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This weekend: Ohtani hits vs. Tanaka, Cole-Bauer

MLB.com @RichardJustice

To the baseball gods, we offer thanks for a moment this weekend cool enough to ripple across two continents. We've even got a proper amount of time to prepare for Shohei Ohtani the hitter vs. Masahiro Tanaka.

Some fans have looked forward to this matchup of these two stars from Japan from the moment Ohtani signed with the Angels in December. At some point, we hoped that the paths of two of the most accomplished Japanese players of our time would cross.

To the baseball gods, we offer thanks for a moment this weekend cool enough to ripple across two continents. We've even got a proper amount of time to prepare for Shohei Ohtani the hitter vs. Masahiro Tanaka.

Some fans have looked forward to this matchup of these two stars from Japan from the moment Ohtani signed with the Angels in December. At some point, we hoped that the paths of two of the most accomplished Japanese players of our time would cross.

• Up-to-the-minute standings | Weekend probable pitchers

We were excited about an Ohtani-Tanaka pitching matchup this weekend, but Ohtani's start has been pushed back. Instead, we could have something even better: Tanaka pitching to Ohtani.

Now let's keep our fingers crossed that he's in the lineup on Sunday afternoon, with a chance to take aim at Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field. That the Yankees pursued Ohtani as intensely as any team is an interesting subplot.

As we preview the weekend's storylines, this is where we begin:

Shohei Ohtani vs. Masahiro Tanaka (hopefully)

Once upon a time, Tanaka was someone against whom Ohtani could measure himself. When they faced one another in Japan in 2013, they were at different places in their careers.

Tanaka was 24 years old and on his way to a 24-0 season that helped catapult him into Yankees pinstripes the next season. Tanaka was an 18-year-old rookie who could only dream of doing the things Tanaka had.

Tanaka held Ohtani hitless in 11 at-bats and struck him out six times in 2013. But as Tanaka said last week, "There's no comparing him physically now with how he was when I pitched against him."

Five years later, Tanaka has established himself as a smart, resilient competitor who, despite some recent struggles, is on pace to pitch 200 innings and win 18 games.

As for Ohtani, 23, he's having one of the most remarkable seasons in Major League history, doing the thing virtually no one thought possible. He's not just a two-way player. He's excelling as a two-way player.

Here's what Ohtani has done:

Hitter: .319 batting average, .991 OPS, seven doubles, one triple, six home runs in 104 plate appearances -- good for nearly 1.0 WAR.

Pitcher: 4-1, 3.35 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, seven starts, 0.9 WAR.

Video: TB@LAA: Ohtani strikes out 9 to collect his 4th win

From Statcast™:

• As a hitter, Ohtani has hit 50.8 percent of his batted balls at 95 mph or higher, 17th highest in the Majors.

• Ohtani has a 97.1-mph average fastball, the third hardest in the Majors among starters, trailing only Luis Severino (97.6) and Noah Syndergaard (97.4).

There is so much we do not know about how this is going to play out. Will fatigue catch up to Ohtani? For that matter, how will he adjust as scouting reports reveal his weaknesses? Those are discussions for another day. For now, we should all sit back and enjoy the ride.

You didn't count out the Mariners, did you?

The Mariners return home for a 10-game homestand against the Twins, Rangers and Rays after a remarkable stretch. Playing without Robinson Cano and Dee Gordon, their two most important offensive pieces, the Mariners saw their five-game winning streak end on Thursday afternoon in Oakland.

The Mariners are clearly going to be offensively challenged for a while -- Cano was suspended for 80 games after violating the league's Drug Agreement, while Gordon's fractured right toe is expected to sideline him for a couple of weeks -- but the pitching has been tremendous.

Video: SEA@OAK: Gonzales earns win with 7 shutout innings

Perhaps the most positive sign is lefty Marco Gonzales, who threw seven scoreless innings against the A's on Wednesday. As James Paxton emerges as the new staff ace, the Mariners are hopeful Felix Hernandez can get back on track and give the team a chance to push the Astros in the AL West race.

Suddenly, the Dodgers are looking a lot like the NL West favorites

Funny how things change when a team gets its best player on the field. Shortly after the Dodgers got third baseman Justin Turner back, they've played their best baseball of the season, winning six of seven and cutting their NL West deficit from 8 1/2 games to 3 1/2 as the Padres come to Dodger Stadium for a weekend series.

Video: LAD@MIA: Turner clubs 2 doubles, tallies 5 RBIs

With Clayton Kershaw expected to return in the next couple of weeks, the Dodgers (22-27) will add to a rotation that has had a 1.43 ERA during the 6-1 stretch. Their everyday lineup still has issues, but the Dodgers are a far cry from when they were 16-26.

Here's our latest World Series preview: Braves at Red Sox

Why not? The Red Sox are as good as advertised, thanks to Mookie Betts leading baseball's second-highest-scoring offense. Meanwhile, the Braves are having the kind of turnaround season every franchise dreams of. In Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr., they have two of the most electric performers in the game. They do not have a dominant pitching staff, but they have so many high-ceiling young arms that the problem seems fixable either internally or via trade.

Are the Cubs going to get out of fourth place?

It's never about just one thing. For the Cubs, though, it's actually not all that complicated. With the Cubs' offense and bullpen performing at a high level, the rotation seems to be the area of most concern, and this weekend's series against the Giants could offer some clues.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon is handing the ball to Jose Quintana on Saturday and Yu Darvish on Sunday. Quintana is coming off a start of seven scoreless innings in Cincinnati, his best of the season. He has allowed one or zero earned runs in four of his last five starts and is headed in the right direction.

Darvish, too, has been at his best lately, coming off a six-inning, one-run performance in Cincinnati.

Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and a UCLA family feud

Thank goodness for Indians right-hander Adam Plutko. In 2011, he was the No. 3 starter on a Bruins rotation headed by Cole and Bauer. This weekend, his role will be to play peacemaker and maybe stand between the two of them if somehow they'd agree to a group photo for, you know, the UCLA alumni magazine.

Video: Hinch reacts to Bauer's social media posts on Astros

Cole and Bauer do not hide the fact that they didn't like one another when both were in college. Bauer took the rivalry to another level earlier this season when he accused Astros starting pitchers of doctoring baseballs.

Specifically, he wondered how pitchers could join the Astros staff and suddenly have higher spin rates, which translates to better stuff. He said secretly applying pine tar -- which is against the rules -- would do the trick.

He did not mention Cole by name, but with Cole being the newest member of the Astros' rotation, it wouldn't take a member of the UCLA math department to figure it out.

But on Thursday, Bauer took a step toward patching things up by praising Cole. Anyway, these former Bruins will be pitching against one another on Sunday at Progressive Field when the Astros and the Indians wrap up a four-game series. Let's everyone play nice.

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.

This might be the weirdest play of 2018

Weird outs happen a lot in baseball. Pitchers catch line drives with their stomachs and runners get thrown out at first by right fielders (or left fielders).

But during Thursday's Royals-Rangers game, we were presented with a putout straight out of the Twilight Zone.

Nimmo an on-base machine as Mets cruise

Leadoff hitter reaches in 8 straight PAs, nets 4 hits to back Matz
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

MILWAUKEE -- Up and over Brandon Nimmo climbed, ahead of Freddie Freeman, then Mookie Betts, then Mike Trout -- a triumvirate of MVP candidates bested. When he walked off the field after the Mets' 5-0 win over the Brewers on Thursday, Nimmo led them all with a .450 on-base percentage, reaching safely in each of his five plate appearances at Miller Park.

Disclaimer No. 1: Technically, Nimmo is about three dozen PAs shy of qualifying for the league lead.

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MILWAUKEE -- Up and over Brandon Nimmo climbed, ahead of Freddie Freeman, then Mookie Betts, then Mike Trout -- a triumvirate of MVP candidates bested. When he walked off the field after the Mets' 5-0 win over the Brewers on Thursday, Nimmo led them all with a .450 on-base percentage, reaching safely in each of his five plate appearances at Miller Park.

Disclaimer No. 1: Technically, Nimmo is about three dozen PAs shy of qualifying for the league lead.

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Disclaimer No. 2: No one is about to mistake him for Trout.

Yet the Mets can no longer deny Nimmo his place atop their batting order, considering his growing list of accomplishments. Nimmo has reached base in eight consecutive plate appearances dating to Wednesday. In four straight at-bats spanning two days, he hit a home run, a single, a double and a triple -- a cycle interrupted only by a good night's sleep.

"The extra-base hits now are coming," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "When you have a guy that can be as patient as he can be, and walk, and then also hit extra-base hits, that turns into a really valuable player."

Most importantly to the Mets, Nimmo is translating his success into run creation. So starved for offense that Callaway and his coaches met early Thursday to brainstorm ways to improve, the Mets took an early lead when Nimmo tripled off Brewers starter Zach Davies in the third inning and scored on Wilmer Flores' sacrifice fly. Two innings later, Asdrubal Cabrera plated Nimmo and Amed Rosario with a double, then Flores singled home Cabrera. All told, the Mets recorded five extra-base hits, including Devin Mesoraco's RBI double in the seventh.

Video: NYM@MIL: Cabrera drives in 2 with a double in the 5th

"We had about four or five guys take really good at-bats tonight," Callaway said.

At times, even that burst of offense might not have been enough to back Steven Matz, considering his struggles throughout the early season. But on this night, Matz submitted his longest scoreless outing since last July, completing a rotation turn in which the Mets' five starters combined to post a 0.58 ERA. After escaping trouble in the second and third innings, Matz did not allow a man into scoring position from the fourth through sixth innings, improving to 2-3 in nine starts.

Video: NYM@MIL: Matz tosses 6 scoreless to beat the Brewers

When Matz departed, the Mets held a four-run lead thanks in large part to Nimmo, who spent the early part of this year marginalized. Despite a fair amount of success down the stretch last September, Nimmo broke camp in a reserve role, even spending a brief spell back at Triple-A. When he played, he produced, but not quite like this: Playing every day with Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares on the disabled list, Nimmo has recorded seven of his 11 extra-base hits in his last dozen games, including three in Thursday's win.

"That's my job," Nimmo said. "That's what I'm supposed to do. I'm in a good place right now."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
"Probably our best shot" to score, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, occurred in the third inning, when a single, a hit batsman and a walk loaded the bases with one out. Matz popped up the next batter, Hernan Perez, then threw a 1-2 changeup to Manny Pina to induce an inning-ending flyout.

That's notable for Matz, who entered the night with the league's worst opposing batting average (.423) on changeups.

"It's the same thing I say every time: just focus on the execution of that next pitch," Matz said. "You've just got to make one pitch. You're one pitch away. That's the mindset I had out there, and I was able to translate that thought process to what is actually going on."

Video: NYM@MIL: Matz retires Pina to strand the bases loaded

SOUND SMART
Nimmo's two-day cycle may have been quirky, but it won't stand in the record books. The Mets have not had a cycle since Scott Hairston achieved the feat -- which is only slightly more common than a no-hitter -- on April 27, 2012. Ten Mets players have hit for the cycle in the team's 57-year history, including Jose Reyes in 2006, John Olerud in 1997 and Keith Hernandez in '85.

Seven big leaguers hit for the cycle last season, but none so far in 2018.

NIMMO HITS 'EM HARD
All three of Nimmo's extra-base hits came off his bat at more than 100 mph, including the first-inning double, which, at 110.9 mph, was his hardest-hit ball tracked by Statcast™. Nimmo hit the other double at 108.3 mph, tied for his third-hardest hit since breaking into the league in 2016.

Video: NYM@MIL: Nimmo shows off his skill set in 4-hit game

HE SAID IT
"He just loves being out there. To see him succeed like that, it's a lot of fun." -- Matz, on Nimmo

UP NEXT
Though Noah Syndergaard has been effective all season, he hasn't always been dominant. The Mets hope Syndergaard turned a corner in his last start, when he held the D-backs to one run in seven innings. He'll return to the mound Friday for a rematch against the Brewers, facing right-hander Junior Guerra in an 8:10 p.m. ET game at Miller Park.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Brandon Nimmo

Bregman, Marisnick power Astros' win with HRs

Third baseman, center fielder hit 3-run shots; Morton moves to 7-0
Special to MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- After falling into an early hole, the Astros were able to power their way back against the Indians on Thursday at Progressive Field.

Perhaps the team's hottest hitter -- Alex Bregman -- and the newest player to the active roster -- Jake Marisnick -- clubbed three-run homers in back-to-back innings to help Houston pull away en route to an 8-2 win in the series opener. That provided more than enough offense to help starter Charlie Morton move to 7-0, with the seven wins tied for the Major League lead.

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CLEVELAND -- After falling into an early hole, the Astros were able to power their way back against the Indians on Thursday at Progressive Field.

Perhaps the team's hottest hitter -- Alex Bregman -- and the newest player to the active roster -- Jake Marisnick -- clubbed three-run homers in back-to-back innings to help Houston pull away en route to an 8-2 win in the series opener. That provided more than enough offense to help starter Charlie Morton move to 7-0, with the seven wins tied for the Major League lead.

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"It never feels easy, especially against a good team," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "For us to put up back-to-back big innings is tough for them to come back. It's a nice way to start a long series, and we've got a long battle ahead with some of their strong pitching we're about to face."

Video: HOU@CLE: Correa, Bregman, Marisnick lift Astros

The Indians took an early 2-0 lead on Michael Brantley's third-inning two-run single, but the Astros started their first rally with two outs in the fifth. Tony Kemp reached after being hit in the right elbow, and George Springer walked.

Bregman worked a 2-2 count, and after seeing three straight fastballs from Indians starter Mike Clevinger, he clubbed a hanging slider a projected 385 feet, according to Statcast™, over the left-field fence. The ball came off his bat at 98.8 mph and registered as the game's first barrel.

Thursday was Bregman's first four-RBI game of the season and his first overall since May 14, 2017, when he hit a grand slam at Yankee Stadium. It also extending his hitting streak to eight, tying his season best, during which he has slashed .379/.471/.724.

Video: HOU@CLE: Bregman drives in Springer with a double

"That's one of the things that this offense does a very good job of -- swinging at good pitches to hit," Bregman said. "When we did tonight, we drove in runs, and it was special to see."

The Astros continued their hot hitting in the sixth, with Carlos Correa singling to right field and Yuli Gurriel singling to left with one out to end Clevinger's night. Pinch-hitter Max Stassi then singled home Correa, which brought up Marisnick, who had just been recalled from Triple-A Fresno on Wednesday.

Facing Neil Ramirez, Marisnick also worked a 2-2 count and barreled a fastball over the plate a projected 421 feet to center field. The ball left Marisnick's bat at 108 mph -- good for a 99 percent hit probability -- and gave the Astros a 7-2 lead.

Video: HOU@CLE: Marisnick crushes a 3-run home run to center

"That's the special thing about this offense, they can kill you one through nine," Bregman said. "The guys come in off the bench, Stassi came in with a really special at-bat."

Video: HOU@CLE: Stassi knocks an RBI single to left field

Bregman came through once again later in the sixth with an RBI double to extend the lead to six.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After Brantley's two-run single, Morton calmed down in a hurry -- he only faced 10 batters over his final three scoreless frames. He nearly ran into trouble in the fourth when he gave up a leadoff hit to Melky Cabrera, but Cabrera was tagged out at second trying to extend the single into a double. Morton walked the following batter but coaxed a double-play ball out of Roberto Perez to end the frame. He finished with five strikeouts in six innings.

Video: HOU@CLE: Springer cuts down Melky at second in 4th

"Having my breaking ball and throwing my breaking ball for strikes [was key]," Morton said. "That allows me to get back in counts. Even in the sixth inning there, I couldn't throw my fastball for a strike. I didn't know where the ball was going, and that's been a theme for me this year. I'm really not throwing the ball where I want to, but my secondary stuff has been good."

Video: HOU@CLE: Altuve tags runner, throws to first for DP

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Kemp has hit a cool .389 since being recalled but showed just how valuable he can be in the field in the seventh inning. The left fielder was shaded well toward center with left-hander Jason Kipnis at the plate, but Kipnis sent a fly ball to the left-field corner. Still, Kemp was able to cover 103 feet in 5.6 seconds and made a spectacular leaping grab for the first out of the inning. The ball had a 31 percent catch probability, and it was his first four-star catch of the season.

"If it lands on the grass or it lands on the track, we've got a chance to catch it," Hinch said. "We have great range out there, especially this configuration of the outfield. It's one of the things we're comfortable with. As he was tracking it, I felt like if it was going to not get off the wall, he was going to catch it." More >

Video: HOU@CLE: Kemp crashes into wall as he makes the grab

HE SAID IT
"George called it before the at-bat, which I give him credit. Now he calls a lot that may not work out that way, but we have to give props to Springer and obviously to Jake for just a good night." -- Hinch, on Marisnick's home run

UP NEXT
In a battle of American League Cy Young Award winners, Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel will take on Indians ace Corey Kluber on Friday at 6:10 p.m. CT at Progressive Field. Keuchel gave up four runs on six hits over five innings against the Indians in his last start Saturday, losing to Kluber in Houston. He gave up one homer, walked two and struck out three.

Ben Weinrib is a contributor to MLB.com.

Houston Astros, Alex Bregman, Jake Marisnick, Charlie Morton

The Rangers celebrated Bartolo Colon's 45th birthday by smashing his face into a cake

Unless you were off the internet today (what else is there to do? what do you do?), you probably knew it was Bartolo Colon's 45th birthday. And although he's the most senior player in MLB, is the active wins leader (242) and has outlived an entire baseball stadium -- his Rangers teammates decided he is not above a birthday cake face smash. Check out the fun times below before Texas' game against the Royals.

Hit up the middle for KC's Torres becomes LL HR

Royals infielder's hustle provides spark in win over Rangers
Special to MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- With a runner on and two out in the second inning in Thursday night's 8-2 win over the Rangers, Royals' No. 9 hitter Ramon Torres hit a routine chopper up the middle off starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx that suddenly turned into two runs when center fielder Delino DeShields let the ball roll through his legs.

The ball bounced nearly to the wall, allowing Ryan Goins to score easily from first. Torres raced around third and dove headfirst to the plate and just beat the tag from Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos.

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ARLINGTON -- With a runner on and two out in the second inning in Thursday night's 8-2 win over the Rangers, Royals' No. 9 hitter Ramon Torres hit a routine chopper up the middle off starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx that suddenly turned into two runs when center fielder Delino DeShields let the ball roll through his legs.

The ball bounced nearly to the wall, allowing Ryan Goins to score easily from first. Torres raced around third and dove headfirst to the plate and just beat the tag from Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos.

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DeShields got in front of the ball, which wasn't hit that sharply, but it skipped wide of his glove for a single and a rare three-base error, and a tone-setting 2-0 lead for the Royals.

"I might have been too passive," DeShields said. "I know the grass in the outfield snakes. I got to it, didn't think the guy was going to third. I tried to get in front of it, but my glove was too deep and I didn't get it down. It kind of zagged away from me. You try to prevent those things from happening and then they happen."

Torres, for his part, wasn't even in the lineup until just before the series opener at Globe Life Park, when he was inserted at third base as manager Ned Yost shuffled the lineup to fill the void left by an injury to left fielder Alex Gordon.

The early offense aided Royals starter Danny Duffy, who allowed one earned run on four hits and two walks in 7 2/3 innings for his longest outing since July 15 of last season, also against the Rangers. He struck out five and threw a season-high 113 pitches.

"It was nice to be able to do something beneficial for the team ... Eating innings is what I'm used to, and it was nice to do that tonight," Duffy said.

This has mostly been a disappointing season for Duffy, who posted a league-high six losses entering Thursday with a whopping 6.88 ERA. Until this gem, he had pitched more than six innings just once in 10 starts, and even that was a forgettable performance -- a road loss against the Red Sox in which he allowed 10 hits and four homers in 6 2/3 innings.

But against a Rangers lineup featuring five players batting under .200, as well as the AL's worst batting average (.226) and OPS (.685), Duffy was nearly unhittable after DeShields led off the game with a single before being thrown out at second trying to advance on a wild pitch.

"Recent past, I've done well against them, but that happens to a lot of teams," Duffy said. "I've been throwing baseball professionally for almost 11 years now and you notice trends that you have success against people. Early on in my career, I did pretty well against the Indians, but they've done well against me as of late. You just kind of be confident in your stuff, trust what you've got and good things happen."

Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com based in Texas.

Kansas City Royals, Danny Duffy, Ryan Goins, Ramon Torres

Carlos Correa had to jump over Jose Altuve to throw Jose Ramirez out at first

Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are about as perfect an up-the-middle infield combination as one could imagine. They're both superstars, they have great chemistry and they apparently trust each other enough for one to hurdle the other.

Evidence in regard to the last point came during Thursday night's 8-2 win over the Indians. In the bottom of the first, Jose Ramirez sent a grounder to the right side, where Correa and Altuve were positioned.

Correa ran toward the ball while Altuve began a diving attempt. This caused a minor bit of awkwardness, but Correa had a solution.

Trout hits 15th HR as Angels cruise past Jays

MLB.com @mi_guardado

TORONTO -- The Angels enjoyed their most productive day at the plate in two weeks on Thursday afternoon, as Mike Trout and Albert Pujols homered and Martin Maldonado drove in three runs to fuel an 8-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

After rallying for four runs in the ninth inning to emerge with a 5-4 comeback win on Wednesday, the Angels continued to show signs of an offensive turnaround, producing 12 hits -- eight for extra bases -- after going 11 consecutive games with nine or fewer. Pujols, Maldonado, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani all delivered multihit efforts for the Angels, who improved to 28-22 overall and 16-5 on the road, the best winning percentage in the Majors.

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TORONTO -- The Angels enjoyed their most productive day at the plate in two weeks on Thursday afternoon, as Mike Trout and Albert Pujols homered and Martin Maldonado drove in three runs to fuel an 8-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

After rallying for four runs in the ninth inning to emerge with a 5-4 comeback win on Wednesday, the Angels continued to show signs of an offensive turnaround, producing 12 hits -- eight for extra bases -- after going 11 consecutive games with nine or fewer. Pujols, Maldonado, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani all delivered multihit efforts for the Angels, who improved to 28-22 overall and 16-5 on the road, the best winning percentage in the Majors.

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Video: LAA@TOR: Pujols hits an RBI single to left-center

"I'm sure it'll even out," Trout said, "but we just get hot when it seems like we're on the road."

The club's resurgent bats backed an impressive bounceback performance from right-hander Nick Tropeano, who fired 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball to pick up his second win of the year and lower his ERA to 3.86. Tropeano had endured his shortest outing of the season in his last start against the Rays on Friday, when he allowed four runs over 2 2/3 innings.

Video: LAA@TOR: Tropeano holds Blue Jays to 1 run over 7 1/3

"Nick was terrific," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think as the game went on into probably the mid-innings, his fastball got some more life to it, so he got stronger as the game went on. I thought he had a good combination, using all his offspeed pitches. There were some stretches where he got behind some hitters and had to try to get back into counts, but outside of that, that's a great effort."

Tropeano limited the Blue Jays to four hits while walking one and striking out six. He carried a shutout into the sixth inning before yielding a solo homer to Dwight Smith Jr. on a splitter. Angels trainer Eric Munson and Scioscia then came out to the mound to check on Tropeano after he stumbled off the mound during his next at-bat against Josh Donaldson, but Tropeano remained in the game and completed the rest of his outing without issue.

"I just took a little cartwheel spill," Tropeano said. "My cleat just got stuck, took a little spill, tried to make it as graceful as possible. I'm good."

Maldonado opened the scoring with a two-run single off Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada in the second inning. After Ohtani walked and Simmons doubled, Maldonado ripped a first-pitch fastball to left field to give the Angels a 2-0 lead. Maldonado is batting .377 this month after posting a .156 clip in March and April.

Video: LAA@TOR: Maldonado opens scoring with a 2-run single

Pujols added an RBI single in the third before Trout launched his 15th home run of the season off the top of the left-center-field wall to make it 4-0 in the fifth. Trout, who also stole a base in the first and is now 12-for-12 in stolen-base attempts this year, has hit at least one home run against Toronto in each season since 2012.

The Angels capped their offensive output by scoring two runs in the ninth on Pujols' seventh home run of the season -- a 419-foot bomb off Deck McGuire that landed in the upper-deck stands in left field -- and Simmons' RBI single. Ohtani set up Simmons' hit by hustling for a double after bouncing a ball to center field.

Video: LAA@TOR: Pujols mashes a solo homer to left field

The Angels have now scored five or more runs in back-to-back games after doing so just once in their previous 11 games.

"It was just a matter of time with these guys," Tropeano said. "You see all these guys in the lineup -- once it starts clicking, it's going to be dangerous. It's fun to see it today, for sure."

Video: LAA@TOR: Simmons grounds an RBI single to left

SOUND SMART
Scioscia picked up his 1,598th career win on Thursday, leaving him only one shy of tying his mentor, Tommy Lasorda, for 20th on the all-time managerial wins list.

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
On Ohtani's double, he was initially called out by second-base umpire Mike DiMuro. The Angels issued a challenge after replay showed that Ohtani slid into the bag ahead of Devon Travis' tag, and the ruling was ultimately overturned.

Video: LAA@TOR: Ohtani doubles after the call is overturned

UP NEXT
The Angels will head to New York and open a three-game series against the Yankees on Friday at 4:05 p.m. PT at Yankee Stadium. Left-hander Andrew Heaney (2-3, 3.35 ERA) will battle ace right-hander Luis Severino (7-1, 2.35 ERA) in the opener. Heaney has pitched to a 1.45 ERA over his last five outings and is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two career starts against the Yankees. The Angels were swept by the Yankees during their three-game series in Anaheim last month.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, Nick Tropeano, Mike Trout

Rays to start 3 relievers in series vs. Orioles

Romo, Stanek, then Romo again to open this weekend's games
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays will be making an early call to the bullpen for this weekend's games against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

Veteran reliever Sergio Romo is slated to start Friday and Sunday, while Ryne Stanek, a reliever with less wear on the tires, will start Saturday's game.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays will be making an early call to the bullpen for this weekend's games against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

Veteran reliever Sergio Romo is slated to start Friday and Sunday, while Ryne Stanek, a reliever with less wear on the tires, will start Saturday's game.

This won't be the first time the Rays have used their unconventional and wildly intriguing "opener" strategy -- Romo started back-to-back games against the Angels last weekend, yet they're taking it to a more accelerated level.

Reaction to Rays' strategy: 'Complicated,' 'weird'

"Look, it worked," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Not commiting that it's going to work. ... Going through [the Orioles'] lineup is somewhat similar to the Angels in that they're very heavy righty. They have Chris Davis hitting fourth or fifth in there, that's the lone lefty that hits up at the top most of the time. It should stack up similarly to what we did in Anaheim. And hopefully we have some similar success."

Baltimore boasts a right-handed heavy lineup at the top, which makes such matchups favorable and conducive for the unorthhodox strategy. Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop were the Orioles' one through four hitters on Thursday against the White Sox.

The opener strategy drew significant attention across MLB, with many opposing players, managers, scouts and front-office personnel chiming in on its unique approach -- and, perhaps notably, because it proved effective.

Romo, an 11-year veteran, has bought into the opener concept -- one that has been explored in many analytical circles in recent years but never employed purposefully in a Major League game until last weekend. When Romo started on consecutive days, he became the first pitcher to do so since Zack Greinke in 2012, who made those starts largely due to an ejection quirk.

Romo threw 2 1/3 innings in his two starts, with six strikeouts, two walks and zero hits among the nine batters he faced. He began the first outing by striking out Zack Cozart, Mike Trout and Justin Upton - all right-handed hitters -- in order. Cozart said that he disapporved of the strategy because it thwarted his pre-at-bat approach.

"Look we're not trying to do anything that's cute, we're trying to do something that will work and be right for us to win games," Cash said. "Saying that, I know Sergio has done it twice now, and looks like he's probably on scheduled to do it two more times. Stanek is going to get an opportunity to do it."

Video: ATL@TB: Stanek K's Bautista to strand two runners

Stanek averages 97.9 mph on his four-seam fastball, among the highest in the Majors, though the right-hander has surrendered six homers in 21 outings, which has contributted to a 5.85 ERA.

"He's started before," Cash said. "Look, we think he's a talented pitcher. And it hasn't gone that easy for him up at the Major League level. Maybe a different look can help him. And we see a lot of guys change their lineup around, and stick a struggling guy up and hitting leadoff.

"There are some similarities, some thought to that. But every decision we make is to do our best to win that game that night. And we think this is going to help us."

Cash allowed that a similar scenario might play out if they played a predominantly left-handed team.

"In theory we have Yarbs [Ryan Yarbrough] and [Anthony] Banda, who are in the rotation, they could start," Cash said. "Or you could see a guy like Johnny Venters come in there and start and hopefully get three to six outs."

As for dealing with the pushback from the baseball world about what they are doing ...

"I'm sensitive to it, because I care, but we have to do what we think is right," Cash said. "As long as our players are understanding and we're doing a good job communicating with them, that's really all we can ask for."

The club entered the season with limited rotational depth with just four starters, and announced early in Spring Training that they planned to relegate the fifth day for the bullpen when the schedule dictated. Their rotation became even further depleted on Wednesday when right-hander Jake Faria was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left oblique strain.

Medical matters:
Nathan Eovaldi (loose bodies in right elbow) made a rehab start for Triple-A Durham on Wednesday night against Gwinnett. The right-hander allowed eight earned runs in four innings. The rehab start was his fourth, and should put him in line for a start with the Rays next week in Oakland.

Eovaldi is "good," Cash said. "I know he got hit a little bit, but health-wise, he was 100 percent, which is always good to hear. Velo was up. Just one of those nights. I think he had some strikeouts, but he also gave up a bunch of hits. We'll get through tonight's game and probably insert him [into the rotation] on Monday or Tuesday once we get on the road."

Carlos Gomez (right groin strain) ran on Thursday and Cash said the veteran outfielder looked fine.

"Took some outfield work, looked fine," Cash said. "He's going to go to play extended [spring training], play right field, five, six innings. And also get six or seven at-bats, then see how he comes in Saturday. Most likely we're looking at closer to Sunday [to activate him]. Just see how he responds."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Sergio Romo, Ryne Stanek

Key takeaways from MLB study of HR rates

MLB.com @castrovince

Baseball's home run surge of recent seasons is attributable not to a bouncier -- or "juiced" -- baseball, but rather to better carry resulting in longer fly-ball distances, a committee of experts has concluded.

In a report of findings released by Major League Baseball on Thursday and available at MLB.com, the independent committee chaired by Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concluded its research had achieved "partial success," in that it had discovered that reduced drag on the baseballs was responsible for the rising home run rate but had not found any changes in properties of the balls that could account for the reduced drag.

Baseball's home run surge of recent seasons is attributable not to a bouncier -- or "juiced" -- baseball, but rather to better carry resulting in longer fly-ball distances, a committee of experts has concluded.

In a report of findings released by Major League Baseball on Thursday and available at MLB.com, the independent committee chaired by Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concluded its research had achieved "partial success," in that it had discovered that reduced drag on the baseballs was responsible for the rising home run rate but had not found any changes in properties of the balls that could account for the reduced drag.

Official news release on report

The 10-member committee -- which featured professors from the likes of Stanford, M.I.T., and Caltech -- was assembled by Commissioner Rob Manfred in response to questions raised by players, fans and members of the media regarding the rise in home run rate that began in the second half of the 2015 season and led to a record-high number of homers in 2017. In addition to professors in the fields of engineering, physics and mathematics, the committee also included renowned baseball researcher Dan Brooks, who is the founder of brooksbaseball.net.

Read the Committee's complete report on home run rates (PDF)

The committee's 84-page report was the culmination of a research process that began last August. The group conducted tests at UMass-Lowell, Washington State, and a group of them -- led by Dr. Nathan -- took a trip to the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica.

"A lot of people had reached conclusions that sort of suggested some kind of conspiracy theory," Nathan said. "We believe in science, and we took a scientific approach to this whole thing. I think it was important to do that, if for no other reason than to satisfy ourselves and what it is we know and don't know and to address some of the theories that were out there as to why there was such an increase."

Read the executive summary of Committee's findings and conclusions (PDF)

As a byproduct of the findings, Nathan's committee has made recommendations to MLB and to Rawlings, the sport's official ball manufacturer, for how best to monitor the baseball's parameters moving forward, and testing to isolate the reasons for the reduced drag is ongoing.

One of those recommendations actually came at the conclusion of the group's initial report at the end of 2017, suggesting all clubs store the baseballs in a controlled environment that does not change over time. MLB responded to this recommendation prior to the 2018 season by mandating that all clubs store the balls in an air-conditioned and enclosed room with climate sensors that measure temperature and humidity. That data will be used to determine whether a humidor is necessary in individual storage rooms in 2019 and beyond.

The committee also recommended that MLB standardize the application of mud on the baseballs, given that surface texture affects drag. The league has even developed a prototype baseball with a tackier texture that some teams experimented with during Spring Training drills. This could eventually also be a means of limiting pitchers' use of foreign substances to achieve better grips on the ball.

Finally, the committee recommended that MLB re-evaluate its specifications on parameters of the baseball (such as size, weight and COR), relax specifications on what it deemed "unimportant" features (such as the color of the pill) and require Rawlings to do impact testing at speeds more similar to game conditions than the low-speed drop test currently performed.

But the released report concluded that many of the oft-repeated theories of explanation for the homer surge -- including the "bounciness" of the balls, changes in the size, weight or seam height of the balls, changes to batter or pitcher behavior, or changes in average game temperature -- did not correlate with the improved carry.

Here are nine key takeaways from the committee's findings:

1. The ball is not "juiced".
The committee's research team tested 15 dozen unused Major League baseballs manufactured from 2013 to 2017 and 22 dozen game-used baseballs from 2012-17 to measure their physical characteristics. The testing involved firing balls at a cylindrical surface (similar in shape to a bat) at 120 mph to test the ball's coefficient of restitution (COR) -- or, in layman's terms, its bounciness.

No substantial changes in COR measurement between balls from the various time periods were detected (all data supporting the committee's assertions is available in the full report).

"The bottom line is that there is some variation from year to year and within any given samples of baseballs, just from normal manufacturing process and measurement uncertainty and things like that," Nathan said. "But there's no evidence whatsoever that the kind of change you would need to account for the home runs that we see actually exists."

2. But the ball is carrying farther.
To clear the wall, a batted ball must have a high enough exit velocity, fall within the right range of launch angles and, of course, travel far enough to clear the fence.

After studying batted ball data generated by Statcast™, the committee concluded that, in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, there was not a substantial change in the percentage of batted balls that fell within the right ranges of exit velocity and launch angle to create a home run, but there was a substantial change in the rate of home runs themselves.

What this points to is better carry. Though the study did not discover meaningful changes in the ball's lift, it found that the drag coefficient of MLB balls has decreased since 2015. The researchers used a physics model to calculate that if the change in home run rate was attributable entirely to changes in drag, one would expect the drag coefficient to have decreased by approximately 0.012. The exact change in drag coefficient in the time period studied -- if you're scoring at home -- was 0.0153.

So the reduced drag would appear to be sufficient enough to account for the surge.

"That was, to me, an unexpected but very, very satisfying result of this study," Nathan said. "There were lots of different things that pointed us in that direction, and they were all more or less consistent with each other."

3. The weather is not a factor.
It is well-known that higher temperatures result in lower air density, reduced drag and, ergo, better carry. Though global climate change is very much measurable, it has not had a dramatic effect on batted baseballs in the time period in question.

The committee's research found that the differences in home run rate persist even at fixed temperature values for both open-air and domed stadiums.

"If you look at some narrow range of temperatures, like 70 degrees or 75 degrees," Nathan said, "we could still see differences [in home run rate] between 2016 and 2017 [in the same conditions]."

4. It's not the seams.
The drag and lift of a baseball is almost certainly affected by the seams, which are still sewn manually as part of Rawlings' production process. But the committee's research found that the impact that height would have on the ball's drag was statistically insignificant when considered in relation to the larger drag changes observed.

"That's one of the things that is controlled by Rawlings," Nathan said. "They measure the seam height. This is part of their quality control. Other things, like the weight of the ball and the size of the ball, were also controlled by Rawlings, and our measurements state that those weren't factors, either."

5. It's not a core issue.
Nathan said the committee does not dispute the findings of a FiveThirtyEight report, released in March, in which X-rays revealed changes to the density and composition of the baseball's core (the newer "pill" has a wider diameter yet the same weight as the previous pill). But here, too, the committee did not find any change in the size, weight or performance of the ball that would be attributable to a change in materials.

"One of the things we asked Rawlings is to tell us every single change you made to the manufacturing process since 2014," Nathan said. "One of the changes was to the mold they use to manufacture the pill [in May 2015], because the old mold had worn out. We thought long and hard about this and concluded it had no effect whatsoever on any of the parameters we can measure."

6. The specs are all right.
A common criticism of MLB's response to questions about the balls is that saying their specs "fall within the range" of what is allowable is meaningless, given the width of the allowable parameters. The committee concluded that the range of ball specifications is, in some areas, unreasonably large. For example, a ball at the upper limit of the league's current COR specifications would have nearly 36 more feet of projected distance than a ball at the lower limit.

But the committee found that Rawlings' process had achieved greater precision in weight, size and COR than the specifications allow.

"Rawlings is able -- with whatever spec you're talking about, be it COR or seam height, etc. -- to manufacture the ball well within those specs," Nathan said. "The distribution is much, much narrower than the actual spec [range]."

7. The "launch angle" factor is overrated.
Increased attention to exit velocity and launch angle has been said to have created a "launch angle revolution" in the game, and it's true that players like Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, J.D. Martinez and Justin Turner found great success by focusing on hitting the ball hard in the air.

But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."

8. Don't look to the pitchers.
The research group analyzed 32 categories of pitches -- eight different pitch types (fastball, cutter, splitter, changeup, curve, sinker, slider and knuckleball) each in four quadrants of location (up and in, up and out, down and in and down and out). The study found no evidence that any change in pitching strategies over the time period studied had been meaningful enough to account for the homer surge.

9. They don't know why the ball is carrying farther.
Further testing focused on the ball's surface roughness and center of gravity is ongoing. But the report does not rule out the possibility that manufacturing advances have contributed to the reduced drag by creating a more spherically symmetrical ball with a more properly centered pill (which would in theory lead to a lower drag). Nathan said the tools available to the researchers are not precise enough to properly determine one way or another whether that was the case.

"Rawlings is always trying to improve the manufacturing process to make it more uniform," Nathan said. "So the interesting question that comes up is whether the goal should be to improve the manufacturing process or to keep the ball performing exactly the way it is, regardless of whether it's improved or not."

Nathan said he understands that there will be people unsatisfied with the committee's incomplete answers.

"As a scientist, it is what it is," he said. "We don't want to claim more than we can legitimately claim. To admit that there are things that we don't know, we don't like to have to admit that. But that's what we have to admit."

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.

Cards prospect Reyes dominates in final rehab start

Cardinals' top prospect expected to return to rotation Tuesday
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

MEMPHIS -- Somewhere toward the end of the most dizzying string of pitches he'd ever caught -- arguably among the most dominant thrown at this level -- Carson Kelly looked up. The scoreboard looming high above right field of AutoZone Park, tucked in the heart of America's proudest music town, flashed a song.

Kelly turned to Alex Reyes, the right-hander riding a rhythm unheard of in the 116-year history of the Pacific Coast League, and posed a question.

MEMPHIS -- Somewhere toward the end of the most dizzying string of pitches he'd ever caught -- arguably among the most dominant thrown at this level -- Carson Kelly looked up. The scoreboard looming high above right field of AutoZone Park, tucked in the heart of America's proudest music town, flashed a song.

Kelly turned to Alex Reyes, the right-hander riding a rhythm unheard of in the 116-year history of the Pacific Coast League, and posed a question.

"You know you struck out the whole entire lineup in a row, right?" Kelly asked.

Had Reyes done what he did Thursday night in St. Louis, Chicago or Milwaukee, the highlight of the righty's final scheduled rehab start would've challenged baseball history. Instead, it'll live as a footnote, a last-minute taste of what could come in a career now days away from its official restart. But what a footnote it was.

More than 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Reyes' return to the big league rotation had been scheduled for next week, no matter how he performed for Triple-A Memphis. Then, he went and struck out 13 batters -- including nine in a row during the middle innings -- in a 7-4 win over the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

With a 10-pitch, three-strikeout inning already under his belt, Reyes struck out Oklahoma City's No. 2 hitter, Breyvic Valera to end the third inning. The Dodgers' leadoff hitter, Tim Locastro, swung through a 99-mph fastball to begin the sixth. Reyes struck out each of the seven hitters in between, a full turn through the batting order. The largest of a night full of absurdities came in the fifth, when Reyes struck out the side on nine swinging strikes.

With Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak in the stands, Reyes allowed only one hit and two baserunners over seven scoreless innings. He threw 90 pitches, plucking at will from a four-pitch arsenal: his fastball sat at 98-99 mph on the stadium radar gun throughout the night; his curveball (82-85 mph) dove from the zone to elicit three punchouts; two separate secondary pitches darted opposite ways in the low 90s, a changeup falling armside and a slider running away from right-handed hitters.

"That was the best I've ever seen him," said Kelly, who has caught Reyes since they were both in Class A. "I'm going to sit up tonight and think, 'Man, what the heck just happened?'"

Reyes, St. Louis' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, threw 23 scoreless innings across four rehab starts at four different levels. He struck out 44 and walked seven, going 3-0.

"He's basically pounding the door down saying he's ready," Mozeliak said. "When you watch how he is in complete command of what he's doing, it certainly allows you to have a lot more confidence in the decision you're about to make."

Video: Top Prospects: Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals

In a final act of caution, the Cardinals will wait to see how Reyes recovers before officially reinstating him from the 60-day disabled list. The move can't come until Monday and will require an additional 40-man transaction. But Thursday's performance all but assured Reyes will be activated when eligible, lining him up to start Tuesday against the Brewers at Miller Park.

"I wouldn't bet against it," Mozeliak said of Reyes starting Tuesday.

Reyes' start will be his first since Sept. 29, 2016. He went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 appearances (five starts) that season before injuring his right elbow the following spring.

What happens next is still unclear. Reyes can slide undeterred into the Cardinals' rotation with Carlos Martinez on the DL with a right lat strain. When Martinez returns, St. Louis will have three high-ceiling arms -- Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver -- vying for just two spots.

"I'm ready, I feel 100 percent," Reyes said. "But the day I'm active on the roster will be the day I say I'm back. Until then, it's work until we get there."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Alex Reyes

Betts scoring at prolific rate, could make history

MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

Pick a significant offensive category, and Mookie Betts is probably the Major League leader.

The Red Sox right fielder ranks first in batting average (.362) and slugging percentage (.751), as well as wRC+ (212), not to mention home runs (16), doubles (19), extra-base hits (36), total bases (132) and runs scored (49).

Pick a significant offensive category, and Mookie Betts is probably the Major League leader.

The Red Sox right fielder ranks first in batting average (.362) and slugging percentage (.751), as well as wRC+ (212), not to mention home runs (16), doubles (19), extra-base hits (36), total bases (132) and runs scored (49).

That last category might get overlooked, but it's one in which Betts is optimally suited to make history.

The target is the 150-runs mark. As a milestone, it doesn't have the prestige of a .400 batting average or 60 home runs, but it is highly exclusive.

Video: BOS@TB: Betts launches his league-leading 16th HR

Since 1900, 12 players have posted a total of 19 seasons with at least 150 runs scored, led by Babe Ruth -- who holds the all-time record with 177 runs in 1921 -- with six. However, 17 of those 19 seasons came between 1920-37, with Lou Gehrig ('36) and Joe DiMaggio ('37) doing it in consecutive years at the end of that stretch. Since then, the march to 150 runs has become a steep one, even as the season has expanded to 162 games.

Most runs scored in a season
Integration Era (Since 1947)
1. Jeff Bagwell (2000 Astros): 152
2. Ted Williams (1949 Red Sox): 150
T-3. Sammy Sosa (2001 Cubs): 146
T-3. Craig Biggio (1997 Astros): 146
T-3. Rickey Henderson (1985 Yankees): 146
T-6. Alex Rodriguez (2007 Yankees): 143
T-6. Jeff Bagwell (1999 Astros): 143
T-6. Larry Walker (1997 Rockies): 143
T-6. Lenny Dykstra (1993 Phillies): 143
10. Ellis Burks (1996 Rockies): 142

Last season, the Rockies' Charlie Blackmon scored 120 runs through the end of August and needed 30 more over Colorado's final 29 games. But he ended up with a total of 137 -- still the most since 2008.

This season, Betts is on that sort of pace, with 49 runs through Boston's first 50 games -- especially impressive considering Betts has missed four of those. Bagwell scored 47 runs through Houston's first 50 games in 2000, when he reached the 150-runs plateau. Since then, just five players have scored at least 49 times in their club's first 50 contests.

Most runs scored through 50 team games
Since 2001
1. Lance Berkman (2008 Astros): 51 (finished with 114)
2. Todd Helton (2001 Rockies): 50 (finished with 132)
T-3. Mookie Betts (2018 Red Sox): 49
T-3. Albert Pujols (2006 Cardinals): 49 (finished with 119)
T-3. Melvin Mora (2004 Orioles): 49 (finished with 111)

As that list shows, a player being "on pace" for 150 runs doesn't necessarily mean much at this stage of the season. It's extremely difficult to maintain that through the dog days of summer, and like with RBIs, a player is partially dependent on his teammates to continue racking up runs.

Video: BAL@BOS: Betts blasts his 15th homer of the year

With that said, Betts meets all the criteria one needs to score runs in bushels.

• He gets on base. Betts can hit for average -- he's up near .300 for his career -- and take a walk. He has drawn a free pass nearly as often as he has struck out this year (22 walks, 23 strikeouts) and has one of the lowest K-rates among qualified hitters, while chasing pitches out of the zone less frequently than just about anyone.

• He hits for power. Every homer is a run, and every double and triple puts Betts in scoring position. The two-time American League All-Star is making a lot more hard contact and hitting the ball in the air more this year, according to Statcast™, and is the MLB leader in barrels -- balls with a combination of exit velocity and launch angle ideal for creating extra-base hits.

• He can run. Good wheels help a hitter get on base, take extra bases and score when others might not. Betts' average sprint speed of 28.1 feet per second, according to Statcast™, is solidly above MLB average (27 ft/sec), and he has been successful on 84 percent of his career steal attempts. Betts' acumen on the basepaths has helped him accrue more FanGraphs Baserunning Runs over the past three years than anyone besides Billy Hamilton.

• He has backup. The Red Sox are one of the highest-scoring teams in the Majors this season, and Betts is entrenched in the leadoff spot, which maximizes his plate appearances. With the likes of J.D. Martinez lurking behind him in the order, Boston should continue to push Betts across the plate when he reaches base.

With all of those factors in play, a full healthy season could see Betts make a serious bid to become just the third player to score 150 runs in the past 81 seasons.

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

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts

Mock Draft: College players come off the board early

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

This first-round projection looks an awful lot like my previous one from two weeks ago, with only the fourth and fifth picks flipping among the first nine. And it closely resembles Jonathan Mayo's predictions from last week, with our first seven selections matching.

This first-round projection looks an awful lot like my previous one from two weeks ago, with only the fourth and fifth picks flipping among the first nine. And it closely resembles Jonathan Mayo's predictions from last week, with our first seven selections matching.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

That's not to say the top of the Draft is locking into place. While Auburn right-hander Casey Mize remains the front-runner to go No. 1 overall, the Tigers still are considering four alternatives. It continues to look like college players will monopolize the first six picks, and clubs are busy scurrying from conference tournament to conference tournament this week to evaluate them, and others who will fit later in the first round.

Further complicating matters is the high school pitching. It's plentiful, with at least 11 legitimate first-round candidates, but it's also a demographic that scares a lot of clubs because of the risk involved. All 11 won't go in the first round, several will go lower than where their talent alone will dictate and three of them (Mason Denaburg, Ethan Hankins, Mike Vasil) missed time this spring with physical ailments.

Ten days away from the start of the Draft, here's our best guess as to how the first round plays out:

1. Tigers: Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn

Mize's last two regular-season starts were his worst of the year, but his combination of stuff and precision is still unparalleled in this Draft. Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart appears to be Plan B, and Detroit also is keeping tabs on Wichita State third baseman Alec Bohm, Wisconsin high school outfielder Jarred Kelenic and Florida right-hander Brady Singer.

2. Giants: Joey Bart, C, Georgia Tech

Mize and Bart, easily the best catcher available, likely will go 1-2 or 2-1. If San Francisco decides to take a deep discount to save extra money for later picks, it could cut a deal with California high school right-hander Cole Winn.

Video: Draft Report: Joey Bart, College catcher

3. Phillies: Alec Bohm, 3B, Wichita State

All of the teams in the top four are doing their due diligence on Bohm, the consensus best college position player in terms of hitting for both average and power. Philadelphia almost certainly will take a college performer, with Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal and Singer the other leading candidates.

4. White Sox: Brady Singer, RHP, Florida

If the top three picks unfold as expected, Chicago will choose between Kelenic, Madrigal, Singer and South Alabama outfielder Travis Swaggerty. MLB Pipeline's No. 1-rated prospect entering the year, Singer would be the best fit for the White Sox current needs, not that need will drive a choice this high.

5. Reds: Nick Madrigal, 2B, Oregon State

Cincinnati would pounce on Bart or Singer. If that's not an option, the choice will come down to Madigral, Arizona prep left-hander Matthew Liberatore and Jonathan India. Madrigal is the best hitter in the Draft, just like Nick Senzel was when the Reds made him the No. 2 overall pick in 2016.

Video: Draft Report: Nick Madrigal, College 2B/SS

6. Mets: Jonathan India, 3B, Florida

Unless one of the five selections above unexpectedly drops, New York will consider India, Kelenic, Liberatore and Swaggerty. The Mets are leaning college and that probably means India, who had a breakout season as the Southeastern Conference player of the year.

7. Padres: Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS (Glendale, Ariz.)

The run on collegians figures to stop here, though San Diego does like Swaggerty. The Padres are expected to choose from the top tier of high school arms: Liberatore, right-hander Carter Stewart (Florida), left-hander Ryan Weathers (Tennessee) and Winn. Liberatore is the consensus top prep pitching prospect, but all four guys are in play.

8. Braves: Nolan Gorman, 3B, O'Connor HS (Phoenix)

Atlanta is associated with mostly high schoolers. The Braves appear to prefer Gorman -- the best power hitter in the Draft, but also a bit of a polarizing prospect who might slide into the mid-teens if he doesn't go here -- to Kelenic. The prep pitchers also will be in play, starting with Weathers.

Video: Draft Report: Nolan Gorman, High School 3B

9. Athletics: Travis Swaggerty, OF, South Alabama

Oakland looks destined to take a position player, though Liberatore could change that. Swaggerty has some of the best all-around tools in the college ranks and gets the nod over Kelenic and Gorman.

10. Pirates: Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Central Heights HS (Nacogdoches, Texas)

Rodriguez has more helium than any first-rounder right now, which could vault him all the way into the top 10 to a club focusing on high school arms. Stewart, Weathers and Winn also are in Pittsburgh's mix.

11. Orioles: Cole Winn, RHP, Orange (Calif.) Lutheran HS

Baltimore is targeting the same prep pitchers as Pittsburgh. If the Orioles go for a college arm, this could be the high-water mark for Stetson right-hander Logan Gilbert.

12. Blue Jays: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Waukesha (Wis.) West HS

Every Draft has a guy who seems to be considered by several teams, but doesn't quite make it to their top choice, and this year that may be Kelenic. The best high school hitter available, he may not be able to overcome the preference for collegians at the top or for prep arms right ahead of Toronto. If he's gone, the Blue Jays are on more prep bats such as Gorman, outfielder/wide receiver Jordyn Adams (North Carolina) and others who could drop into the 20s if they don't go 12 or 13: shortstop Xavier Edwards (Florida), third baseman Jordan Groshans (Texas) and catcher Noah Naylor (Canada).

Video: Draft Report: Jarred Kelenic, High School outfielder

13. Marlins: Triston Casas, 1B, American Heritage School (Plantation, Fla.)

Miami is pursuing a lot of the same high school bats as Toronto, as well as two more in Casas, who has power to rival Gorman's, and outfielder Connor Scott (Florida).

14. Mariners: Ryan Rolison, LHP, Mississippi

After sliding out of the top 10 and possibly into the 20s, Rolison reversed course with a strong outing Wednesday at the SEC tournament. The best bet is that Seattle takes him or one of the other college arms on the second tier behind Mize and Singer: Gilbert, Florida right-hander Jackson Kowar and South Florida left-hander Shane McClanahan. The Mariners likely would take one of the college hitters projected above here and possibly Oregon State outfielder Trevor Larnach.

15. Rangers: Carter Stewart, RHP, Eau Gallie HS (Melbourne, Fla.)

With a fastball that reaches 98 mph and a super-spin curveball, Stewart shouldn't last 15 picks, but high school right-handers often last longer than they should. If he's gone, Winn or Weathers also would be attractive.

Video: Draft Report: Carter Stewart, High School pitcher

16. Rays: Connor Scott, OF, Plant HS (Tampa)

Tampa Bay is another club in the market for high school bats. The Rays have three first-round choices and the second-largest bonus pool at $12,415,600, so they're in great position to make a run at Adams, who is signed to play football at North Carolina, where his father Deke is a defensive line coach. Or they could take another speedy outfielder in Scott and save their cash for later picks.

17. Angels: Ryan Weathers, LHP, Loretto (Tenn.) HS

College arms such as Gilbert, Kowar and McClanahan would be tempting, but Weathers would be hard to pass up. Los Angeles also has shown interest in Adams and Georgia prep right-hander Ethan Hankins, MLB Pipeline's top-rated high school prospect, until he battled a muscular issue in the area of his pitching shoulder.

18. Royals: Jordyn Adams, OF, Green Hope HS (Cary, N.C.)

Kansas City can match Tampa Bay's three first-rounders and has the largest bonus pool at $12,781,900. If the Royals want Adams, they probably have to take him here to ensure they get him. The same is true of Groshans, whom they have covered heavily. One of the top-tier high school arms would be hard to pass up if they got to 18.

19. Cardinals: Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson

Unless some of the first tier of prep pitchers lasts longer than expected, the second tier of college arms should start to come off the board around here. St. Louis gets mentioned mostly with pitchers ...

20. Twins: Jackson Kowar, RHP, Florida

... as does Minnesota, which wouldn't be adverse to a high school arm, but figures to be mostly looking at collegians. The Twins also are monitoring a number of high school shortstops such as Edwards, Jeremiah Jackson (Alabama) and Osiris Johnson (California) -- but apparently not the more expensive Brice Turang (California).

21. Brewers: Shane McClanahan, LHP, South Florida

A lefty who can hit 100 mph and mix in a plus changeup, McClanahan looked to be solidly in the 6-12 range until he started scuffling with his control and command over his last six starts. Falling this far might be a bit extreme. Milwaukee isn't wed to any particular demographic and is one of several landing spots for Larnach in the 20s.

Video: Draft Report: Shane McClanahan, College pitcher

22. Rockies: Cole Wilcox, RHP, Heritage HS (Ringgold, Ga.)

Wilcox has the potential for three plus pitches and isn't far behind the top group of high school pitchers. Colorado also has been tied to another Georgia prepster, switch-hitting and switch-throwing catcher Anthony Seigler.

23. Yankees: Brice Turang, SS, Santiago HS (Corona, Calif.)

Turang was mentioned as a candidate to go No. 1 overall entering last summer, and while he hasn't lived up to those expectations, he's still a talented shortstop in a Draft thin at that position. A variety of high school position players get mentioned with New York, including Adams, Casas, Edwards and outfielder Mike Siani (Pennsylvania).

24. Cubs: Trevor Larnach, OF, Oregon State

Chicago has had a lot of success taking the best college bat available in the first round, which would make Larnach a fit. The Cubs would love for one of the prime college or high school arms to get to No. 24. They're also the peak for players such as Indiana high school outfielder Nick Schnell or Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner, though this would be a bit high for both.

25. D-backs: Steele Walker, OF, Oklahoma

A year after taking an accomplished college bat in Pavin Smith at No. 7, Arizona could go the same route with Walker. Other college position player options include Clemson first baseman Seth Beer, Duke outfielder Griffin Conine, Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman, Larnach and Virginia outfielder Jake McCarthy. It's no secret that the D-backs love prep shortstop Matt McLain, but No. 25 is rich for him.

Video: Draft Report: Steele Walker, College outfielder

26. Red Sox: Jordan Groshans, 3B, Magnolia (Texas) HS

Unless someone with a higher ceiling slides, Boston could grab one of the better all-around high school bats in Groshans. The Red Sox probably would consider several of the college position players mentioned with the D-backs above.

27. Nationals: Mason Denaburg, RHP, Merritt Island (Fla.) HS

Washington has had a lot of success buying low on pitchers with physical questions such as Lucas Giolito (first round, 2012), Erick Fedde (first round, 2014) and Jesus Luzardo (third round, 2016). That makes it an obvious target for Denaburg (biceps tendintis), Hankins and Massachusetts high school right-hander Mike Vasil (elbow soreness). Back on the mound Tuesday, Denaburg struck out Casas twice and showed the same upper-first-round form he displayed before getting sidelined.

28. Astros: Alek Thomas, OF, Mount Carmel HS (Chicago)

A run of high school outfielders should start around here. Adams and Scott won't last much longer if they haven't been taken, while Parker Meadows (Georgia), Schnell, Siani and Thomas may not get to pick No. 40. Naylor and Seigler are two non-outfield possibilities.

Video: Draft Report: Alek Thomas, HS outfielder

29. Indians: Noah Naylor, C, St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS (Mississauga, Ont.)

Cleveland has two selections toward the end of the first round and could double up on prep bats unless one of the premium high school arms makes his way to No. 29. Besides Naylor, the Indians also are watching the outfield group mentioned with the Astros, plus Edwards and Georgia high school catchers Will Banfield and Seigler.

30. Dodgers: Jameson Hannah, OF, Dallas Baptist

An outfielder is a good guess for Los Angeles, whether it be sweet-swinging collegians Hannah or Walker or one of the high schoolers.

31. Rays: Ethan Hankins, RHP, Forsyth Central HS (Cumming, Ga.)

Hankins does have a clean MRI and could go much higher than this, though only Kansas City can match Tampa Bay's ability to pay him. If the Rays take a pitcher at 18 and Adams is still on the board, he'd be an obvious choice.

Video: Draft Report: Ethan Hankins, High School pitcher

32. Rays: Seth Beer, 1B, Clemson

Scouts either love Beer's track record of production or hate his all-bat profile and lack of success with wood bats. He'll go in the first round somewhere and there's buzz that he could land in the top 20, but he's a total wild card.

33. Royals: Anthony Seigler, C, Cartersville (Ga.) HS

Groshans would be the guy if he gets this far, which probably won't happen. Seigler has the up-the-middle athleticism Kansas City covets. The Royals also could take a shortstop such as Oregon State's Cadyn Grenier or Jackson.

34. Royals: Mike Vasil, RHP, Boston College HS (Boston)

Kansas City figures to take at least one pitcher with its three first-rounders. Vasil looked healthy while touching 95 mph on Tuesday. The Royals also could grab high school right-handers J.T. Ginn (Mississippi) or Kumar Rocker (Georgia), who have first-round arms and will command those type of bonuses even if they slide into the second round.

35. Indians: Xavier Edwards, SS, North Broward Prep (Coconut Creek, Fla.)

The high demand for shortstops and the relatively short supply makes it increasingly unlikely that Edwards and his all-around skills make it out of the first round.

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