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This team might have the best rotation ... ever

Through 48 games, Houston starters have allowed only 83 runs
MLB.com @mike_petriello

It doesn't take much effort to make a case that the Astros have the best rotation in baseball in 2018. It's actually harder to find reasons to suggest that they don't. They have a 2.25 ERA, by far the best in baseball. They have the best strikeout rate (30.1 percent), the lowest average against (.189), the lowest slugging against (.316), and they've done it all while throwing the most innings (308). They've been so good that their .188/.253/.316 line against basically means that every hitter against them turns into Michael A. Taylor, who's hitting .185/.255/.305.

Even better, think about it this way: The entire Astros rotation is striking hitters out like Luis Severino (30.8 percent), allowing the same average as Chris Sale (.188) and limiting slugging like Max Scherzer (.319). That is, of course, ridiculous.

It doesn't take much effort to make a case that the Astros have the best rotation in baseball in 2018. It's actually harder to find reasons to suggest that they don't. They have a 2.25 ERA, by far the best in baseball. They have the best strikeout rate (30.1 percent), the lowest average against (.189), the lowest slugging against (.316), and they've done it all while throwing the most innings (308). They've been so good that their .188/.253/.316 line against basically means that every hitter against them turns into Michael A. Taylor, who's hitting .185/.255/.305.

Even better, think about it this way: The entire Astros rotation is striking hitters out like Luis Severino (30.8 percent), allowing the same average as Chris Sale (.188) and limiting slugging like Max Scherzer (.319). That is, of course, ridiculous.

They have three legitimate Cy Young candidates in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton, who all live at the top of the AL ERA leaderboards. They also have Dallas Keuchel, who won the 2015 AL Cy Young. They also have Lance McCullers Jr., who just shut out Cleveland (baseball's hottest offense over the last 30 days) for seven innings in Sunday's 3-0 Houston win. They're so good and deep that Brad Peacock, who had a 3.22 ERA in his 21 starts in 2017, has been relegated to the bullpen. He can't crack this rotation.

This isn't a surprise. The Astros were expected to have the best rotation, and they do. Will that be all they are? We're nearly 30 percent of the way through the season. It's not too soon to see if they can stack up with the best rotations of all time.

The first question to ask is, how in the world do you even measure that? How do you compare a rotation in the baseball world of 2018 to ones we saw in the 90s or the 60s or the 40s?

It's not easy, but it's not impossible. Let's try this out a few different ways. Let's start with the absolute simplest one possible.

They might allow fewer runs than any modern rotation

Through 48 games, the Houston starters have allowed 83 runs. The fewest runs allowed by a rotation in the modern era (since 1920, non-strike years) are 342, by the 1967 White Sox, who pitched right in the middle of the historically low-offense late-60s. If the Astros were to maintain this pace -- easier said than done, of course, and perhaps impossible -- they would allow about 300 runs. They'd shatter the record.

Now: There's some caveats here, of course. Raw runs scored totals can be affected by defense, and starters simply don't pitch as many innings as they used to. Last year, no rotation threw 1,000 innings. In that 1967 season, 15 teams (out of only 20) did. 

So, give this one the grain of salt it deserves, but even then, it's impressive. The job of any pitcher is to prevent runs. This Astros crew could allow fewer than any modern rotation.

Video: HOU@OAK: Keuchel tosses eight frames, allows one run

This would be the best rotation ERA in modern history

ERA helps us put earned runs on a "per nine innings" basis, which helps with the issue above, but isn't perfect for a few reasons, namely that the sport's offensive environment does not stay consistent. In 1968's "Year of the Pitcher," the Major League ERA was 2.98. At the height of the high-offense era in 2000, it was 4.40. That means that depending on the year, a 3.50 ERA could either be very good or very poor.

We'll get to that. Let's start simple, though. Which rotations since the modern era began in 1920 have had the best ERAs from their starting pitchers?

Best rotation ERAs, 1920-present (non-strike years)

2.25 -- 2018 Astros
2.49 -- 1968 Cardinals
2.50 -- 1968 Indians
2.52 -- 1943 Cardinals
2.58 -- 1972 Orioles

With another caveat that we'll get to in a second, that's the top of a very impressive list. The '68 Cardinals featured Bob Gibson's magical 1.12 ERA year and a 23-year-old Steve Carlton; the '68 Indians had stellar years from Luis Tiant and Sam McDowell. You might not remember the '43 Cardinals, who had the benefit of war-weakened competition; you probably do remember the early 70s Orioles of Jim Palmer.

The Astros top them all. One problem: Comparing 48 games to a full season. That said, no team this century has had a lower ERA through 48 team games. No team since the 1972 Dodgers has gotten off to a better start (for this look, we're talking full staffs, not just starters, though in the past those were largely the same thing). With the understand that there's more season ahead than behind, this is meaningful.

Video: HOU@LAA: Verlander K's Ohtani for 2,500th strikeout

They're on track to have the best adjusted ERA in modern history

Remember when we said that raw ERA is fine, but it doesn't tell you enough if you don't know what run-scoring was like that year? A better way is to look at a pitching version of OPS+ (called ERA-), where 100 is 'league average' for that year and each point above or below 100 represents a percent above or below that league average.

Let's do exactly that. Compared to the average for that year, which teams have had the best ERA marks above average?

Best adjusted rotation ERAs, 1920-present (non-strike years) 

45 percent above average -- 2018 Astros (2.25 vs. 4.12 MLB)
29 percent above average -- 2016 Cubs
27 percent above average -- six teams including 1997 and '98 Braves

That's an enormous gap, and some impressive competition. You might remember that the 2016 Cubs won the World Series, and they did so on the strength of an elite starting rotation (and a great defense) that performed like one of the best ever. The 1997 and '98 Braves had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. This has the same partial-season issue as above, but the point remains: What these Astros are doing is rarely ever seen.

They're on track to have the most Wins Above Replacement of all-time

All this talk about ERA ignores the issue about present-day starters throwing fewer innings, and a low ERA is more impressive over more innings. (Although, again, no rotation has thrown more innings in 2018 than Houston's.) 

That being the case, we can turn to Wins Above Replacement, which does -- unlike ERA -- account for how many innings you pitch. If we look at FanGraphs and put every rotation since 1920 on a 162-game scale, you'll see where the 2018 Astros would hypothetically end up.

Best rotation WAR, FanGraphs, 1920-present (non-strike years)

30.2 (projected) -- 2018 Astros
26.0 -- 2011 Phillies
25.9 -- 1971 White Sox
25.4 -- 1997 Braves
24.7 -- 1967 Twins

There's some new teams on this list, but it's a fun one too, with the Astros topping the 2011 Phillies of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. There's those 1997 Braves again. The Astros are on track to beat this record by 16 percent. That's a ton.

Pretty much all of this is subject to the fact that we can't simply take what has happened and expect it will happen for the rest of the year; "on pace" doesn't work this way. Mookie Betts is on a 162-game pace to hit 58 homers. The Yankees are on pace to win 112 games. Those things probably are not going to happen. For the Astros, someone will get hurt, or slump. Peacock, or Francis Martes, or David Paulino, or someone will have to enter and make some starts. Who knows how they'll treat September if they have a large divisional lead.

Tons of things could go wrong, is the point. But we've also seen more than enough to know that this isn't some kind of fluke. The 2018 Astros rotation is the best in baseball, by a lot. (Their bullpen has the AL's lowest ERA, too. It doesn't get easier.) At the end of the year, we may be talking about them as one of the best ever.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Houston Astros, Gerrit Cole, Lance McCullers Jr., Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Justin Verlander

This week: NL East clash, Ohtani vs. Yanks

Must-see matchup each day as division races heat up
MLB.com @RichardJustice

We'll begin a new week with another Braves-Phillies series and end it with a Angels-Yankees pitching matchup -- Shohei Ohtani vs. Masahiro Tanaka -- that'll resonate across at least two continents. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the show.

As for the Braves and Phillies, this will be the fourth series between the two contenders in the National League East, currently led by Atlanta. But this time, it'll have a different feel because we're way past the point of thinking, "Aren't they cute, this pretending to be in contention and all?"

We'll begin a new week with another Braves-Phillies series and end it with a Angels-Yankees pitching matchup -- Shohei Ohtani vs. Masahiro Tanaka -- that'll resonate across at least two continents. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the show.

As for the Braves and Phillies, this will be the fourth series between the two contenders in the National League East, currently led by Atlanta. But this time, it'll have a different feel because we're way past the point of thinking, "Aren't they cute, this pretending to be in contention and all?"

As we approach the one-third point of the season, these teams have convinced just about everyone that they're the real deal and are good enough to contend for an NL playoff berth.

Watch live games on MLB.TV

That point was driven home again Sunday when the Braves ground out a string of remarkable at-bats and scored six -- count 'em six -- runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to stun the Marlins, 10-9.

Video: Must C Comeback: Braves score 6 in the 9th to win it

That's symbolic of something larger: 18 teams being within 3 1/2 games of first place, all of them thinking, like the Braves and Phillies, "We can do this."

Let's run down this week's schedule and pick the best of each day:

MONDAY: Yankees at Rangers (8:05 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
Wait, what? Aren't the Braves and Phillies beginning a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park? Yes, they are, and it'll be a good one, beginning with Mike Foltynewicz going for the Braves and Nick Pivetta for the Phillies. The Braves lead the series, 6-3, in a division that the Nationals were supposed to control. But we can't resist a Yankees-Rangers contest that will feature two of the great pitching craftsmen in the game: Tanaka and Bartolo Colon. Memo to every young pitcher: Pay attention to this one and be reminded why location, movement and arm action are just as important as velocity. If you love the art of pitching -- not the power, but the art -- this one is for you.

TUESDAY: Rockies at Dodgers (10:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
Can the Rockies return to the postseason with baseball's 22nd highest-scoring offense and a rotation that has yet to get untracked? It surely says something good that they've crept to near the top of the NL West with a long list of issues. As for the Dodgers, third baseman Justin Turner's return has sparked a mini hot streak, and now there's optimism that Clayton Kershaw could soon return. Those two developments won't automatically spark a run to the top of the NL West, but it's a great place to start.

WEDNESDAY: D-backs at Brewers (1:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
Arizona's grip on the NL West has slipped away, thanks to a combination of pitching injuries and an offense that is scoring less than three runs a game this month. With center fielder A.J. Pollock injured, the D-backs need first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to get got. Meanwhile, the Brewers are back atop the NL Central, where they spent a large chunk of last season. They appear to be the team most capable of stealing the division from the Cubs.

THURSDAY: Astros at Indians (6:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
These two teams play for the second time in as many weekends and would surprise almost no one with another friendly little head-to-head matchup in October. The Astros and Indians probably have baseball's two best rotations. Houston's bullpen is better, and both teams are attempting to get their offenses on track.

FRIDAY: Braves at Red Sox (7:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
How about we hype this series as a 2018 World Series preview? The Red Sox began this season as one of a handful of teams that would surprise no one by returning to the Fall Classic and have passed pretty much every test so far. No team has been more fun to watch than the Braves and their mix of veterans and kids gaining confidence day by day.

SATURDAY: Cardinals at Pirates (4:05 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
Injuries have hit the Cardinals hard in recent days. To lose shortstop Paul DeJong (broken hand), ace Carlos Martinez (pec muscle) and catcher Yadier Molina (pelvic area surgery) and still stay competitive, speaks well of the organization's depth. The Pirates are one of baseball's feel-good stories in riding a bunch of young guys to the top of the NL Central.

SUNDAY: Angels at Yankees (1:05 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
Shohei Ohtani's every pitching start -- if not every at-bat -- has become must-watch baseball. This one has the added twist of Ohtani pitching against his fellow countryman, someone whose career he followed closely while honing his own game. It doesn't get any better than this one.

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.

Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks

Hicks hits 105 mph -- twice -- on radar gun

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS --- If you're wondering how Jordan Hicks can add 2 mph to what was already a 103-mph sinker, you're not alone. Hicks' manager and teammates -- along with the rest of the baseball world -- were asking the same question after the 21-year-old twice eclipsed 105 mph with his fastball in Sunday's 5-1 win over the Phillies.

Hicks pointed to the batter's box for the answer.

View Full Game Coverage

ST. LOUIS --- If you're wondering how Jordan Hicks can add 2 mph to what was already a 103-mph sinker, you're not alone. Hicks' manager and teammates -- along with the rest of the baseball world -- were asking the same question after the 21-year-old twice eclipsed 105 mph with his fastball in Sunday's 5-1 win over the Phillies.

Hicks pointed to the batter's box for the answer.

View Full Game Coverage

"Odubel just takes forever to get in the box," Hicks said, referencing Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera. "It amps me up a little bit. So I bring it against him."

The five pitches Hicks fired to Herrera in a ninth inning at-bat Sunday were the five fastest pitches of the 2018 season thrown by any pitcher, per Statcast™. Two registered at 105 mph. The others: 104.3, 104.2 and 103.7. In doing so, Hicks eclipsed Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman as the game's hardest thrower this season. He and Chapman are the only pitchers to hit 105 mph since pitch tracking began in 2008.

The scoreboard readings had Hicks' teammates clamoring in the dugout.

Tweet from @Cardinals: .@Jhicks007 touched 105 on the radar gun!🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/5t2U759w4k

"You see 105 up there. That doesn't happen. I don't know what the exact mph was, but we're all wondering if it was 105 point, or where on 105 it was," said starter Jack Flaherty, who tossed 7 2/3 brilliant innings in the win. "I wish I could throw 105."

Hicks has spent the majority of his rookie season battling other relievers for the title of MLB's hardest-throwing pitcher. He says he keeps surprising himself, as the radar reading continues to climb. Hicks broke camp with a reputation of hitting 102 with his sinker, which runs down and arm-side and, thanks to his age and power arm, can disobey him at times. Saturday he touched 103 mph -- also against Herrera.

"[He] doesn't irritate me. Just like … get in the box. It's all good though," Hicks said. "I saw the 103 last night and said, 'Oh, I guess I can do that. I'll try to throw a little harder today.'"

Hicks has thrown his seven hardest pitches of the season against Herrera.

"It was my first time facing a guy like that," Herrera said. "I had never faced someone throwing 104, 105 miles an hour. But I felt good because I was able to see pitches."

Here are some more fireballer facts:

• Chapman had previously thrown the fastest pitch of 2018 on May 8, when he hit Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. with a 103.3-mph pitch.
• Hicks is now just the fourth pitcher to reach 104 mph in pitch-tracking history, joining Chapman, Mauricio Cabrera (2016) and Neftali Feliz (2010).
• Hicks owns eight of the 10 fastest pitches thrown this year, and 13 of the top 20.

Video: BOS@NYY: Chapman hits JBJ with a 103.3-mph pitch

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jordan Hicks

Hitters are 1-for-44 (!) vs. Ohtani's splitter

It's hard to even put into words what Shohei Ohtani continues to do on a Major League Baseball field. In 150 some odd years of men hurling white spheres and swinging wooden sticks, there's no real comparison. 

As a hitter, Ohtani has six homers, 17 RBIs and a .321/.367/.619 slash line. And after striking out nine and giving up just two runs in 7 2/3 innings during the Angels' 4-2 win over the Rays on Sunday, he's now 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA on the mound. He has 51 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings. Much of that success, as he showed again on Sunday, is due to his video-game level splitter.

Cozart not a fan of Rays' reliever strategy

MLB.com @DKramer_

As the Rays experiment with and adjust their pitching strategy -- beginning the game with high-leverage relievers and deploying innings-eating starters later -- so, too, will the competition. The Angels got an early glimpse of combatting the unorthodox method over the weekend, facing reliever Sergio Romo to start on Saturday and Sunday, and at least one wasn't thrilled with the tactic. 

"It's weird," Angels third baseman Zack Cozart said in a recent interview with The Athletic. "I hope baseball doesn't go in that direction to where it's going to be more like Spring Training, having a pitcher go an inning or two and then change it out.

As the Rays experiment with and adjust their pitching strategy -- beginning the game with high-leverage relievers and deploying innings-eating starters later -- so, too, will the competition. The Angels got an early glimpse of combatting the unorthodox method over the weekend, facing reliever Sergio Romo to start on Saturday and Sunday, and at least one wasn't thrilled with the tactic. 

"It's weird," Angels third baseman Zack Cozart said in a recent interview with The Athletic. "I hope baseball doesn't go in that direction to where it's going to be more like Spring Training, having a pitcher go an inning or two and then change it out.

"I don't think that's good for baseball, in my opinion. It's definitely weird, not knowing who you're going to face in your first couple of at-bats. … Usually, you have a starter and you think you're going to have three at-bats probably. So you're going to use the first at-bat and you want to have success, see what he has if you haven't faced him before, stuff like that. When you're going Spring Training style, it's definitely a different ballgame. It's Spring Training; that's the best way I could describe it. I hope it doesn't go in that direction."

Video: Romo starts 2 games in a row, K's 6 over 2 1/3 frames

Two games is a wildly minute sample, but the Rays' strategy proved effective. Romo tossed 2 1/3 scoreless frames and struck out six of the nine batters he faced, including Cozart, Mike Trout and Justin Upton on 18 pitches during the first inning on Saturday, an eventual 5-3 win for the Rays. 

In the second inning on Sunday, an eventual 5-2 Angels win, Cozart drew one of two walks issued by Romo, as the right-hander worked through 28 pitches before departing. However, Cozart believed that he was squaring up to face Matt Andriese, a starter, which thwarted his pre-at-bat preparation, he said. 

Video: TB@LAA: Romo strikes out Trout in the 1st inning

Utilizing effective relievers against the top of the opposing lineup has been explored more as bullpens have become more of a premium, though the strategy hadn't truly manifested within games until last weekend. The last pitcher to start on back-to-back days was Zack Greinke for the Brewers in 2012, though that was due to Greinke being ejected without recording an out in his first outing. He came back to toss three innings the following day. 

The Rays, who have long been analtically minded, also entered the year with limited rotational depth, and they announced early in Spring Training that they were going to experiment with a four-man rotation and relegate the fifth day for the bullpen, manipulating off-days when they could. However, beginning games with a reliever on the mound is an entirely new topic -- and it's drawing significant attention. 

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Los Angeles Angels, Zack Cozart

Speed never slumps: Each team's fastest player

MLB.com @williamfleitch

One of the great baseball maxims is "speed never slumps."

Sometimes hard-hit grounders don't find a hole, sometimes line drives are right at a guy, sometimes the wind knocks down would-be homers. But speed is always there. Speed is of use everywhere, from a dribbler down the third-base line, to a ball hit into the gap, to the cascading tension of a stolen-base attempt. The game changes a little bit every year, but speed is always useful. Speed is always in vogue.

One of the great baseball maxims is "speed never slumps."

Sometimes hard-hit grounders don't find a hole, sometimes line drives are right at a guy, sometimes the wind knocks down would-be homers. But speed is always there. Speed is of use everywhere, from a dribbler down the third-base line, to a ball hit into the gap, to the cascading tension of a stolen-base attempt. The game changes a little bit every year, but speed is always useful. Speed is always in vogue.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the fastest player on every team.

To determine this, we'll be using Sprint Speed, which is a Statcast™ metric that measures speed in feet per second. The fastest players top out at a tick above 30 feet per second (think Billy Hamilton), while the slowest guys are around 23 feet per second (your typical aging catcher). And, as you might have figured out, MLB average is right in the middle, at 27 feet per second.

Sprint Speed leaderboard

Here's a look at the fastest player on each team. As you'll see, not all these men are base-stealing threats, and the fun is not always necessarily with the players' speed, but how they use that speed. These speedsters are baseball at its fastest. Which is quite often its best.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Aledmys Diaz
Sprint speed: 28.6 feet per second
The Blue Jays have one of the older lineups in baseball, and Diaz, as one of the few players under 30, stood out for his wheels ... at least before an ankle sprain put him on the disabled list.

Orioles: Craig Gentry
Sprint Speed: 28.9 feet per second
I feel like it says something fundamental about the Orioles that their fastest player is in his mid-30s.

Rays: Mallex Smith
Sprint speed: 29.5 feet per second
No surprise here: Smith has been one of the fastest players in baseball since coming up with the Braves. He's, at last, getting on base at a playable clip this year, too.

Red Sox: Mookie Betts
Sprint speed: 28.1 feet per second
He's the best at everything else on this team. Why wouldn't he be the fastest Red Sox player as well? As a sign of his improvement across the board, he's actually faster than he was last year, when he was ninth among Red Sox players.

Video: BAL@BOS: Betts collects 3 hits, 3 steals vs. Orioles

Yankees: Brett Gardner
Sprint speed: 28.9 feet per second
Gardner has essentially been the Yankees' fastest player for a decade. He has certainly been consistent: His sprint speeds since Statcast™ began tracking: 28.9, 28.8, 28.9, 28.9.

AL CENTRAL
Indians: 
Bradley Zimmer
Sprint speed: 29.7 feet per second
Second place on the Indians? The ageless Rajai Davis, now 37 years old.

Royals: Paulo Orlando
Sprint speed: 29.1 feet per second
Despite his speed, Orlando has stolen only 18 bases in the Majors ... oh, and he's the only Brazilian player with a World Series ring, so there's that.

Tigers: Victor Reyes
Sprint speed: 29.2 feet per second
Fun factoid: Miguel Cabrera isn't the slowest player on the Tigers. (That's Victor Martinez.)

Twins: Byron Buxton
Sprint speed: 30.7 feet per second
No surprise here. Buxton is the fastest man in baseball, just like he was in 2016 and 2015. (He was second to Victor Robles last season.)

Video: MIN@BAL: Buxton sprints 30.9 feet per second for grab

White Sox: Adam Engel
Sprint speed: 30.1 feet per second
Engel is one of the best defensive outfielders in the Majors, thanks largely to the speed that earned him a scholarship offer to play football at Wisconsin. (As a quarterback, alas.)

AL WEST
Angels:
 Mike Trout
Sprint speed: 29.4 feet per second
Of course. Trout has actually gotten faster every season since 2016. Second-fastest on the team is Shohei Ohtani.
 
Video: HOU@LAA: Trout sprints to run down Altuve's long fly

Astros: Derek Fisher
Sprint speed: 29.5 feet per second
The real question may be, is he faster than his NBA namesake was in his prime?

Athletics: Boog Powell
Sprint speed: 28.4 feet per second
This much is certain -- this Boog Powell is the fastest Boog Powell in MLB history.

Mariners: Dee Gordon
Sprint speed: 29.3 feet per second
The slowest player in baseball is also on the Mariners. Nelson Cruz's 22 feet per second average sprint speed means Gordon would almost certainly pass him if Cruz were on first base and Gordon hit a double.

Rangers: Delino DeShields
Sprint speed: 30.4 feet per second
There are no Statcast™ numbers for when Delino's dad played, but considering this guy is the second-fastest player in baseball, Dad's going to have to work hard to convince us he was faster than his son.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves:
 Ronald Acuna Jr.
Sprint speed: 29.8 feet per second
Believe the hype. When the fastest guy on your team also has the highest average exit velocity on your team (which Acuna does), and, oh yeah, he's only 20 years old, it is extremely exciting.

Video: ATL@NYM: Acuna's sprint speed clocked at 31 ft/sec

Marlins: J.B. Shuck
Sprint speed: 29.8 feet per second
Somehow, Shuck has never stolen more than eight bases in a season during his six-year MLB career.

Mets: Amed Rosario
Sprint speed: 29.0 feet per second
Don't look now, but Rosario started to hit after being moved to the ninth spot in the Mets' order; his batting average is .278 in the last two weeks. It'd help if a player with this sort of speed walked a bit more, though.

Nationals: Trea Turner
Sprint speed: 29.9 feet per second
Turner is on pace for more than 50 steals, he's getting on base at a .371 clip and he's holding his own at a premium defensive position. If he adds a little more power, look out.

Video: NYM@WSH: Statcast™ measures Turner's sprint to first

Phillies: Scott Kingery
Sprint speed: 29.5 feet per second
Kingery's not hitting at all yet, but you've seen enough of his raw tools to at least understand what the Phillies were thinking with the contract extension they gave him before he'd ever played a big league game.

NL CENTRAL
Brewers: Christian Yelich
Sprint speed: 28.5 feet per second
Think the Brewers had a specific plan this offseason? The two men they added to the lineup this offseason, Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, are the two fastest players on the roster by a good amount.

Cardinals: Harrison Bader
Sprint speed: 29.1 feet per second
Tommy Pham spent all winter attempting to increase his speed, but he still can't touch Bader, the Bronxville, N.Y., native who has taken over the Cardinals' fourth outfielder spot ... and may be ready for even more than that.

Cubs: Javier Baez
Sprint speed: 28.9 feet per second
Baez is starting to develop a little more plate discipline, which is really the only thing standing in the way of becoming an upper-tier superstar.

Video: CHC@CLE: Baez hustles to stretch base hit into double

Pirates: Starling Marte
Sprint speed: 28.9 feet per second
His oblique injury might slow him down a bit, but it is worth noting that after his nightmare 2017, Marte's numbers so far are the best they've been any year of his career.

Reds: Billy Hamilton
Sprint speed: 30.1 feet per second
At last, something Joey Votto isn't best at on the Reds. (Tucker Barnhart is the only regular slower than Votto.)

Video: CIN@SF: Hamilton covers 105 ft for a running catch

NL WEST
D-backs:
 Jarrod Dyson
Sprint speed: 29.2 feet per second
Vroom vroom.

Video: LAD@ARI: Dyson swipes third for his 2nd steal

Dodgers: Cody Bellinger
Sprint speed: 28.8 feet per second
Not much has gone right for the Dodgers so far this season, but Bellinger still contains a near-overflowing cauldron of talent.

Giants: Andrew McCutchen
Sprint speed: 28.7 feet per second
Unsurprisingly, the four fastest Giants are all over 30.

Padres: Manuel Margot
Sprint speed: 29.3 feet per second
He's actually tied with Franchy Cordero at 29.3. I'd still take Luis Perdomo over both of them in a race.

Rockies: Trevor Story
Sprint speed: 29.7 feet per second
Story is finally using his world-class speed on the basepaths this year; he already has seven steals, one shy of his career high.

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Hader's feats generating All-Star, Cy Young buzz

Lefty reliever setting down batters at a historic clip
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MINNEAPOLIS -- Is Josh Hader pitching his way onto the National League All-Star team? What about the way-too-early NL Cy Young Award debate?

Brewers manager Craig Counsell will leave those questions to observers outside the clubhouse.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Is Josh Hader pitching his way onto the National League All-Star team? What about the way-too-early NL Cy Young Award debate?

Brewers manager Craig Counsell will leave those questions to observers outside the clubhouse.

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"I think Josh is pitching really well and affecting a lot of our games -- and affecting them in a pretty meaningful way," Counsell said. "And we highly value the impact he's making. Whether that merits [honors and awards], that's what baseball fans love to debate.

"I hope he keeps pitching like this, and I hope he makes them debate it."

In the wake of Hader's latest strikeout special, a 2 1/3-inning outing Saturday in which he struck out the final six batters he faced for a 5-4 win over the Twins, here are some of the more eye-popping things about the left-hander's start to the season:

• Ninety-five hitters have dug in against Hader. Fifty-six of them have struck out. That 59-percent strikeout rate would shatter the all-time record (min. 25 batters faced) set by the Reds' Aroldis Chapman in 2014, when he struck out 52.5 percent of hitters. The only other pitcher in history to strike out more than half of the hitters he faced was then-Braves closer Craig Kimbrel at 50.2 percent in '12.

• Hader, 24, is also on a pace to break Chapman's record for strikeouts per nine innings (min. 25 batters faced). Hader has 18.44 so far, to Chapman's 17.67 in '14.

• Hader's Major League-leading 0.51 WHIP after 27 1/3 innings is also historic. According to STATS Inc., the record-low WHIP for a pitcher in 25-plus innings is 0.36, by Ed Cushman of the Milwaukee Cream Citys in 1884. Hader's 0.51 is next, then Boston's Koji Uehara's 0.57 in 74 1/3 innings in 2013.

• Hader, a relief pitcher, entered Sunday ranked 11th in the NL in strikeouts. Every other pitcher in the top 28 is a starter who had pitched at least 15 more innings than Hader.

Tweet from @darenw: Josh Hader has struck out 44% of the batters he's faced in his career... 59% this season! That's crazy. Here's all 124 of his career strikeouts by pitch type and location pic.twitter.com/JcuKnUU2jg

• His strikeout rate is not abating as hitters get more aggressive earlier in counts. Twenty-seven of Hader's last 38 outs have come via strikeout.

• "I don't know if anybody has struck out 200 people out of the bullpen before, but …" Twins manager Paul Molitor said Saturday after Hader's outing left him on pace for 197 strikeouts in 56 games spanning 95 1/3 innings. His instinct was correct; nobody in Major League history has ever topped 200 strikeouts pitching exclusively in relief. Only six men have topped 150 strikeouts, led by 181 for Boston's Dick Radatz in 157 relief innings in 1974. The closest thing to what Hader is doing was Astros closer Brad Lidge in 2004, when he struck out 157 batters in 94 2/3 innings.

• Both of Hader's wins, five of his six saves and 10 of his 16 outings overall have spanned at least two full innings. The Dodgers' Mike Marshall owns the Major League record with 62 multi-inning appearances in 1974, the year he won NL Cy Young Award honors. Hader won't get to 62, but he does have a chance to become the first reliever since Mariano Rivera in '96 to get to 35 appearances of two-plus innings.

• His sling-like delivery makes Hader death on left-handed hitters, who are 1-for-28 (.036) against him. Miami's Justin Bour singled off Hader on April 22 at Miller Park.

• Hader has gotten to two strikes against 75 batters, for whom it looks like walk or bust. Five have walked. One -- Steven Souza Jr., with a full-count single off Hader last week -- has gotten a hit, for a batting average of .014.

• Hader's 57.1-percent contact rate is the lowest in baseball for pitchers who have logged at least 10 innings this season, but the Twins didn't come close to that on Saturday. They made zero after Eddie Rosario hit consecutive foul balls while leading off the eighth inning. That's a span of six different batters, 21 pitches/16 strikes, with no contact. In all, Hader threw 22 strikes, and the Twins had 15 swings and misses.

Video: MIL@CIN: Hader records 8 K's on 8 outs for the save

• The Reds know the feeling. On April 30 at Great American Ball Park, Hader logged an eight-out save while getting every out via strikeout. No one had ever struck out all eight batters in a 2 2/3-innings appearance.

"I'm really just trying to do my best to attack hitters and keep them off-balance," Hader said. "[On Saturday] the fastball was there, so it just came down to executing."

The buzz is building, with one national publication this weekend picking up on Hader's bid for the NL All-Star team.

Does Counsell worry Hader will get caught up in it if that buzz builds?

"Players are human. They're affected by a lot," Counsell said. "And a lot of things that we don't always advertise. They've got everything going on. They've got pressure. I'm not singing a sob story for the players, by any means. But keeping them focused on what they can control is important. So that's what we'll continue to do."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Josh Hader

The glorious history of glasses in baseball

Bryce Harper joined a very special and exclusive baseball club on Saturday. After having issues with his contacts, Harper wore his clear plastic frames on the field and will now and forever be a member of the brotherhood of bespectacled ballplayers. It's a club that stretches all the back to Will White, who forever changed the game when he donned glasses while pitching for Brooklyn and Cincinnati from 1875-1886.

Fan eats ice cream out of a (non-mini) helmet

Our greatest achievements only come when we come face to face with our own limits and push through them to something we've never accomplished before.

During Sunday's game against the Rangers, a White Sox fan gazed into the belly of a 2,700-calorie, life-size helmet full of soft-serve ice cream and saw a worthy, yet vanquishable, adversary. No one said it would be easy, but he persisted and finished his voluminous bowl.

Hit and Run Baseball initiative introduced by MLB

Joint program with USA Baseball focused on engaging youth in gameplay
MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

Major League Baseball and USA Baseball announced "Hit and Run Baseball" on Monday, a program supporting modified forms of the game that enable players to develop their skills in a more interactive format while also promoting player health and safety.

Hit and Run Baseball is part of the Play Ball initiative, and it will serve youth leagues, tournament providers and amateur coaches with recommended game formats that can be easily applied at all levels of youth and amateur baseball. Leagues and coaches can also create their own modified rules to best suit their individual league, tournament or team needs.

Major League Baseball and USA Baseball announced "Hit and Run Baseball" on Monday, a program supporting modified forms of the game that enable players to develop their skills in a more interactive format while also promoting player health and safety.

Hit and Run Baseball is part of the Play Ball initiative, and it will serve youth leagues, tournament providers and amateur coaches with recommended game formats that can be easily applied at all levels of youth and amateur baseball. Leagues and coaches can also create their own modified rules to best suit their individual league, tournament or team needs.

More on Hit and Run Baseball

Coaches, leagues and administrators can find more information about the Hit and Run program at HitandRunBaseball.com.

"Hit and Run Baseball was created as a teaching tool designed to remind baseball participants that playing our game does not require a one-size-fits-all approach," said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. "There are many different ways to structure practice, games and tournaments so that players get the most out of their experiences, particularly through crisp pace of play while also limiting pitch count burdens on pitchers."

The main tenets of the Hit and Run Baseball program are:

• Quicker pace-of-play with more game action by reducing the number of pitches per at-bat, increasing the frequency of balls-in-play, and giving teams bonuses for hitting certain pace-of-play goals.

• More engagement with youth players by introducing more diverse game situations, giving players the opportunity to play different defensive positions and providing more opportunities to participate defensively.

• Improved player health and safety by limiting pitch counts, particularly among the youngest age groups.

• More teaching opportunities for coaches to provide immediate feedback to players.

Pilots of the Hit and Run Baseball program have resulted in games being played in a shorter time frame with more plate appearances, more balls in play and pitchers throwing fewer pitches.

"The importance of fun and actionable forms of game modification was identified early on in our strategic plan for growing our sport," said Rick Riccobono, USA Baseball's Chief Development Officer. "By creating this platform, we aim to make baseball available to a wider audience of participants by normalizing alternative methods of gameplay and further energizing the experience within the game."

Among the youth and amateur organizations that support Hit and Run Baseball are the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC), American Legion, Babe Ruth League, Dixie Youth, Dixie Boys & Majors, Little League International, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF), Ripken Baseball, USA Baseball, NCTB, PONY Baseball and Softball and Perfect Game.

Strategy and adjustments for the program moving forward will be guided by a committee consisting of leadership from throughout the professional and amateur levels of baseball, including Cal Ripken Jr. (Baseball Hall of Famer; MLB special advisor; vice chair of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation), Michael Cuddyer (special assistant of baseball operations for the Minnesota Twins; USA Baseball Sport Development contributor; two-time MLB All-Star; member of the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame), Steve Keener (president and CEO, Little League International), Elliot Hopkins (director of sports, sanctioning and students services, National Federation of State High Schools Association), Paul Mainieri (head coach, Louisiana State University Tigers), John Vodenlich (head coach, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks), Josh Bloom (medical director, Carolina Sports Concussion Clinic; head medical team physician of the Carolina Hurricanes and USA Baseball), Kyle Stark (vice president and assistant general manager, Pittsburgh Pirates), Shaun Larkin (coordinator of skill development, Los Angeles Dodgers organization; former Minor League manager and coach; former collegiate and high school coach), Sean Campbell (senior director of sport development, USA Baseball) and David James (vice president of baseball and softball development, Major League Baseball; head of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Posey shows off reflexes on game-ending play

Buster Posey has been great his entire Major League career. He has a Rookie of the Year Award and an MVP Award. He's a five-time All-Star and has won the Silver Slugger Award four times. He's been so good for so long, it didn't seem possible for him to surprise us with his ability on the field.

On Sunday, however, Posey proved that greatness always finds a way to impress. With two outs in the ninth inning of the Giants' 9-5 win over the Rockies, a pitch in the dirt looked like it was going to get away from the Giants' catcher and allow Trevor Story to advance. Let's just say that it didn't quite work out that way:

Braves walk off with wild 6-run 9th

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- When Julio Teheran endured a six-run fourth inning and Miguel Rojas recorded his first career multi-homer game within the final few innings against Atlanta's bullpen, there certainly wasn't reason to anticipate the jubilitation the Braves expressed after claiming an improbable 10-9 walk-off win over the Marlins on Sunday afternoon at SunTrust Park.

"There's really not many words I can put into that," Freddie Freeman said. "That's probably one of the most exciting games I've ever played in, been a part of or watched."

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ATLANTA -- When Julio Teheran endured a six-run fourth inning and Miguel Rojas recorded his first career multi-homer game within the final few innings against Atlanta's bullpen, there certainly wasn't reason to anticipate the jubilitation the Braves expressed after claiming an improbable 10-9 walk-off win over the Marlins on Sunday afternoon at SunTrust Park.

"There's really not many words I can put into that," Freddie Freeman said. "That's probably one of the most exciting games I've ever played in, been a part of or watched."

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Down six runs through five innings and facing a five-run deficit entering their final at-bat, the Braves manufactured a six-run ninth without the benefit of an extra-base hit. Dansby Swanson began the frame with a strikeout and ended it with a two-run, walk-off single that led to him being tackled by his celebratory teammates behind second base.

"I do enjoy those situations," Swanson said. "Who doesn't? If the game is going to be on the line, I want to be up there, and I think everybody else is the same way with themselves. It just shows who we are, and that's something we take pride in."

Video: MIA@ATL: Swanson discusses his single in walk-off win

Swanson's second career game-ending hit capped the Braves' largest ninth-inning comeback in exactly eight years.

Braves manager Brian Snitker was the team's third-base coach on May 20, 2010, when Brooks Conrad capped a seven-run ninth with a walk-off grand slam against the Reds. Consequently, that memorable game that helped Bobby Cox's final team reach the postseason also ended with a 10-9 score.

"You know what, [today's game] is right there with [the Cincinnati comeback]," Snitker said. "That's a great comparison right there."

Video: CIN@ATL: Conrad's slam gives Braves walk-off win

When Teheran surrendered Lewis Brinson's grand slam in the fourth and Rojas gave the Marlins a 9-4 lead with his ninth-inning homer off A.J. Minter, the Braves were staring at the possibility of heading into this week's key division showdown against the Phillies on a sour note. But the mood was completely altered with this comeback, which was fueled by Freeman's two-out infield single off closer Brad Ziegler to keep the rally going.

"We have fun as a team, and we're good," Nick Markakis said. "We're good and we have fun. … But today was a team win, not just one person doing it but everybody."

Video: MIA@ATL: Albies hustles home to score on Rojas' error

As the Braves moved toward maintaining the National League's best record, Markakis cut the deficit to two runs by scoring Freeman with a single. Suddenly, the confident Braves dugout began anticipating what might be occurring. The confidence grew as Tayron Guerrero walked Tyler Flowers and then surrendered a pinch-hit RBI single to Kurt Suzuki, who laced a 98.8 mph heater to left field.

"We said if he walks [Flowers] right here we're going to win this game," Freeman said. "It just shows the belief and pedigree in this team that we have this much belief in each other. It's fun to be a part of. When you have everybody bought in to play like that, it's truly amazing what can happen."

Video: MIA@ATL: Suzuki plates Markakis with an RBI single

The Braves haven't been strangers to late elation as they have tallied an MLB-high 43 last at-bat wins since Snitker became the club's manager on May 16, 2016. But there haven't been too many thrills like the one created when Swanson fouled consecutive 99-mph heaters before he connected on Guerrero's elevated 96.6-mph fastball and watched it sail toward left field to end one of the most improbable comebacks any of the Braves have ever experienced.

"No one else you want in that situation," Freeman said. "It feels like he's made for that situation. We got everything to him and he came through. It was just unbelievable at-bats all the way through that whole inning."

Swanson came off the disabled list on Saturday and was hitless before once again proving that scouts weren't wrong when they evaluated him during his playing days at Vanderbilt University and said he possessed the clutch gene.

"I just want to put the barrel on it," Swanson said. "That's kind of what I do every at-bat. You try not to change your plan based on the situation and everything. You just do what you do and do it better than they do."

Video: MIA@ATL: Snitker on 6-run 9th to complete comeback

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Signs of life: Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen held the Braves hitless through the first three innings and scoreless until Freeman and Markakis notched consecutive RBI singles in the sixth. Ronald Acuna Jr. added a two-run single in the seventh against Drew Steckenrider and contributed to the ninth-inning rally with a sacrifice fly.

"I almost expect them to do it," Snitker said. "That's why it's down six in the bottom of the fifth and I felt good. I really did. I thought these guys had a lot of time to go to work here, but then you get a little bit farther away, but they never stop. It's a great win for these guys."

Video: MIA@ATL: Acuna Jr. plates 2 with a single to left

Painful fourth: Teheran held the Marlins hitless through the first three innings before surrendering five hits within a span of six plate appearances to begin the fourth. Justin Bour fueled the eruption by opening the frame with a long drive that resulted in a triple when Ender Inciarte collided with the center-field wall and briefly remained on the ground. Inciarte exited after the sixth inning, but he will likely play in Monday night's series opener in Philadelphia.

"I think [Ender] is just sore," Snitker said. "I mean, he did a face-plant into that thing. I think it's just sore. I don't think he did anything. [It's just] body soreness because he hit that wall really hard. It's good to get him out of there and give him a break and not push it anymore."

Video: MIA@ATL: Inciarte hits wall hard, remains in the game

SOUND SMART
The Braves scored five of their ninth-inning runs with two outs and now have an MLB-best 119 two-out runs. No other team entered Sunday with more than 100 such runs.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
After Teheran endured the rough fourth inning, Brian Anderson opened the fifth with a long drive that Acuna snared toward the left-field corner. Acuna ran 84 feet for the ball that had a 63 percent catch probability. It marked the second three-star catch for the 20-year-old phenom, who has also tallied two four-star catches (catch probability 26-50 percent) -- MLB's second-highest total entering Sunday.

Video: MIA@ATL: Acuna Jr. sprints down Anderson's fly ball

HE SAID IT
"I credit being able to relax a lot in those situations to playing high school basketball because you're constantly in those pressure situations that are considered tough to handle. Every time I can get in those situations, I'm happy to do so." -- Swanson

UP NEXT
The top two teams in the NL East face off at 7:10 p.m. ET on Monday as the Braves travel to Citizens Bank Park for a series with the Phillies. Both starting pitchers are coming off of season-high strikeout performances in their last starts. Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz tallied 10 strikeouts on Tuesday against the Cubs, while Phillies righty Nick Pivetta struck out a career-high 11 batters in his last start against the Orioles on Wednesday. The Braves took two out of three games in their trip to Philly in late April.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Dansby Swanson

J.D. hits 14th, 15th HRs in Red Sox victory

Special to MLB.com

BOSTON -- J.D. Martinez continues to be red-hot, as he belted a pair of homers in Sunday afternoon's 5-0 win against the Orioles at Fenway Park.

In the second inning, the slugger hit a first-pitch leadoff home run on a 94-mph fastball from Orioles right-hander David Hess, who was called up before the game to make his second Major League appearance.

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BOSTON -- J.D. Martinez continues to be red-hot, as he belted a pair of homers in Sunday afternoon's 5-0 win against the Orioles at Fenway Park.

In the second inning, the slugger hit a first-pitch leadoff home run on a 94-mph fastball from Orioles right-hander David Hess, who was called up before the game to make his second Major League appearance.

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Martinez's 14th homer wrapped around Pesky's Pole in right field, giving Boston a 1-0 lead.

"He puts himself in such a good position to hit, he's ready for what he wants to hit," said manager Alex Cora. "He took advantage of the pole. You could see him smile, like, 'Yeah, that was fun to do.' And then he got a good pitch to hit and drove it to center field.

"A lot of people were talking about how Fenway was going to affect him. When it's 80 degrees and humid, it's a good place. We've seen it before. I've seen it firsthand. He's a guy that he stays with his approach. He drives the ball to right-center and he has power."

Tweet from @RedSox: I've hit a dinger there, there, there, aaaand there. pic.twitter.com/tVLoseDxXE

After getting intentionally walked in the third, Martinez crushed a two-run shot to center field in the fifth. It had a projected distance of 443 feet and had an exit velocity of 108 mph, according to Statcast™. It was Martinez's 15th homer of the season, tying him with teammate Mookie Betts for the Major League lead in dingers.

This is the first time the Red Sox have had two players hit 15 homers within the first 50 games of a season.

"A ton," Betts said, of how much having Martinez in the lineup has helped him. "He brings in not just power, he gets a lot of hits. He's hitting .350, .360 whatever he's hitting. It's not just the power but the extended innings on the pitchers."

Martinez and Betts have drawn comparisons to another legendary pair of Red Sox hitters.

Video: BAL@BOS: Cora talks Martinez's big day in 5-0 win

"Well, [Red Sox media relations director] Kevin [Gregg] told me the two guys that I thought were at this pace, they never did it, Manny [Ramirez] and David [Ortiz]. So it's fun to watch," Cora said. "There's nothing else I can say."

Martinez also drew some ribbing from his teammates for his first homer of the day, which went to the shortest point in the ballpark.

"They were making me laugh," he said. "I said, 'I've got to get even for some of the ones I hit in April when it was cold out and I thought I crushed some and they weren't even going anywhere.' They were definitely teasing me, but I'll take it."

Video: BAL@BOS: Cora discusses Martinez's strong work ethic

Martinez entered the game with a 1.116 OPS in 21 games at Fenway Park this season. He also entered the game tied with the Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton for the Major League lead with 44 home runs since the All-Star break last season, leading the Majors in RBIs (110), slugging percentage (.709) and OPS (1.089) in that span.

Martinez extended his career-best streak of reaching base to 25 straight games, the longest such stretch by a Red Sox batter since Betts reached safely in 29 straight games in 2016.

Martinez heard recent comments by Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, calling him the best hitter in baseball.

"Yeah, I heard that," Martinez said. "That was humbling, pretty cool."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com based in Boston.

Boston Red Sox, J.D. Martinez