had good at-bats, we kept the pressure on him and were able to get him out after four innings."

Video: STL@MIL: Counsell discusses Suter, bats in 11-3 win

Thames' triple: Like Aguilar's near home run in the first, Thames almost connected for his third home run in his last two games at Miller Park in the seventh, but instead settled for a bases-clearing triple after Tommy Pham kept the ball in the ballpark with a leaping effort at the center-field wall. Thames' three RBIs gave the Brewers at least nine runs for the third time in their last seven games.

Video: STL@MIL: Thames clears the bases with a triple

SOUND SMART
After his first-inning double, Aguilar has multiple RBIs in each of his last four starts, one game shy of Jeromy Burnitz's club record in 1999. Aguilar is the 16th Brewer to accomplish the feat, and the first since Adam Lind in 2015.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Aguilar didn't just help the Brewers' effort on offense in the series opener against the Cardinals, but he made a slick diving play on Harrison Bader's liner to end the second inning. With the shift on, Aguilar dove to his right and made the catch, making it six Cardinals in a row retired for Suter.

"I felt like a really good player," Aguilar said. "I just try to go there and give 100 percent, especially with Suter pitching because he has a lot of energy."

Video: STL@MIL: Aguilar lays out to snag Bader's line drive

HE SAID IT
"I hate that, it's really hard for a position player to hit off another position player. I saw 59 [mph], 60, 63, and I was like, 'No way.' It is what it is, that's baseball." -- Aguilar, after grounding into a double play against Cardinals infielder Greg Garcia, who made his first-career pitching appearance in the eighth inning

Video: STL@MIL: Garcia induces double play on 63-mph pitch

UP NEXT
Right-hander Junior Guerra (3-5, 2.89 ERA) will start for the Brewers on Friday at 7:10 p.m. CT in the second of their four-game set with the Cardinals at Miller Park. St. Louis has proved no challenge for Guerra this season, as he has thrown 11 1/3 innings of one-run ball over two starts against them, including six shutout innings on May 30. Right-hander Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.66 ERA) starts for St. Louis.

Stephen Cohn is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. Follow him on Twitter @Stephen__Cohn.

Milwaukee Brewers, Jesus Aguilar, Lorenzo Cain, Manny Pina, Travis Shaw, Brent Suter, Eric Thames

Mayors across US, PR commit to Play Ball

MLB.com

For the first time since Play Ball's 2015 inauguration, more than 300 mayors from all 50 states and Puerto Rico have pledged their support to host youth-focused baseball and softball events in their communities through August.

Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the United States Conference of Mayors expect a similar turnout from last year's success, when more than 250 mayors hosted over 35,000 kids in Play Ball events.

For the first time since Play Ball's 2015 inauguration, more than 300 mayors from all 50 states and Puerto Rico have pledged their support to host youth-focused baseball and softball events in their communities through August.

Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the United States Conference of Mayors expect a similar turnout from last year's success, when more than 250 mayors hosted over 35,000 kids in Play Ball events.

In its third year, Play Ball Summer encourages mayors across the U.S. and Puerto Rico to organize community-based events that engage families, citizens and city departments to participate in baseball and softball activities focused on having fun while playing the sport.

"Kids want to play. Kids want to play ball," said Tom Brasuell, vice president of community affairs for MLB. "They want to play all kinds of sports, they want to be active. Over the last few years as kids have gotten kind of sedentary, in couches and seats playing video games, they see the adults play baseball. I see lots of kids who are clamoring to play, so we are now giving them the opportunity to play through the Play Ball efforts across the country."

Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the official charity of Major League Baseball, will support the initiative by seeking opportunities for their 1,400 organizations -- representing more than four million youth and 4,300 local clubs -- to take part in Play Ball Summer. Local Boys & Girls Clubs will collaborate or co-host events with mayors.

"Boys & Girls Club is a key partner for us, because pretty much every Boys & Girls Club has a gym, and you can play with a plastic ball and bat in any gym, and that's kind of the entry level for almost anybody who started playing ball," Brasuell said. "And once they start playing, they love it. I see it all the time."

The Play Ball initiative emphasizes the informal aspects of children playing ball any way they can, including Wiffle ball, T-ball or a game of catch. The effort does not necessarily include a full nine innings or umpires. It highlights community-based engagement while creating an everlasting love for the game.

"There's so many more things for kids to do nowadays," said former MLB pitcher Keith Foulke. "The video games and computers and online and all this other stuff. A lot of that stuff has a place in life, but when it comes to athletics, baseball is such a pure sport that once they understand it and they get the fundamentals and they get the handle on it, it's something you can take with you for a lifetime. As a player, as a fan, whatever it is, it can be passed down from generation to generation."

For the second straight year, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the U.S. in 2017 with 25.1 million participants, according to the annual Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Last year, casual participation in baseball rose by 12.9 percent with overall participation seeing a 6 percent increase, the latter of which is the largest increase of all major team sports. Over the last three years, baseball has seen a 49.1 percent growth in casual participation, which is in direct correlation to the launch of the Play Ball initiative.

"We're just very proud that we've got every state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia signed up to do Play Ball events," Brasuell said. "We couldn't do it without these mayors of course, and certainly this year adding Boys & Girls Club as our official charity to support the efforts was a no-brainer."

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Why aren't the Cardinals hitting more doubles?

Girsch not concerned about team's notable lack of extra-base hits
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- It's a statistical oddity that continues to confound the Cardinals, even as their season nears its halfway point: How can a club on pace to eclipse 200 home runs for just the fifth time in franchise history be having so much trouble tallying extra-base hits on balls that don't clear the wall?

The trend has those within the organization puzzled, though a few plausible theories have emerged. What hasn't, however, is a move toward the mean.

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ST. LOUIS -- It's a statistical oddity that continues to confound the Cardinals, even as their season nears its halfway point: How can a club on pace to eclipse 200 home runs for just the fifth time in franchise history be having so much trouble tallying extra-base hits on balls that don't clear the wall?

The trend has those within the organization puzzled, though a few plausible theories have emerged. What hasn't, however, is a move toward the mean.

View Full Game Coverage

Through 73 games, the Cards have 94 doubles and three triples. Both totals rank last in the Majors, and it's not really all that close. And what makes St. Louis' double trouble so bizarre is that it's not indicative of a larger power drought.

The Cardinals are on pace to eclipse last year's home run total (196), as they rank eighth in the Majors with 95 homers this season. They are one of four National League teams to boast four players with at least 10. Yet the correlation one would expect to see between home runs and doubles is oddly absent.

Video: STL@PHI: Carpenter ties game with 2-run double in 7th

"I don't believe there is anything analytically that explains it," general manager Michael Girsch said. "I think it's mostly an odd confluence of luck more than anything else. If we had some special skill to hit the ball just over the fence, not off the fence, we would do that more. I think it's just a weird coincidence of batted balls and where they're landing and guys making great catches on balls that would otherwise be a double or triple. I don't think it's an approach [issue]. I think it's odd, but not instructive in any way."

St. Louis, as you might expect, has never finished a year with more home runs than doubles. It's happened seven times in Major League history and just once since 1963. That exception came last season, when the Rays had 226 doubles and 228 home runs.

At their current pace, the Cards would finish the season with fewer doubles (209) than they've had in any year since 1988. The last team in the Majors with so few two-base hits was the 2003 Tigers, who lost 119 games.

Video: CHC@STL: Molina lifts RBI double to left

"I think at the end of the season, we'll look back and say we have exactly as many as we thought we'd have," said Matt Carpenter, who, with 19 doubles, has accounted for 20 percent of the team's total. "It's like me. I hit .150 the first month. Was I going to hit .150 the rest of the season? No. But people thought I would. People talk about it. We have to let the games play out. We don't have a lot of doubles right now, but at the end of the year, I guarantee the doubles category will look right."

There is some statistical basis for such optimism.

Entering their series against the Brewers, the Cardinals had suffered more bad luck on line-drive hits than anyone else. According to Statcast™, the discrepancy between their weighted on-base percentage (.587) and expected on-base percentage (.692) is the largest in the Majors. So is the difference between their expected slugging percentage (.984) and actual slugging percentage (.803).

In other words, the offense is not getting the return it should expect when making solid contact.

Video: STL@CIN: Ozuna triples to center off Hamilton's glove

"Keep hitting the ball hard, good things are going to happen," manager Mike Matheny said. "It all comes down to this: you can't control those results. What you can control is grinding the at-bat. We hope those turn into rallies."

But while most within the clubhouse struggled to come to any other conclusion for the statistical abnormality beyond bad luck, outfielder Tommy Pham offered a different theory.

"Last month, I had a very high amount of lineouts to the outfield, and I thought that was unusual," Pham noted. "Those are usually my extra-base hits. They're starting to position me better in the outfield. A lot of teams are playing me deeper. They are willing to give me the single instead of the extra-base hit."

Statcast™ data supports Pham's assessment. He is being played deeper at all three outfield spots, including an average of six feet deeper in left. And he's not the only one. In fact, teams are playing the Cards deep as a whole. The average start distance (320 feet) by opposing center fielders is fifth deepest in the Majors. That could explain why fewer balls are getting over outfielders' heads.

Even still, the Cardinals expect the numbers to normalize. And perhaps that's starting. St. Louis recorded multiple doubles in three of the first four games on this road trip after doing so just twice previously in June.

"If I were a betting man, I'd bet our doubles and triples will look more like what you'd expect from now until the end of the season, because it's not something systematic," Girsch said. "It's just unique."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals

MLB Buzz: Will Mets deal their 2 aces?

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.

Nats say asking price on Realmuto too high
June 22: The Nationals could be among the most aggressive teams in making significant roster upgrades these next few weeks, but the cost for Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto remains prohibitive, at least in the eyes of Nats general manager Mike Rizzo.

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

Nats say asking price on Realmuto too high
June 22: The Nationals could be among the most aggressive teams in making significant roster upgrades these next few weeks, but the cost for Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto remains prohibitive, at least in the eyes of Nats general manager Mike Rizzo.

Here's what Rizzo said in a candid interview on Friday with MLB Network Radio about potentially acquiring Miami's backstop:

"[The Marlins] are not going to sell him cheap. We know what the return has to be on Realmuto, and we're not willing to meet that price. So unless something changes there, on their end, we're going to go with [Matt] Wieters when he gets healthy and a combination of [Pedro] Severino and [Spencer] Kieboom to back him up."

Feinsand: 10 players whose trade stock is on the rise

The Nats were very publicly linked to Realmuto throughout the winter, but -- as appears to still be the case -- the asking price was too high. Many reports over the offseason alluded that Miami, in the midst of a major overhaul, was asking for at least one of its top two prospects, Victor Robles or Juan Soto, both of whom have excelled in brief MLB stints.

Realmuto, 27, remains under club control through 2020, which assuredly would be one of the many enticing returns for Washington, which has many significant contributors hitting free agency this winter. Realmuto is batting .297/.355/.524 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs in 54 games this season for a Marlins club that entered Friday with a 29-46 record.

Video: Mike Lowell breaks down J.T. Realmuto, his value

Astros remain interested in acquiring Britton
June 22: After nearly trading for Orioles closer Zach Britton last season, the Astros remain interested in the left-hander, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for FanRag Sports.

Houston and Baltimore agreed on a deal sending Britton to the Astros for multiple players before the non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2017, but it was reportedly vetoed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos after physicals were exchanged.

• Non-waiver Trade Deadline explained

Britton has allowed only one hit over 4 1/3 scoreless innings since he returned from right Achilles tendon surgery, and he's walked just one batter after issuing three free passes in his season debut.

The bullpen arguably remains the Astros' biggest weakness, and yet, the club's relief corps has performed incredibly well lately, posting the third-best ERA (2.03) in the Majors during June.

Hector Rondon has emerged as the Astros' primary closer this month, notching four saves in four chances, and Chris Devenski (1.57 ERA), Collin McHugh (1.13 ERA) and Brad Peacock (2.30 ERA) have also excelled this season. Even Ken Giles, who posted a 7.88 ERA in May and allowed three runs in his first two June appearances, has found a groove, tossing four straight scoreless outings.

Morning Lineup Podcast talks third-base trade market

Rangers willing to pay part of Choo's contract in trade
June 22: The Rangers have made Shin-Soo Choo available and are willing to pay part of the veteran's salary to get a deal done, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for FanRag Sports.

The 35-year-old is owed $42 million over the 2019-20 seasons as part of the seven-year, $130 million contract he signed with Texas in December 2013.

Choo has reached base in 34 straight games and owns a stellar 134 wRC+ this season. However, his defensive capabilities in the outfield are limited at this point, and he's spent much of the year as the Rangers' designated hitter. That, along with his contract, could reduce that number of teams interested in acquiring him.

"No chance" Pirates trade Taillon
June 22: Even if the Pirates decide to sell, Jameson Taillon is not expected to be one of the players available, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for FanRag Sports.

A source told Heyman there is "no chance" Pittsburgh moves its 26-year-old right-hander, who has posted a 4.03 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP this season.

Taillon won't be arbitration eligible for the first time until the 2019-2020 offseason and has four seasons remaining after this one before he reaches free agency.

Pirates players who are more likely to be dealt include Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Corey Dickerson and Ivan Nova.

Mets more likely to trade Wheeler than deGrom, Syndergaard?
June 21: The Mets have been calling around to gauge other teams' trade interest in their players, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for FanRag Sports.

Video: Morning Lineup: Teams that could trade for deGrom

While rivals are dubious the Mets will trade either Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, the club is finding interest in Zack Wheeler, per Heyman. Meanwhile, there hasn't been much chatter yet regarding Steven Matz.

MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported Monday that the Mets are "open for business" as it relates to prospective trade offers ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

However, it will likely take a major haul to acquire either deGrom or Syndergaard. A Mets source told Heyman the club would need to get Gleyber Torres back to trade deGrom to the Yankees, which provides a sense of the asking price the club has placed on the ace. Of course, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has already nixed the idea of trading Torres, joking that he still has to "walk around this city."

Wheeler will surely cost teams less than it would take to acquire deGrom or Syndergaard. The righty owns a 4.82 ERA this season and has an extensive injury history, but his FIP is a promising 3.80. He was also hitting 99 mph with his four-seam fastball in his most recent start on June 17 against the D-backs.

Could Phils jump into Machado sweepstakes early?
June 21: The Phillies, who have been thought to be planning a pursuit of Orioles third baseman Manny Machado when he hits the free-agent market this offseason, are having problems on the left side of their infield: Not only have they been getting little production there, rookie shortstop/third baseman J.P. Crawford recently broke his left hand when he was hit by a pitch.

Duquette: 7 potential trade destinations for Machado

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for FanRag Sports, Philadelphia -- with several front-office executives having been with Baltimore when Machado was drafted -- would love to add the superstar third baseman, but the question remains whether the Phillies will be a contender as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline nears.

Royals shift focus to trading Moustakas after Herrera deal
June 21: After a trade that sent closer Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals, the Royals are now shifting their focus to moving third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for FanRag Sports.

Moustakas is on a one-year deal with Kansas City that includes a mutual option for 2019. He's having a solid season, slashing .263/.319/.480 with 14 home runs after belting a career-high 38 in 2017, though he has been slumping of late. Moustakas has played his entire eight-year career with the Royals.

Video: MLB Tonight on Herrera being traded to the Nats

Padres a potential trade suitor for Machado?
June 21: The list of potential trade destinations for Orioles shortstop Manny Machado could surprisingly include San Diego, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for FanRag Sports.

The Padres have certainly shown a willingness to make bold moves during general manager A.J. Preller's tenure, trading for Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Craig Kimbrel prior to the 2015 season and signing Eric Hosmer to a club-record $144 million, eight-year contract in February 2018. And with the No. 1 farm system in baseball, per MLB Pipeline's preseason rankings, the Padres certainly have a prospect group that will entice the Orioles.

Video: Morosi discusses Machado trade possibilities and more

A trade between the Padres and Orioles remains unlikely, however, as San Diego is in last place in the National League West and would have little chance of re-signing Machado after this season, given their sizable commitment to Hosmer and Machado's preference to remain at shortstop long term. San Diego's top prospect is shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.

Per Heyman, a Padres source downplayed the possibility of a Machado deal and said the club is simply doing its "due diligence."

Phillies a potential landing spot for Beltre
June 21: With J.P. Crawford set to miss 4-6 weeks due to a fractured left hand and both Maikel Franco and Scott Kingery carrying sub-.700 OPS marks, the Phillies will likely look to acquire a veteran to upgrade the left side of their infield, according to MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi.

While the Phillies have long been linked to the Orioles' Manny Machado, Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is another option the club could pursue, per Morosi.

Morosi: Hot market for hot corner

Beltre will be a free agent after this season, making him a prime candidate to be moved by the Rangers, who are in last place in the American League West and sit 15 games behind in the race for the second Wild Card spot.

Video: Phillies GM Klentak talks bullpen, Trade Deadline

Beltre has spent substantial time on the disabled list with various leg injuries over the past two years, but he remains a productive hitter. Over 45 games this season, the 39-year-old owns a .302/.357/.428 slash line.

And while the Rangers have used Beltre as the designated hitter more often lately, the five-time Gold Glove Award winner can still handle himself at the hot corner. In 32 games at third base this season, Beltre has recorded three defensive runs saved.

Of course, Beltre has a full no-trade clause, and it remains to be seen if he'll waive it to join a contender.

Red Sox looking to upgrade bullpen; Hand an option?
June 20: The Red Sox are interested in bolstering their relief corps, according to MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi, and Padres closer Brad Hand may be a target for the club.

However, San Diego's asking price for Hand could be prohibitive. Per Morosi, the Padres are expected to seek a young everyday player, such as Rafael Devers, in exchange for the left-hander.

Hand, who has a National League-leading 21 saves with a 2.43 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP this season, is signed through 2020 with a team option for 2021, so the Padres are in no rush to deal him.

Boston has the sixth-best bullpen ERA (3.17) in the Majors, but the club's 'pen lacks depth with Carson Smith out for the season follo