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Padres lose no-hitter in 8th, win game in 9th

MLB.com

PHOENIX -- From about the fourth inning at Chase Field on Friday night, the thoughts started popping into Tyson Ross' head. He had to find a way to keep them out.

"I realized, this is why the guys won't talk to me," Ross said.

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PHOENIX -- From about the fourth inning at Chase Field on Friday night, the thoughts started popping into Tyson Ross' head. He had to find a way to keep them out.

"I realized, this is why the guys won't talk to me," Ross said.

View Full Game Coverage

He was flirting with the first no-hitter in Padres history. He was rolling. Dominating.

In the eighth inning, it all ended when D-backs pinch-hitter Christian Walker hit a line drive over the head of center fielder Franchy Cordero, who misplayed the ball. Not only did that RBI double end the no-no, but it tied the game, 1-1, and set the stage for a ninth-inning rally and a 4-1 win.

"It wasn't the cleanest break," Padres manager Andy Green said of Cordero's misread. "I know he's the type of kid that'll go home thinking about that, how he should've made that catch. Franchy gives everything he has out there."

Video: SD@ARI: Walker ties game, breaks up no-hitter in 8th

To top it off, the ball had a catch probability of 99 percent, per Statcast™. The play should've been made. (To give some context on that catch probability, take a look at this Carlos Gomez catch below from 2016, which was basically identical in terms of the distance Cordero needed to cover and the time he had to do it. Gomez converted it with ease. You can find a full breakdown here.)

Video: SD@ARI: Statcast™ compares two 99% probability catches

Nonetheless, the no-hitter was over.

"To be honest, that specific situation, I think the pressure's on him there," Walker said of his at-bat. "I watched a lot of at-bats, I watched him throw a lot of pitches that game, from the dugout, from the TV inside."

After the no-no was lost, the Padres still had a game to win. Against D-backs closer Brad Boxberger, they went to work.

Christian Villanueva hit the single that scored the go-ahead run, and the D-backs kicked the ball around to allow two more Padres runs to score.

Video: SD@ARI: Villanueva scores Myers with go-ahead single

The Padres are still the only franchise in the Majors that doesn't have a no-hitter to their credit.

It took 127 pitches for the D-backs to get a hit off of Ross. That was a new career-high, topping the 120 he threw when he tossed a complete game shutout and three-hitter against Cincinnati on July 2, 2014.

Green visited the mound earlier in the eighth inning.

"Just wanted to make sure he had gas left in the tank," Green said. "And it was clear he was really close to empty."

Then moments later, he added:

"I probably could've been lobbied."

Green later said that he intended to pull Ross after Walker's at-bat, regardless of how it went. While Ross shined, striking out 10 to go along with allowing a hit and a run, Green had warmed up reliever Craig Stammen from the eighth inning, just in case.

Ross had other ideas.

"If I'd have gotten [Walker] out, I'd have gutted it out," he said. "Even to have them go to the bullpen right there and have them finish it out, that would've been pretty cool. I would've done my best [to lobby Green]."

Video: SD@ARI: Ross, Hedges, Green discuss near no-hitter

Ross becomes the latest Padres pitcher to come close of achieving the elusive feat, only to fall just short. He was four outs away.

But Friday is a highlight in Ross' career, which has recently taken twists and turns.

Ross started on Opening Day for the Padres in 2016. Then he missed the rest of the season because of right shoulder inflammation. He underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in October 2016, and started just 10 games for the Texas Rangers last season.

If Friday night was any indication, it's clear he still has it. He now holds a 2.81 ERA through four starts this year.

"He's a tall guy and he throws from a pretty high arm slot," said the D-backs' Daniel Descalso. "It seems like he's got that kind of get-me-over slider when he needs to throw a strike that's not as sharp, and then he goes to a sharp, more downer slider that's tough to lay off of because it's got to start really high up there for it to be a strike."

Video: SD@ARI: Ross strikes out Descalso swinging in the 1st

After the game, Green said each potential no-hitter is unique. In this case, Ross isn't a young, prized talent the organization needed to protect. He's a veteran, someone who's shown he's capable of going deep into games. A guy who's pitched near the top of the rotation -- when healthy -- for years.

So Green gave Ross, as he put it, "a leash as long as humanly possible." Ross, who went as far as he could before Brad Hand got the last four outs, fell just short of a milestone.

"I definitely know that we have yet to get a no-hitter," Ross said. "We have yet to win a World Series. Hopefully, we can do both of those here in the near future. Tonight was a good effort. Got close, but no cigar."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Asuaje with the assist: While Ross' no-hitter was still going on in the eighth inning, one play perhaps helped save the game for the Padres. Second baseman Carlos Asuaje fielded a ground ball, and with his team up a run, fired home to Austin Hedges.

The runner was out and the Padres maintained the lead, if only for a few minutes.

"That play is all reactions," Asuaje said. "To be honest, as soon as it was hit to me, I knew we had him. It was kind of an in-between play, but in my head I knew I had to time to get it and get rid of it before the guy could score."

SOUND SMART
Cordero's fourth-inning home run went 489 feet, per Statcast™. It's the longest homer any Padre has hit in the Statcast™ era that goes back to 2015, and because it left the bat at 116.3 mph, it's also the hardest-hit ball of any San Diego player since then. The home run was the longest at Chase Field in the Statcast™ era.

Video: SD@ARI: Cordero crushes 489-ft. HR at 116.3 mph

HE SAID IT
"I don't know how they said it wasn't 500 feet. Pretty sure it was." -- Green, on Cordero's home run

Video: SDP@ARI: Green on Ross's performance in 4-1 win

UP NEXT
Clayton Richard will take the hill for the Padres in Game 2 of a three-game series against the D-backs. While fantastic on Opening Day, Richard has struggled since, logging three five-inning starts in which he's allowed 13 earned runs. The Padres will face Zack Godley, who has impressed for the D-backs early on this season.

Justin Toscano is an associate reporter for MLB.com.

San Diego Padres, Tyson Ross

Red Sox now 17-2, thanks to Moreland's slam

Special to MLB.com

OAKLAND -- With the eyes of the nation turned to the Red Sox and their historic start, manager Alex Cora reminded his team on Friday to "stay humble, stay hungry."

Unfazed by the spotlight, Boston continued its march into the record books with a 7-3 win in Oakland in Friday night's series opener behind a three-run homer from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a Mitch Moreland grand slam. The Red Sox improved to 17-2, becoming the fifth team in the live-ball era to win 17 of its first 19 games, and the first to do so since the 1987 Brewers.

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OAKLAND -- With the eyes of the nation turned to the Red Sox and their historic start, manager Alex Cora reminded his team on Friday to "stay humble, stay hungry."

Unfazed by the spotlight, Boston continued its march into the record books with a 7-3 win in Oakland in Friday night's series opener behind a three-run homer from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a Mitch Moreland grand slam. The Red Sox improved to 17-2, becoming the fifth team in the live-ball era to win 17 of its first 19 games, and the first to do so since the 1987 Brewers.

View Full Game Coverage

Two of the other four teams to start 17-2, the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, went on to win the World Series.

Grand slams mean 40% off pizza

"There's a lot of people watching the team now, and there's a lot of people talking about the team," Cora said. "You can't help it. You flip the channels, and they're talking about what's going on. But they're humble and hungry, and they're still doing it, and that makes me prouder."

After Oakland jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Boston left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who was making his 2018 debut, the Red Sox bats picked up their power surge right where they left off in Anaheim.

Bradley's long ball in the second tied the game before Moreland's slam in the sixth put Boston ahead for good.

"Really, in that situation, I'm just trying to go up there and get a pitch up in the zone," Moreland said. "It just happened to be a slider that kind of popped up out of his hand, and I was able to put a good swing on it."

Moreland's shot was Boston's MLB-leading fifth grand slam in its last 12 games. The Red Sox did not hit one in 2017. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this marks the first time Boston has ever hit five grand slams before May 1.

Bradley and Moreland's homers were Boston's 12th and 13th on this road trip. The 11 long balls the Red Sox hit in Anaheim before coming to Oakland were their third-most ever in a three-game series. The Sox entered the game with 24 dingers, sixth in the Majors.

Amazing facts from Red Sox's historic start

Under Cora, Boston's lineup entered the season looking to be more aggressive at swinging at pitches in the zone. Moreland's first-pitch grand slam was Boston's sixth homer of the year on the first pitch of the at-bat.

"Regardless of who's on the mound, you look for pitches in the middle of the zone," Cora said. "And if they get it, they're going to drive it."

Despite Pomeranz's short outing, the Boston bullpen combined for 5 1/3 innings of shutout relief, headlined by three scoreless innings from Hector Velazquez. Red Sox relievers have not allowed a run in their last 19 2/3 innings.

Video: Red Sox clicking on all cylinders early in the season

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Barnes escapes a jam:
Oakland had its best chance to cut into Boston's lead in the seventh, when the A's loaded the bases with a Lowrie double, a Khris Davis hit-by-pitch and Matt Olson's two-out single. The A's sent up pinch-hitter Matt Joyce to face Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes, and the right-hander silenced a crowd of 23,473 by getting Joyce to swing through a 3-2 fastball.

"[Pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] had told us earlier in the day that Joyce is a pinch-hitter in a situation like that, so I kind of had a good game plan," Barnes said. "I'd faced him a few times before. It's being competitive in the zone, throwing pitches and not giving in at the same time, and it ultimately comes down to executing."

Video: BOS@OAK: Barnes escapes a bases-loaded jam in the 8th

JBJ goes yard again: Bradley's blast traveled an estimated 436 feet to right and left his bat at 106 mph, according to Statcast™. It is the fourth-longest homer of his career as measured by Statcast™, just five feet shy of his career-long of 441 feet. It was Bradley's second in four games.

"Just a good pitch to hit in the zone," Bradley said. "I couldn't be too picky. I had two strikes on me. He was doing a really good job keeping the ball down, and on that particular pitch, he left it up. I was able to put a good swing on it."

Video: BOS@OAK: Bradley Jr. clobbers a three-run homer 

POMERANZ CAN'T FIND RHYTHM
Pomeranz had struggled in the spring with finding his mechanics while dealing with a mild flexor strain in his throwing arm, and in his return from injury, he had trouble shaking off the rust in a 47-pitch first inning in which he allowed three runs.

"I think it's a result of the first [start]," Pomeranz said. "Mechanically, I didn't really feel like I had much rhythm out there tonight, and after a certain point, I just stopped trying to. I just started trying to locate and started pitching better."

Pomeranz found his groove after focusing less on his velocity and starting to emphasize location and mixing up his pitches. Seven of the 11 outs he recorded came on strikeouts, including four straight spanning the second and third innings.

Video: BOS@OAK: Pomeranz strikes out the side in the 3rd

VELAZQUEZ'S REDEMPTION
Last season, Velazquez allowed six earned runs in five innings in a MLB debut to forget at the Oakland Coliseum. But as he bounced around between starting and relief roles, he found a niche as an effective long reliever.

"I honestly really wanted to get back here," Velazquez said through a translator. "I had it in my mind, I called it into existence, and I knew that I had what it took to pitch well here. Like we say in Mexico, I was ready to get my revenge. Thankfully, God gave me the opportunity to get that tonight."

Velazquez earned the win after pitching three shutout innings in relief of Pomeranz, scattering four hits while striking out one batter.

"It's funny, because I look up at one point at the scoreboard, and they show the ERA of him here, and I remember [LeVangie] talking about his outing here last year, and he struggled. I was like, 'Oh my God, what am I doing?'" Cora joked. "But he was outstanding."

Video: BOS@OAK: Velazquez strikes out Chapman on a foul tip 

SOUND SMART
Boston's +70 run differential is the second-best in the modern era (since 1900) for a team that won at least 17 of its first 19 games. Only the 1918 New York Giants had a better mark, with a +75 run differential during an 18-1 start. The 2018 Sox lead the way among 17-2 teams, though, with the 1981 Oakland A's next at +64.

HE SAID IT
"This team right now, it's fun to play on. I don't think any score is really out of our reach at this point -- we have so much confidence going up to the plate." -- Pomeranz

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Bradley's homer would not have tied the game if a long foul down the right-field line by Oakland's Chad Pinder in the bottom of the first had drifted a foot or so to the left. The foul traveled a Statcast-estimated 400 feet and was judged to be foul by first-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.

A crew-chief review was initiated after A's manager Bob Melvin conferred with the umpires. The call was upheld. Pinder was eventually called out on strikes, leaving Oakland's lead at 3-0.

Video: BOS@OAK: Umpires review Pinder's deep foul to right

UP NEXT
Chris Sale has allowed one or fewer runs in each of his four starts to begin the 2018 campaign, and he has some good company: Roger Clemens was the last Red Sox starter to accomplish that feat, in 1991. Sale will look to extend that stellar start Saturday at 9:05 p.m. ET against Sean Manaea and the A's.

Do-Hyoung Park is a contributor to MLB.com based in the Bay Area.

Boston Red Sox, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mitch Moreland

Optimism abounds for these 10 surprise teams

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Are we enjoying watching the Braves and Phillies and Pirates play baseball? All that youth and energy and winning is wildly entertaining. Suddenly, possibilities abound.

That's what happens with teams that aren't quite sure how good they are. As they begin to win, confidence grows, and suddenly these teams are capable of upending postseason races.

Are we enjoying watching the Braves and Phillies and Pirates play baseball? All that youth and energy and winning is wildly entertaining. Suddenly, possibilities abound.

That's what happens with teams that aren't quite sure how good they are. As they begin to win, confidence grows, and suddenly these teams are capable of upending postseason races.

Will it last? Who cares? Instead of pondering that one, why not sit back and enjoy the show? Yes, it's a long season. Strengths are revealed, weaknesses exposed and that's the genius of a six-month schedule.

Ten teams considered borderline contenders enter the weekend on an early roll, so let's offer fans reason for optimism.

1. Mets

OK, Mets fans, take a big deep therapeutic breath. Did you expect your guys to play .917 baseball all season? So far, the Mets have checked three important boxes: rotation, bullpen and offense. While Matt Harvey is Topic A, it's the poor defense that should worry fans. Bottom line: The strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

2. D-backs

Regression? What regression? The D-backs will have plenty of offense once third baseman Jake Lamb and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. return from the disabled list. But the reason for optimism is a pitching staff that has been the National League's best this season. The front four of Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley was terrific last season and probably is the NL's best in 2018.

3. Angels

They are the real deal. First, they mash. Only the Red Sox have scored more runs. As long as the rotation stays intact, the Angels are going to be in it until the end. The Red Sox beat up on the Angels' starting pitching this week. Not to worry, as long as Shohei Ohtani, Garrett Richards and the others stay healthy and can continue to take the ball, the Angels will contend.

Video: LAA@KC: Trout crushes a two-run homer to left field

4. Blue Jays

Right-hander Aaron Sanchez has had three straight solid starts and continues to offer every indication that he's going to be as dominant as he was two seasons ago when he led the American League with a 3.00 ERA. The Blue Jays have won five of seven while their best player, third baseman Josh Donaldson, is on the DL with a sore shoulder. He probably will return next week.

5. Pirates

The Pirates have enough pitching to stay in contention. Right-handers Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon have done a nice job anchoring the rotation, and Chad Kuhl is coming off his best start of the season. Meanwhile, two of the organization's top prospects, Mitch Keller and Taylor Hearn, are off to great starts at Double-A.

Video: COL@PIT: Kuhl hold Rockies to one over six innings

6. Twins

Only the Astros, Red Sox and Indians have a lower staff ERA in the American League. Jose Berrios has been the best starter in a rotation that also has Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi and Ervin Santana (who is on the DL). Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed have been tremendous additions to a solid bullpen.

7. Braves

The NL's best offense is a good place to start. Only the D-backs and Phillies have lower ERAs among all NL teams. Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy have been dominant at the front of the rotation, and the first month of the season has amounted to a coming-out party for shortstop Dansby Swanson. Top prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. could make his Major League debut any time.

Video: NYM@ATL: Albies hammers a Thor fastball for a big fly

8. Phillies

Is there a weakness? First, the Phillies have one of the NL's best rotations, led by right-hander Jake Arrieta, who has been a perfect addition. Offensively, only the Braves and Pirates have scored more runs in the NL, and Rhys Hoskins is playing his way into the NL MVP Award conversation.

9. Cardinals

The Cardinals got things rolling during a 5-1 road trip to Cincinnati and Chicago. Adam Wainwright, who could be the key to the rotation, had his best start of the season Tuesday at Wrigley Field. Once Marcell Ozuna gets hot -- and he will -- the offense will be fine.

Video: STL@CHC: Wainwright tallies 1st win of season

10. Rockies

The Rockies have recovered from a slow start with a nice run by the rotation. Right-handers Chad Bettis and German Marquez are pitching the best baseball of their careers, and the three new relievers -- Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw -- entered Friday having allowed two earned runs in their last 10 2/3 innings.

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

Matt Kemp is in the best shape of his life (he really is)

Dodgers outfielder has added second-most speed in MLB since 2017
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Matt Kemp has "improved his physical conditioning, having lost 40 pounds," read a story here on MLB.com when Kemp reported to Dodgers Spring Training in February.

You're forgiven if that didn't exactly fire you up about Kemp's 2018 potential. After all, a player claiming he's shown up at camp "in the best shape of his life" has become something of a running joke in baseball circles. It's become such a meme that actual studies have been done on the phrase, showing very little on-field impact for hitters claiming to have improved their conditioning.

Matt Kemp has "improved his physical conditioning, having lost 40 pounds," read a story here on MLB.com when Kemp reported to Dodgers Spring Training in February.

You're forgiven if that didn't exactly fire you up about Kemp's 2018 potential. After all, a player claiming he's shown up at camp "in the best shape of his life" has become something of a running joke in baseball circles. It's become such a meme that actual studies have been done on the phrase, showing very little on-field impact for hitters claiming to have improved their conditioning.

And don't forget this: Kemp showed up at Atlanta camp in 2017 with a version of the exact same story. He followed it with his worst full season in the Majors. You hear this talk every spring. It rarely matters.

Now, with all that said, in Kemp's case, early in the season, there's maybe at least something to this. Kemp looks better. He's hitting better (.340/.382/.580 in 55 plate appearances entering Saturday). He's moving better -- and, according to our recent rollout of 2018 Sprint Speed leaderboards, the data backs it up, too. Of nearly 300 players who qualified in both 2017 and '18, only one has increased his speed more than Kemp.

Here's what we mean by that. The way Sprint Speed works, it's measured in feet per second on what we consider to be "qualified runs." (You can read more about it here.) The Major League average is 27 feet per second, so Kemp's 26.4 ft/sec isn't exactly speedy, but he's gone from being basically the slowest left fielder in baseball in 2017 (24.9 ft/sec) to being only slightly below the positional average in '18. It's a sizable jump, bettered only by a slightly larger one from Oakland's Matt Olson.

Now, that list should tell you two things. First, with rare exceptions, most of these guys had below-average speed last season, giving them room to improve. Someone like Byron Buxton (30.7 ft/sec in 2017) can't really get faster, he can only hold steady (30.5 ft/sec in '18) or go down.

Second, you can also see that a lot of the players on this list who were slower last season had some pretty compelling health-related reasons. We should be careful to note that it's still early and that we're somewhat fitting a narrative to an outcome here, yet there's enough signal through the noise to believe that there's some evidence even before the first month is done.

For example, Mike Moustakas worked hard this winter to improve his conditioning after a disappointing free-agent experience, and he is also another year removed from his 2016 knee surgery.

Albert Pujols worked hard, as well, knowing the arrival of Shohei Ohtani would force him to play more first base. (He's already played three more games at first than he did in all of 2017.)

So, of course, did Kemp.

Video: LAD@ARI: Kemp makes a tough diving catch in left

There's also simply the matter of health, or lack of it. Adrian Gonzalez (back), Jarrod Dyson (foot, hernia), Luis Valbuena (hamstring), and Jean Segura (ankle) all had lower-body concerns in 2017 that presumably haven't been issues in '18. (Cheslor Cuthbert also missed time, but it's hard to pin a wrist injury to foot speed.)

At the other end of the scale, one of the biggest speed decliners is Adam Eaton, who was running at a very strong 28.7 ft/sec in 2017 before missing most of the season after undergoing surgery on his left knee and landing on the disabled list again this year with a bruised left ankle. His Sprint Speed early on has fallen more than two ft/sec, to 26.5 ft/sec.

That importance of health applies to Kemp, too, since he landed on the DL twice in 2017, in April for a left hamstring injury and in July for a right hamstring injury. Those were just the latest in a litany of lower-body injuries, including left ankle surgery and a right hamstring strain in '13, and pulls to both hamstrings in '12. The speed that once allowed him to steal 34 bases or more in three separate seasons is long gone.

Since Statcast™ came online only in 2015, we can't compare the most recent versions of Kemp to his earlier heyday. But with the data we do have, it's clear to see that whether due to age, injury or conditioning, his Sprint Speed declined from '15 to '16, and again from '16 to '17.

Matt Kemp Sprint Speed, 2015-18

2015 -- 25.9 ft/sec
2016 -- 25.3 ft/sec
2017 -- 24.9 ft/sec
2018 -- 26.4 ft/sec

Major League average -- 27 ft/sec

The downward trend is clear, though it's interesting to note that in two of his previous three seasons, Kemp's fastest months have been April. We know that injuries were to come in previous years, though there may also be something to be said about feeling fresh early before the weight of the long daily grind takes its toll.

That said, we've tracked more than 1,000 Kemp runs over the last three-plus seasons, and two of his fastest five individual runs have come in the last two weeks.

Matt Kemp fastest individual Sprint Speed runs, 2015-18

30.9 ft/sec -- April 12, 2015 (triple)
29.8 ft/sec -- April 12, 2015 (groundout)
29.7 ft/sec -- April 29, 2015 (double, to third on the throw)
29.2 ft/sec -- April 16, 2018 (single)
29.1 ft/sec -- April 10, 2018 (double)

Video: SF@SD: Kemp stretches out a triple to short right

In theory, improved speed should help on defense, too, though it's a little early to draw any solid conclusions. What we can say is based on the balls hit to Kemp this season, an average outfielder would have been expected to make the play 94 percent of the time, and he's made the play 95 percent of the time, so about as expected. Last year, he underperformed by 10 points (expected to catch the ball 86 percent, made the catch 76 percent) and the year before, he underperformed by 7 points (expected 84, actual 77).

It's still so early for Kemp, and the possibility of injury or fatigue is a very real concern. But if he's not in the "best" shape of his life, it's perhaps at least better compared with the last few years. For a player generally seen as well past his prime, acquired in what was more an accounting move than anything, Kemp is off to a good start. He's been shockingly useful, based on the eye test. The early data says it might be legit.

For now.

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

Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Kemp

Yo gets winning hit; wants to golf again

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

ATLANTA -- Yoenis Cespedes, in his own words, is "lost" at the plate. Since April 8, Cespedes has struck out in 44 percent of his plate appearances, including four whiffs in his first five trips to the plate on Friday. He is batting .200 over that stretch. He leads the Major Leagues in strikeouts. Unsure quite how to emerge from this, Cespedes is even considering picking up golf, a hobby he swore off late last season.

With that as a backdrop, Mets manager Mickey Callaway keeps sticking Cespedes in his starting lineup. Why wouldn't he? Even at the depths of his struggles, Cespedes has found a way to contribute, singling home the go-ahead run in the 12th inning on Friday to lift the Mets to a 5-3 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park. It was Cespedes' third go-ahead hit in that same 12-game stretch that has seen him struggle so deeply.

View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- Yoenis Cespedes, in his own words, is "lost" at the plate. Since April 8, Cespedes has struck out in 44 percent of his plate appearances, including four whiffs in his first five trips to the plate on Friday. He is batting .200 over that stretch. He leads the Major Leagues in strikeouts. Unsure quite how to emerge from this, Cespedes is even considering picking up golf, a hobby he swore off late last season.

With that as a backdrop, Mets manager Mickey Callaway keeps sticking Cespedes in his starting lineup. Why wouldn't he? Even at the depths of his struggles, Cespedes has found a way to contribute, singling home the go-ahead run in the 12th inning on Friday to lift the Mets to a 5-3 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park. It was Cespedes' third go-ahead hit in that same 12-game stretch that has seen him struggle so deeply.

View Full Game Coverage

"I don't think he worries about what's happened," Callaway said. "He just comes here to play baseball. You can tell he loves it. And that approach usually ends up working out in the long run."

Video: NYM@ATL: Mets talk about 12-inning win over Braves

Unable to convert on earlier rallies, the Mets received a spark when Braves reliever Josh Ravin hit Robert Gsellman with a pitch to open the 12th. Gsellman moved to second on a bunt, then scored when Cespedes grounded a single into right field. One batter later, Asdrubal Cabrera added an insurance run with an RBI double.

Video: NYM@ATL: Cabrera extends Mets' lead with RBI double

Already sporting two shutout innings on his ledger, Gsellman gave way to Jeurys Familia, who pitched a perfect bottom of the 12th for the save.

"I just try to focus myself, and forget about whatever happened before," Cespedes said of his knack for collecting key RBIs despite the slump. "I just tried to hit the ball, and that's what I did."

Video: NYM@ATL: Familia gets Bourjos out, picks up the save

In the past, when faced with slumps, Cespedes would rise early, grab his golf clubs and head to a local course in whatever city the Mets happened to be in. Golfing, Cespedes says, helped him establish the muscle memory of keeping his hands tight to his body, preventing his shoulder from flying open during baseball swings.

But when a photographer spotted Cespedes playing while nursing a quadriceps injury two years ago, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson called it "bad optics." A year later, Cespedes vowed to quit. For the first time in his career, he is instead watching video of his at-bats, trying to visualize the mechanical tweaks he used to make on the course.

Cespedes doesn't feel it's working; frustrated by his slump, Cespedes says he is considering playing golf again -- something the Mets won't mind if it coincides with an increase in his production. For most of Friday's win, they again relied on other players, turning an Amed Rosario RBI double, a Michael Conforto sacrifice fly and a Wilmer Flores run-scoring single into a 3-2 lead for Noah Syndergaard.

Video: NYM@ATL: Flores drives in Frazier with a single

But Syndergaard, who allowed his first run on an Ozzie Albies homer in the first inning, gave back the lead on a Ryan Flaherty RBI double in the fourth inning and a Kurt Suzuki sac fly in the sixth. The Mets and Braves traded zeros for five more innings before Cespedes came through in the 12th.

"I'm kind of disappointed and frustrated with how I've been throwing ever since the season started," said Syndergaard, who received a no-decision. "I feel like I've had some pretty dominant stuff but haven't done much dominating."

Video: NYM@ATL: Albies homers on Thor's 99.6-mph heater

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Gsellman became the first pitcher to earn the win and score the game-winning run in extra innings since Matt Albers two years ago. In addition to scoring after Ravin brushed his jersey with a pitch to lead off the 12th, Gsellman delivered two shutout innings, striking out Preston Tucker with two men on base and two outs in the 11th.

Video: NYM@ATL: Gsellman fans Tucker and leaves two on base

"It was a great team win," Gsellman said. "It was fun to be out there on the bases and run."

Video: NYM@ATL: Gsellman gets hit by a pitch in the 12th

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Mets catchers were 0-for-21 attempting to throw out basestealers before Tomas Nido nailed Flaherty at second base in the seventh inning, ensuring Flaherty's leadoff walk would result in no damage. Although the Mets had caught two prior basestealers, both were the result of pitcher pickoff throws to first base. No other Major League team entered Friday with more than 15 stolen bases against it.

"It's awesome to get that speed off those bases," Nido said. "It definitely feels really good. And to help out the team feels really good." 

Video: NYM@ATL: Lugo fans Camargo, Nido throws out Flaherty

HE SAID IT
"I'm definitely the fastest pitcher. … Noah's not even close." -- Gsellman, who scored from second base on Cespedes' single

Tweet from @Mets: Who is the fastest pitcher on the team? @robgsellman, @Noahsyndergaard talk amongst yourselves. 😂😂 #MetsWin pic.twitter.com/x17xqOBtyy

"He actually said that? He mentioned my name? He's not the fastest pitcher. That's a joke for him to say that. I'm going to have to reprimand him tonight, make him sit there for a little bit, make him think about what he's done. Send him to his room. Take away his Christmas presents." -- Syndergaard

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Twice in three innings, Flores made an out on the bases. The second of those instances occurred in the sixth, when Flores attempted to score from first on Jay Bruce's double (which snapped an 0-for-19). Although Tucker's throw from left field was off-line, catcher Kurt Suzuki sprawled out to tag Flores just before he touched home plate. Callaway challenged, but the call was upheld.

Video: NYM@ATL: Mets challenge play at the plate in the 6th

UP NEXT
The last time Jacob deGrom took the mound, he became the first Mets starter to throw a pitch in the eighth inning of a game. Although the Mets ultimately lost, deGrom will seek similar efficiency when he starts tonight at 7:10 p.m. ET at SunTrust Park. Julio Teheran gets the nod for the Braves.

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

New York Mets, Yoenis Cespedes

Scherzer fans 9, outduels Kershaw in LA

MLB.com @JamalCollier

LOS ANGELES -- Rarely does a matchup in April draw this much anticipation, but then again, rarely do two of the best pitchers of their generation face off. On a clear and crisp night at a packed Dodger Stadium, 50,211 witnessed just the 10th showdown between three-time Cy Young Award winners -- Max Scherzer of the Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.

Their head-to-head meetings have been limited. They squared off in Game 1 of the 2016 National League Division Series, but their last regular-season meeting was in 2008, when neither pitcher owned a Cy Young Award. In a rare showdown between the two on Friday night, Scherzer got the best of Kershaw, spinning six innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts to lead Washington to a 5-2 victory. Meanwhile, the Nats' offense pestered Kershaw for four runs on nine hits in seven innings.

View Full Game Coverage

LOS ANGELES -- Rarely does a matchup in April draw this much anticipation, but then again, rarely do two of the best pitchers of their generation face off. On a clear and crisp night at a packed Dodger Stadium, 50,211 witnessed just the 10th showdown between three-time Cy Young Award winners -- Max Scherzer of the Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.

Their head-to-head meetings have been limited. They squared off in Game 1 of the 2016 National League Division Series, but their last regular-season meeting was in 2008, when neither pitcher owned a Cy Young Award. In a rare showdown between the two on Friday night, Scherzer got the best of Kershaw, spinning six innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts to lead Washington to a 5-2 victory. Meanwhile, the Nats' offense pestered Kershaw for four runs on nine hits in seven innings.

View Full Game Coverage

"I've always said you don't measure yourself against the worst," Scherzer said. "You measure yourself against the best. I've always thought that."

It's the first time the Nationals have beaten Kershaw since 2010, and they did so because of their aggressive game plan to swing early in the count. Three pitches into the game, they put themselves on the board.

Video: WSH@LAD: Harper grounds an RBI single to right field

Trea Turner doubled on Kershaw's first pitch. Howie Kendrick flied out to center field on the next pitch, advancing Turner to third. Then, with the infield drawn in, Bryce Harper roped a single into right field on the third pitch for his 19th RBI of the season. After a wild pitch put Harper on second, Ryan Zimmerman doubled him home to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"There's really no choice," Zimmerman said of the Nats' aggressiveness against Kershaw. "He's going to come right at you. You're not going to get his pitch count up. He doesn't walk a ton of people. Might as well be ready to try to hit the first pitch you can."

Video: WSH@LAD: Zimmerman plates Harper with an RBI double

The Nationals -- still missing three of their best hitters -- would continue to hound Kershaw. They rallied in the fifth inning to set up a third run after a double and bloop single set the stage for a safety squeeze from Turner. In the sixth, they collected three singles, the last of which Michael A. Taylor punched into center field to extend the lead to 4-0.

"Usually you can come back from two [runs down], but it's tough against Max," Kershaw said. "I can get through seven [innings] and two [runs], but I had those two tack-ons late that you can't have. We had opportunities, Max limited the damage."

The Dodgers did not make it easy on Scherzer. Aside from his 1-2-3 second inning, they put runners on in each inning, starting with Chris Taylor's leadoff triple in the first. The Dodgers drew three walks and scattered four hits, but aside from a run-scoring hit from Yasiel Puig in the sixth, Scherzer limited the damage and wove his way out of trouble all night.

Video: WSH@LAD: Puig lines an RBI single to left field

With the capacity crowd and a marquee pitching matchup, Nationals left-hander Sammy Solis compared this game to a playoff atmosphere.

"You want to treat every game the same, but a packed house, Friday night at Dodger Stadium, it's always exciting," Solis said. "The heart starts pumping a little more than it usually does."

Video: WSH@LAD: Doolittle retires Seager to earn fourth save

HE SAID IT
"His fastball is dominant. His fastball is the separator for him. The life and carry he has on that ball, it's really hard for me to hit, it's just a really good fastball." -- Kershaw, on Scherzer

"He attacks the zone, doesn't walk guys. He brings it every single time. That's just the on-surface stuff that you know is going on between his ears. He goes out there and competes as well as anybody and attacks the zone." -- Scherzer, on Kershaw

Video: WSH@LAD: Kershaw escapes jam with 6-4-3 DP in the 5th

WHAT'S NEXT?
The Nationals will send their second ace to the mound when Stephen Strasburg takes on the Dodgers on Saturday night at 9:10 p.m. ET. Strasburg has 26 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings to start the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu will be the opposing pitcher for Los Angeles.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman

You'll never guess who hit 2018's longest HR

Franchy's titanic blast puts Padres on the board, but his misplay in center is costly
MLB.com

PHOENIX -- A prodigious fourth-inning blast to open the scoring. An untimely eighth-inning misplay that both squandered right-hander Tyson Ross's bid for the first no-hitter in Padres history and a lead. And then a sacrifice bunt in the ninth that contributed to the winning rally in a 4-1 victory over the NL West-leading D-backs at Chase Field on Friday night.

It was quite a night for Padres outfielder Franchy Cordero, as is often the case with talented young players with only 39 games in the big leagues.

View Full Game Coverage

PHOENIX -- A prodigious fourth-inning blast to open the scoring. An untimely eighth-inning misplay that both squandered right-hander Tyson Ross's bid for the first no-hitter in Padres history and a lead. And then a sacrifice bunt in the ninth that contributed to the winning rally in a 4-1 victory over the NL West-leading D-backs at Chase Field on Friday night.

It was quite a night for Padres outfielder Franchy Cordero, as is often the case with talented young players with only 39 games in the big leagues.

View Full Game Coverage

The play that will be played and replayed from this game is the one that might have cost Ross a no-hitter. There were two outs in the eighth, with the Padres up 1-0 with a man on second base. Ross was over his career high for pitches thrown in a start, so whether he would or could have finished a no-hitter will forever remain an unanswered question.

D-backs pinch-hitter Christian Walker made it a moot point, lining a ball to center field straight at Cordero.

"It was a ball that was hit hard and it was going right over my head," Cordero said.

He hesitated, taking a step in at first, then turned and started running back towards the wall. The ball landed just out of his reach, an RBI double that ended the no-hitter and tied the game.

It wasn't exactly lightly hit at 102 mph off the bat, but it also shouldn't have been a terribly difficult play for Cordero to make. That's reflected in the 99 percent Statcast™ Catch Probability, which is to say that similar opportunities -- based on time, distance, and direction -- since 2015 have been made almost every single time. That's easily seen when you compare Cordero's opportunity to a nearly identical Carlos Gomez catch from 2016.

 Video: SD@ARI: Statcast™ compares two 99% probability catches

It's not just the visuals, either; the numbers here are all but exactly the same. Cordero started 332 feet from home plate, and needed to run 50 feet in 4.7 seconds, straight back. Gomez started 331 feet from home, and needed to run 50 feet in 4.8 seconds. They were, essentially, the same play. One looked routine. One ended a no-hitter.

"It wasn't the cleanest break," Padres manager Andy Green said. "I know he's the type of kid that'll go home thinking about that, how he should've made that catch. Franchy gives everything he has out there. He's plenty fast enough to make some amazing plays, and he's done that. That one was just a tough read off the bat."

That he rebounded from that play to lay down a beautiful sacrifice bunt that helped Eric Hosmer advance to third, and eventually score during the ninth-inning rally spoke volumes about Cordero's resilience.

"The bunt was nice, too," Green said. "Getting that down, making them make a play. We wouldn't have even been in that situation if Franchy hadn't swung the bat like he did earlier in the game."

And swing the bat he did. He absolutely crushed a solo home run in the fourth, a 489-foot blast that gave the Padres the 1-0 lead that they were trying to protect pretty much the entire game.

The ball, which hit off Chase Field's center-field scoreboard, was the longest by any Padres player in the Statcast™ era. It had an exit velocity of 116.3 mph, making it the hardest hit ball by a Padre and it was the longest home run at Chase Field recorded by Statcast™.

"I don't know how they said that wasn't 500 feet," Green said. "Pretty sure it was."

After the game, Cordero was asked if he'd ever hit a ball like that. Before he could answer, someone else did.

"Nope, I can tell you that right away," said Hosmer, who was at the locker right next to Cordero's. "I haven't seen a ball like that."

Cordero, who acknowledged he missed a few pitches last series against the Dodgers, made up for those with one swing.

"Honestly, I'm just happy to be able to go out and execute a swing like that," Cordero said through an interpreter. "I've never done anything like that, but yeah, I'm glad the work's showing up."

He now has three home runs -- equaling his 2017 total -- in 34 at-bats this season.

"It's an electric bat," Green said. "Put the ball in play and it doesn't stay in play often, actually. There's a ton of power there. He's always hitting balls hard."

Justin Toscano is an associate reporter for MLB.com.

San Diego Padres, Franchy Cordero

The hottest starts in MLB history

1955 Dodgers, '98 Yankees had historic opening runs
MLB.com @_dadler

At 17-2, the Red Sox are off to their best 19-game start in franchise history. They are the first team to begin a season with 17 or more wins in 19 games since the 1987 Brewers (17-2 start) and just the seventh team in the modern era (since 1900) to do it.

With that in mind, here is a look at the hottest starts in Major League history:

At 17-2, the Red Sox are off to their best 19-game start in franchise history. They are the first team to begin a season with 17 or more wins in 19 games since the 1987 Brewers (17-2 start) and just the seventh team in the modern era (since 1900) to do it.

With that in mind, here is a look at the hottest starts in Major League history:

Red Sox now 17-2, thanks to Moreland's slam

MOST CONSECUTIVE WINS TO START SEASON
1982 Braves, '87 Brewers: 13
Final records: '82 Braves, 89-73 (Won NL West, lost NLCS); '87 Brewers, 91-71 (3rd in AL East)

The 1982 Braves were the first team to open the season with 13 straight wins. They were managed by Joe Torre, who was in his first year with the team, and they were led on the field by franchise icon Dale Murphy, who would go on to win his first of back-to-back National League MVP Awards that year. Murphy hit .281 with 36 home runs and a league-best 109 RBIs, and won a Gold Glove in center field. The team, meanwhile, would go on to win the NL West after its historically hot start, although the Braves lost in the NL Championship Series to the Cardinals.

Video: CIN@ATL: Braves open season with 13 straight wins

Five years later, the Brewers matched the Braves' season-opening feat, roaring to a 13-0 start. Even after their first loss, the Brewers won seven of their next nine games for a 20-3 record. And even though they had two Hall of Famers in the lineup, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, Milwaukee would not make the playoffs despite finishing with a 91-71 record. Part of the reason? The Brewers followed that 20-3 run with a 12-game losing streak, the beginning of a larger stretch in which they lost 18 of 20 games.

Next best
1981 A's: 11

The 1981 A's were catalyzed by a 22-year-old Rickey Henderson, who in 108 games (the season was shortened because of the players' strike) led the American League with 56 stolen bases and 135 hits, led the Majors with 89 runs scored and won a Gold Glove in left field. Oakland also had All-Star Tony Armas providing the power -- he hit a league-leading 22 homers. Henderson finished second in AL MVP Award voting, while Armas finished fourth. The A's went to the playoffs after winning their first 11 games, beating the Royals in the AL Division Series before falling to the Yankees in the ALCS.

Also came close
1955 Dodgers, '62 Pirates, '66 Indians: 10

The 1962 Pirates and '66 Indians couldn't turn their hot starts into anything more. Pittsburgh went 93-68, but that was only good for a fourth-place finish in the NL that year; Cleveland finished its season 81-81. The 1955 Dodgers, though, were another story...

BEST START THROUGH 20 GAMES
1911 Tigers, '18 Giants, '55 Dodgers, '84 Tigers, '87 Brewers: 18-2
Final records: '11 Tigers, 89-65 (2nd in AL); '18 Giants, 71-53 (2nd in NL); '55 Dodgers, 98-55 (Won World Series); '84 Tigers, 104-58 (Won World Series); '87 Brewers, 91-71 (3rd in AL East)


Each of these clubs were nearly flawless out of the gate, winning 18 of their first 20 contests. The 1911 Tigers featured two of the AL's best players in Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford and jumped out to a 59-24 record before playing below-.500 baseball the rest of the way. The '18 Giants fell out of first place by early June and were unable to climb back to the top of the standings. After years of finishing second-best to the Yankees, the '55 Dodgers season (as you'll read below) was storybook in nature from beginning to end. The '84 Tigers, as you'll also read in further detail below, compiled one of the most impressive wire-to-wire seasons in history. The '87 Brewers season saw Paul Molitor compile a 39-game hit streak and Juan Nieves twirl a no-hitter, but the club's fast start quickly dissipated by mid-May. 

Next best
1902 Pirates, '07 Giants, '38 Giants, '46 Red Sox, '77 Dodgers, '81 A's, 2003 Yankees: 17-3

Three of these clubs were able to ride their hot starts to a pennant, but each of them came up empty in the World Series. The 1946 Red Sox came closest, falling to the Cardinals in a dramatic seven-game series. Reggie Jackson's iconic power display kept the '77 Dodgers at bay, while the heavily-favored Yankees couldn't solve Josh Beckett and the Marlins in 2003. 

BEST START THROUGH 25 GAMES
1955 Dodgers: 22-3
Final record: 98-55 (Won World Series)

The 1955 season came in the heart of the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry that dominated baseball for much of the era. And this Brooklyn team was special. Not only did the Dodgers win their first 10 games, they rattled off another 11-game win streak from Game 14 through 24. Of course, that's not what most fans remember them for. No, the '55 Dodgers made history by winning the franchise's first World Series title -- they beat the rival Yankees in a thrilling seven-game Fall Classic. It was in this World Series that Jackie Robinson pulled off his iconic Game 1 steal of home.

Video: MLB Network relives Jackie's legendary steal of home

The '55 Dodgers were loaded with Hall of Famers: Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese. (Oh, and a 19-year-old rookie named Sandy Koufax, who made only five starts and 12 appearances and didn't pitch in the postseason.) Campanella won the NL MVP Award that year, hitting .318 with 32 home runs and 107 RBIs. Snider was the runner-up, hitting .309 with 42 homers and a Major League-best 136 RBIs and 126 runs scored.

Next best
1911 Tigers, '46 Red Sox, '77 Dodgers, '84 Tigers: 21-4

The 1911 Tigers were led by baseball legend Ty Cobb, who won the AL MVP Award that season after batting .420 while recording 248 hits, which was then a single-season record. The '46 Red Sox would make the World Series behind Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr, but lost to the Cardinals in seven games (as the Curse of the Bambino lived on). The '77 Dodgers also made the World Series behind star players Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Don Sutton before falling to the Yankees.

And more on the 1984 Tigers momentarily.

Also came close
1912 Reds, '25 Athletics, '28 Yankees, '39 Yankees, '58 Yankees, '81 A's, '86 Mets, '87 Brewers, 2001 Mariners, '03 Yankees: 20-5

This group includes four World Series champs: the 1928, '39 and '58 Yankees, and the '86 Mets. The '28 and '39 Yankees squads will make appearances below, but the others are noteworthy in their own right. The '58 Yankees were led by the Hall of Fame trio of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, and rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the Fall Classic to win in seven games -- beating a loaded Braves team that had Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Red Schoendienst and Warren Spahn.

The 1986 Mets are one of the most memorable teams in MLB history, both for their personality and their ability on the field. The '86 World Series is one of the greatest ever played, with the Mets' unbelievable Game 6 rally among the sport's most famous moments.

Video: Must C Classic: Mets win it on Mookie's little roller

BEST START THROUGH 40 GAMES
1984 Tigers: 35-5
Final record: 104-58 (Won World Series)

Here's that memorable 1984 Tigers team. It's the last Detroit team to win the World Series, and it was one impressive club. That year, the Tigers never trailed in their division -- they won nine straight games to open the season, jumping out to a lead in the AL East that they never relinquished. Their 35-5 start to the year was a remarkable display of dominance. More importantly, though, they finished the job. After a 104-58 regular season, the Tigers swept the Royals in the ALCS and beat the Padres in five games in the Fall Classic.

The 1984 Tigers were led on offense by the likes of Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Lou Whitaker and Chet Lemon. Atop their starting rotation was Hall of Fame workhorse Jack Morris, who pitched two complete-game wins in the World Series. And at the back of the bullpen was Willie Hernandez, whose sensational season, which ended with a pair of World Series saves, netted him both the AL Cy Young Award and the AL MVP Award.

Next best
1928 Yankees, '39 Yankees: 33-7

It's no surprise that a pair of the legendary Yankees teams of the 1920s and '30s started out so strong. The '28 Yankees had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at the helm, two of the best to ever play the game. Ruth crushed 54 home runs that season, leading the Majors once again the year after his record-setting 60. Gehrig batted .374 and drove in a Major League-best 147 runs. Add in a few more Hall of Famers like Tony Lazzeri and Waite Hoyt, and this team couldn't be stopped. The Yankees went 101-53 in the regular season, then swept the Cardinals in the World Series to bring home the second championship of the franchise's MLB-record 27.

The 1939 Yankees won the World Series, too, after a 106-45 regular season. This was the DiMaggio era in the Bronx -- Joltin' Joe won his first AL MVP Award that season after batting .381 to lead the Majors. With Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Joe Gordon helping fill out the lineup around DiMaggio, and another pair of Hall of Famers on the pitching staff in Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing, the '39 Yankees rolled to a sweep of the Reds in the Fall Classic.

Also came close
1912 Giants: 32-8; '29 Athletics, '41 Browns, '46 Red Sox, '98 Yankees, 2001 Mariners: 31-9

Most of these teams make appearances elsewhere here, but the 1929 Athletics also deserve mention. With MLB's all-time winningest manager Connie Mack at the helm, Philadelphia went 104-46 in the regular season to clinch the AL pennant by 18 games over the Yankees, then beat the Cubs in five games in the World Series. Chicago had Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, Kiki Cuyler and Gabby Hartnett, but it was overpowered by the A's own group of legends, which included Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove.

BEST START THROUGH 50 GAMES
1946 Red Sox: 40-9-1
Final record: 104-50 (Lost World Series) 

This Red Sox club was remembered for both capturing the franchise's first AL pennant in nearly three decades and coming oh-so-close to winning it all. Leading the way was none other than Ted Williams, who picked up right where he left off in his first season back from his service as a fighter pilot in World War II. Williams paced the Junior Circuit in runs (142), walks (156), on-base percentage (.497), slugging (.667) and total bases (343) to capture his first of two AL MVP Awards. 

Boston's hot start included a 15-game win streak as fans flocked to Fenway Park to set club attendance records. The Red Sox sewed up the pennant by mid-September but lost a heart-breaking Game 7 of the Fall Classic thanks to Cardinals star Enos Slaughter's famous "mad dash" home from first base. 

Video: Enos Slaughter's 'Mad Dash' in 1946

Next best
1928 Yankees, '39 Yankees: 40-10

These two Yankees clubs represent a pair of the most talent-laden clubs in history. The '28 club featured nine future Hall of Famers and swept the Cardinals in the World Series. Meanwhile, the '39 team dominated opponents to the tune of a +411 run differential that remains the highest single-season total by any club in modern history.   

Also came close
1907 Cubs, '13 A's, '29 A's, '53 Yankees, '84 Tigers: 39-11

Featuring the famous double-play combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance, this 1907 Cubs team came right in the middle of modern baseball's first true dynasty. The '13 A's were the game's next great dynasty, featuring Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack and his "$100,000 infield" with Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker and Jack Barry. Mack's second dynasty in Philadelphia is also included here with Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons. Joining them is a Yankees club that captured a record fifth consecutive World Series title in 1953, along with those dominant '84 Tigers. 

BEST START THROUGH 60 GAMES
1912 Giants: 48-11 (1 tie)
Final record: 103-48 (Lost World Series)

As with many of these teams, the 1912 Giants featured several legends of the sport. They were managed by Hall of Fame skipper John McGraw, the second-winningest manager in MLB history, and their pitching staff was led by a Hall of Fame duo in Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard. After a sizzling start to the season, New York ran away with the NL pennant, but lost to the Red Sox in a dramatic eight-game World Series (one game was tied). In the winner-take-all Game 8, Mathewson was brilliant into the 10th inning, but Boston rallied to win the game and the series on a walk-off sacrifice fly.

The Giants actually trailed the Reds in the NL as late as May 20, despite having a 20-6 record on that date. But they broke through with a stretch of 18 wins in 20 games that turned their half-game deficit into a 12-game lead by June 13. When they played their 60th game on June 28, the Giants were in the middle of a 16-game winning streak which would push their lead to 16 1/2 games before the 4th of July.

Next best
1939 Yankees, 2001 Mariners: 47-13

The 1939 Yankees have already had their entry here. So we'll turn the focus to the 2001 Mariners, who had one of the greatest regular seasons in Major League history. The Mariners tied the MLB record with 116 wins (the 1906 Cubs are the other team to win 116 games), so their great start was just a part of a run that lasted the whole year. Seattle won 20 of its first 25 games, 31 of its first 40 and 47 of its first 60. Unfortunately, the Mariners couldn't turn their historic regular season into a World Series title, as they fell to the Yankees in the ALCS.

Still, that 2001 Mariners team is one to remember. This was the year that Ichiro came to the United States and took Major League Baseball by storm. As a rookie, the future Hall of Famer won the AL batting title by hitting .350, racking up an astounding 242 hits -- at the time, it was MLB's highest hit total since 1930. (Of course Ichiro then set the new MLB single-season hits record with 262 a few years later.) Ichiro led the Majors with 56 stolen bases, too, sparking the Mariners out of the leadoff spot all season. He won both the AL Rookie of the Year Award and the AL MVP Award.

Video: A look back at Ichiro's historic 2001 rookie season 

Also came close
1953 Yankees, '98 Yankees: 46-14

The 1998 Yankees have their own entry below, because their hot start went far beyond 60 games. That's not to say the '53 Yankees ever went cold -- they won the World Series, too. In fact, they capped the Yankees' MLB-record run of five straight World Series titles from 1949-53.

BEST FIRST HALF
1998 Yankees: 61-20 (.753 winning percentage)
Final record: 114-48 (Won World Series)

The MLB All-Star Game was first played in 1933. Since then, no team has had a better record at the break than the '98 Yankees -- the greatest juggernaut of the late-'90s New York dynasty. Managed by Joe Torre and led on the field by the Core Four -- Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera -- and others like Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams, the '98 Yankees were one of the best teams of all time.

Video: The 1998 Yankees rank as greatest team of all-time

The Bombers set an AL record with 114 wins in the regular season, then went 11-2 in the postseason -- including a sweep of the Padres in the World Series, which began a run of three straight Yankees championships. It all started with their historically great first half. The Yankees went into the All-Star break with an 11-game lead in the AL East, and they never looked back.

Next-best
2001 Mariners: 63-24 (.724 winning percentage)

The 2001 Mariners broke the 1998 Yankees' AL wins record just three years after they set it. We've covered that team above, but just one more thing to note about their first half: Seattle entered the All-Star break with an incredible 19-game lead in the AL West.

Also came close
1942 Dodgers: 52-21 (.712 winning percentage); '44 Cardinals, '52 Dodgers: 51-21 (.708 winning percentage)

The 1942 Dodgers were victims of the pennant-or-bust era of baseball. They went 104-50 in the regular season, but finished two games back of the eventual-champion Cardinals even after winning their final eight games. The '52 Dodgers had slightly better luck, taking home the NL pennant, but they lost an exciting back-and-forth World Series to the Yankees in seven games.

The 1944 Cardinals, on the other hand, went all the way after their great first half. Led by the legendary Stan Musial, St. Louis finished the regular season 105-49 and then beat the Browns in six games in the Fall Classic.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Verlander, Astros back in first place

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

CHICAGO -- There was dominant starting pitching, of course. There were a couple of big swings of the bat by Carlos Correa and a mad dash around the bases by George Springer. The Astros are back to playing their brand of baseball.

Justin Verlander tossed six scoreless innings to win his 10th consecutive regular-season decision and Correa homered twice to lead the Astros to their fourth consecutive victory, 10-0, over the White Sox in the series opener at Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday night. With the win, the defending World Series champions reclaimed sole possession of first place in the American League West for the first time since April 9. They lead the Angels by a half-game.

View Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- There was dominant starting pitching, of course. There were a couple of big swings of the bat by Carlos Correa and a mad dash around the bases by George Springer. The Astros are back to playing their brand of baseball.

Justin Verlander tossed six scoreless innings to win his 10th consecutive regular-season decision and Correa homered twice to lead the Astros to their fourth consecutive victory, 10-0, over the White Sox in the series opener at Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday night. With the win, the defending World Series champions reclaimed sole possession of first place in the American League West for the first time since April 9. They lead the Angels by a half-game.

View Full Game Coverage

"That was one of our best games, obviously, in all facets," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "We made some pretty good defensive plays, we swung the bats. We've been pitching like this almost the entire year. A really good night for us."

Video: HOU@CWS: Correa launches a pair of home runs

Verlander (3-0) improved to 10-0 with a 1.23 ERA in his last 13 regular-season starts, including 8-0 with a 1.08 ERA in 10 starts with the Astros. He has yet to allow a run on the road this season, a stretch totaling 19 innings. Astros starting pitchers are 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA in the team's last eight games, striking out 72 in 56 innings.

"That's what we talked about in spring," Verlander said. "Every guy has the ability to go out there and shut an offense down, and over the course of the season that plays pretty well. I don't know if anybody expected us to start off this well, but we probably did. It's fun to be a part of."

White Sox starter James Shields held the Astros scoreless for three innings before Houston broke through with five runs in the fourth inning, including a two-run double by Springer, who ended up scoring on the play when an errant throw to the plate hit Marwin Gonzalez as Gonzalez was sliding home.

Video: HOU@CWS: Springer races home for Little League dinger

"That's a long run from home to home on a dead sprint, but it's all good. I'm glad to help the team," said Springer, who drove in four runs.

Another two-run double by Springer and a two-run homer by Correa in the sixth pushed the lead to 9-0, marking the second consecutive game Houston has scored nine runs. Correa homered again in the ninth. The Astros have scored 26 runs in their past three games, one more than in their previous seven games combined.

"We feel good," Correa said. "We've been swinging the bat better. It was about time. We had a sluggish week last week I feel like and this is what we like to do, this is what we do as a team when we put great at-bats together. Hopefully we can keep it rolling."

Video: HOU@CWS: Springer lines a two-run double to right

Yuli might not be the best Gurriel we'll see in 2018

SOUND SMART
Astros catcher Brian McCann, who had two walks and a hit Friday, has a .490 on-base percentage this season. His career high is .388 in 2006.

HE SAID IT
"You know, after the way he had been jubilant about some of the other things, I was just as jubilant about that. Very thankful he gave me an out."
-- Verlander, who took offense to Chicago's Tim Anderson celebrating a single in the fifth and then running to second on a 3-0 count. Verlander tried to pick off Anderson at second and wound up getting Omar Narvaez, who had walked, out at second base instead.

Video: HOU@CWS: Verlander, Altuve team up for strange out

UP NEXT
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (0-3, 3.52 ERA) will start Saturday's 6:10 p.m. CT game against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, facing Lucas Giolito. Keuchel is searching for his first win, but threw a complete game in his most recent outing Monday at Seattle.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros

Stanton puts emphatic end to homerless drought

Austin launches third dinger off Estrada this season
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- Giancarlo Stanton gave his new fans something to cheer about early in the Yankees' 8-5 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday night, snapping a 50 at-bat homerless drought with a two-run drive to right field off starter Marco Estrada.

Stanton's third-inning blast marked his first time clearing the fences since April 4 vs. Tampa Bay, coming one game after manager Aaron Boone relocated the reigning National League MVP Award winner to the No. 4 spot in the lineup. Stanton's homer gave the Yankees a 4-2 lead at the time.

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NEW YORK -- Giancarlo Stanton gave his new fans something to cheer about early in the Yankees' 8-5 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday night, snapping a 50 at-bat homerless drought with a two-run drive to right field off starter Marco Estrada.

Stanton's third-inning blast marked his first time clearing the fences since April 4 vs. Tampa Bay, coming one game after manager Aaron Boone relocated the reigning National League MVP Award winner to the No. 4 spot in the lineup. Stanton's homer gave the Yankees a 4-2 lead at the time.

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"We're all here for the same goal," Stanton said. "For me to help contribute, even though we didn't get the win, it's good."

Video: TOR@NYY: Ste